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Gender-blindness and conditionality cast shadow over record World Bank lending

30 September 2010

New evidence of worsening gender performance and persistent conditionality has led critics to ask if the Bank is fit for purpose.

Commitments by the World Bank Group in the financial year (FY) ending June 2010 reached $72 billion, up from $60 billion (see Update 66); $40 billion actually disbursed.  Middle-income countries were the main destination: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development commitments exploded to $44 billion, up 34 per cent on the previous 12 months , as the global crisis took its toll.  International Finance Corporation (IFC, the Bank’s private sector arm) commitments leapt from $14.5 billion to $18 billion, according to preliminary figures.  In contrast, commitments by the Bank’s low-income country arm, the International Development Association (IDA), rose only 4 per cent, to $14.5 billion. Guarantees worth $1.5 billion were issued by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, compared to $1.4 billion previously.

Infrastructure was again the golden sector (see Update 66), attracting over $22 billion in lending commitments, outweighing $4 billion for health and $4.5 billion for education. IFC expenditure on advisory services reached $300 million.

Gender-informed Bank lending fell to 38 per cent

The Bank is yet to disburse 15 per cent of commitments made since July 2008.  Developing countries have repeatedly rated the Bank poorly for rapid and predictable disbursement in recent surveys conducted by UK think-tank Development Finance International (DFI) for the UK’s Department for International Development (see Update 68).

Gender failures

A June report by the Bank on the implementation of its gender mainstreaming strategy during FY2009 confirmed the critical findings of the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) review, which covered 2002-8 (see Update 69).

Although three-quarters of operations across the social sectors were ‘gender-informed’, only 27 per cent of economic policy work was.  Energy and mining was the weakest sector, at just 9 per cent (see Update 72).  The overall proportion of Bank lending judged gender-informed declined from 45 to 38 per cent in FY2009.  The report was unable to explain that deterioration, listing portfolio variation and external conditions as possible causes, while admitting that the lack of gender expertise within the Bank – which is not monitored – could be to blame.

One in six Country Assistance Strategies (CAS), Bank documents which guide its activities in each country, (see Update 70) failed to integrate gender, and one-third of countries were yet to complete gender assessments, despite a commitment to universalise these by 2005.

In May, the Bank published its $68 million gender plan for 2011-2013.  It sets out a results framework to monitor gender integration in operations and policy dialogue, as well as beneficiaries by sex.  Measurement of gender integration will be extended to include policy lending and sector-level work as well as projects, as advocated by civil society groups (see Update 69). Monitoring social safety nets, reproductive health and education will also be prioritised. Draft regional priorities for the next three-year IDA period are reproductive health, education and the transition to work, and agriculture and rural development.

Despite the consistent evidence of weak performance, the Bank claims it is “well-placed to lead efforts to mainstream gender in economic sector operations”.  A continued “focus on women’s economic empowerment” entails measuring gender responsiveness in infrastructure lending, and women’s access to finance through the IFC. It also includes modest targets for 75 per cent of agriculture operations to be gender-informed.

The plan commits to working more closely with clients on gender and capacity building through regular Bank operations.  In a reiteration of its controversial market-oriented – rather than rights-based – approach, it casts the forthcoming 2012 World Development Report on gender as “a unique tool to more effectively help disseminate the business case for gender equality.”

Of the IEG’s wide-ranging criticisms, the plan highlights only CAS and monitoring and evaluation as requiring particular attention.  It maintains a selective approach to integrating gender, with no reference to the ongoing energy and trade strategy reviews, contrary to recommendations that gender should be mainstreamed throughout decision-making and operations.

Elaine Zuckerman of US NGO Gender Action said, “The Bank’s new gender transition plan, although more comprehensive than its predecessor, the 2007-10 Gender Action Plan, still lacks a women’s/human rights focus. It almost exclusively promotes economic empowerment as the means to achieve gender equality; reiterates a promise to improve gender-related statistics which the Bank has failed to fulfill for over 30 years; and largely neglects the role of men in achieving gender equality. However, we are pleased that the transition plan adds a reproductive health focus.”

An NGO 12-country review of 10 years of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), guiding documents produced by countries with the involvement of the Bank, found that they have failed to sufficiently involve or take account of women and minorities.  The August report, by international NGO Minority Rights Group, revealed that analysis of women’s situation was often limited to a few sectors and rarely covered gender discrimination. “The lack of a comprehensive analysis within PRSPs of the status of minority and indigenous women, who face multiple levels of discrimination and marginalisation, as well as the failure to disaggregate data on the basis of ethnicity and religion means that the real situation of these vulnerable groups is hidden,” says Samia Khan, author of the briefing. US NGO Gender Action published a resource in July setting out why international financial institutions must empower and respect indigenous women and men.

World Bank neglecting education

In September, the Bank announced an additional $750 million for basic education over five years.  Joanne Carter, co-chair of the Global Campaign for Education US, said this represented “a welcome correction” to the 40 per cent reduction in Bank funding for this area over the last decade.

However, research published by NGO Results in June showed that average Bank support for education in sub-Saharan Africa is only $200 million per year.  The report also presented evidence that the Bank was reducing IDA education support to countries receiving money from the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative (FTI), putting them at risk since future FTI funding is far from assured. Participants in the consultation on the Bank’s education strategy review (see Update 70) expressed concern on this point.

Consultation feedback also highlighted the importance of equitable and free access to education as a right.  Following Bank support for untrained ‘para-teachers’ to plug staff shortages on the cheap, an emphasis on quality of education also featured strongly.  Participants from low-income countries warned that the Bank needed to “listen more” in general.  Consultations on the draft strategy will continue through October before board consideration next January.

Allocation debate

A storm of criticism continued to rage over the Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA), on which its allocations to IDA countries are based (see Update 63).  Governments and civil society groups are advocating fundamental reform, following the IEG’s conclusion that the exercise should be completely redesigned (see Update 69).

In research published by DFI in August, southern policymakers confirmed that they viewed the Bank’s allocation system as putting too much focus on performance rather than need.  The same month the African Caucus of Ministers established a taskforce to contribute to the Bank’s review of CPIA.  They are expected to draw on an August paper by German think-tank the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which sets out the ways in which CPIA is inflexible and contrary to country-ownership.  It offers specific recommendations to make the Bank’s allocation system more need-based, country-owned and transparent.

CPIA has also come under fire for emphasising a subjective set of governance measures. The presidents of Mali, Liberia and Senegal called on the Bank to strengthen country ownership at the June IDA replenishment meeting.

Conditionality continues

Leading policymakers in developing countries criticised the Bank’s “excessive ‘one size fits all’ conditionalities” in DFI’s survey. 2009 research by DFI found that the Bank applies almost twice as many conditions as other multilaterals.

A July study by NGO Eurodad of conditionality attached to loans made to Ghana during the financial crisis found that the Bank “continues to influence developing country economic policies through placing conditions on loan agreements, despite concrete commitments by the Bank to significantly reduce [them]. … What is new, however, are the more discreet channels of influence … conditions for the receipt of loans are increasingly being pushed in through the side door, for example by being stipulated outside of the loan agreement itself in side documents and letters, contravening responsible financing principles.”

With IDA deputies meeting in early October, the Bank has been aiming to maximise its share of global aid by presenting the replenishment as the ‘last chance’ to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Civil society groups, however, urge governments to address the issues afflicting the Bank before trusting it with more money (see Update 72).