Will World Bank Global Gender-Based Violence Task Force recommendations have a discernible impact?

27 September 2017

Woman walks down a road in Arua district, northwestern Uganda. Credit: EUECHO Edward Echwalu

In August the World Bank’s Global Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Task Force released its report Working Together to Prevent Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: Recommendations for World Bank Investment Projects. The Task Force was launched in October 2016, in reaction to the  Inspection Panel’s (IPN, the World Bank’s accountability mechanism) August 2016 report on its investigation of the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project, which involved allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of women and children by contractors (see Observer Spring 2017). The Task Force was mandated to recommend “specific steps to strengthen the World Bank’s capacity to identify, mitigate, and prevent risk of sexual exploitation and abuse in Bank projects”. The next step is for Bank staff to develop an Action Plan to implement its recommendations, which is expected to be completed this autumn. Following the release of the report, questions remain about the make-up of the Task Force, its focus, and whether its findings will have a discernible impact on the Bank’s approach to GBV.

Concerns over process and mandate

The Task Force was established “to strengthen the institution’s response in its projects on issues involving sexual exploitation and abuse”. While the Task Force consisted of ‘external experts’, such as representatives from the Anglican Church, there were no women’s rights groups represented or civil society organisations (CSOs) specialising in GBV in the context of development, while there were two current and one former Bank staff members.

The mandate was limited to producing a report with recommendations and did not grant it the power to develop binding policies, and excluded Development Policy Lending (40 per cent of Bank’s lending). Its timeline was restricted to nine months, offering limited opportunities for civil society engagement or broader stakeholder consultations. Civil society raised further concerns about the possibility that the Task Force’s report would not be made public until the Action Plan was complete, thus depriving stakeholders the opportunity to meaningfully engage in its development. The report was finally released after a concerted advocacy effort, including an August letter by 12 UK-based civil society organisations, including Womankind Worldwide and London Mining Network, raising concerns to the Bank’s UK executive director.

If implemented the task force recommendations make progress in preventing the next Uganda but do not go far enough to address all sources of GBV and SEA risk related to World Bank projectsElana Berger, Bank Information Center

Bank as incidental convenor

The report only considered a narrow set of circumstances, focussing in particular on “area-based” infrastructure projects that bring a large influx of male workers to a particular area, as was the case in Uganda, without considering how other dimensions, such as project-related displacement, may relate to GBV. The report identified five key actors that need to interact and collaborate in order to prevent or mitigate against project-related risk of sexual exploitation and abuse [SEA], including the World Bank, as a “responsible change agent”. In doing so the report framed the World Bank as an almost incidental convener of relevant stakeholders to address GBV-related problems, rather than emphasise the legal and moral obligations of the Bank to prevent serious harm caused by its own projects. It stated that the Bank “has the obligation and the institutional strength to serve as the link which brings all the actors … together to protect women and children from SEA”.

Will implementation be lacklustre?

The report recommended that senior management should “designate a senior-level champion” to “sustain attention to this work”, noting the need for “continued focus on the link between prevention of SEA in Bank projects and the Bank’s core values”. The report added that the Bank’s relevant operational policies and practices should “be consolidated into a staff guidance note”. The report also recommended that the “internal Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) conduct a review after four years to assess what is working and where gaps remain”. The Task Force further noted the need to link the evaluations to “new Environmental and Social Framework [ESF] to protect people and the environment in the context of World Bank operations” and “help inform the transition”. Lastly, the report highlighted the need for adequate funding for the implementation of its recommendations, noting firstly that a “Dedicated one-time surge funds will be needed for training and knowledge development”, and secondly, that the Bank should “establish a two-year, time-bound GBV Prevention and Mitigation Fund to supplement High-Risk projects, existing project preparation and supervision coefficients as needed”. Elana Berger of NGO Bank Information Center commented that “if implemented the task force recommendations make progress in preventing the next Uganda but do not go far enough to address all sources of GBV and SEA risk related to World Bank projects”.

The International Development Association (IDA, the Bank’s low income country arm) replenishment document referenced the need to implement the Task Force’s recommendations. While in its August press release the Bank stated it is “committed to implement the recommendations as applicable within operations in countries eligible for funding from [IDA]”, the Task Force recommendations apply across all bank operations. Thus, civil society noted the lacking ‘commitment’ to implement the recommendations in non-IDA projects. Remarking on the report, Geeta Rao Gupta, co-chair of the task force and former Deputy Executive Director of Programs at UNICEF, stated that as is the case with the development process in which the World Bank engages, “addressing sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of gender-based violence is complex and challenging”. Nonetheless, the Bank should streamline GBV prevention as part of its ‘do no harm’ policies.