IFI governance


The World Bank and gender

1 April 2003 | Inside the institutions

Gender is one of the World Bank’s 14 “corporate advocacy priorities”. Yet a 2001 report from the Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department echoed the views of many independent commentators, finding that the Bank had not established processes for institutionalising and operationalising its gender policy and had not organized systematic gender training for its staff.

The Bank has recently introduced further steps to ensure that the gender dimension is increasingly integrated into its work. In September 2001 the Bank approved a strategy calling for mainstreaming gender issues into its work but with flexibility to do so differently in various sectors, regions or countries.

The first step is to prepare country gender assessments that examine gender-related barriers to poverty reduction and economic development, such as property ownership, access to financing, civic involvement and educational opportunities. They also identify “gender-responsive actions” important for poverty reduction, economic growth and human well-being. Bank Country Directors have the option to commission a specific study on gender, ensure that country gender analysis is conducted as part of other World Bank country analytic work, or adopt assessments produced by others (i.e., government agencies, UN agencies or civil society groups).

Country gender assessments should identify and guide priority policy and operational interventions as part of the Bank’s Country Assistance Strategy (CAS). The Bank’s CASs are expected to state why they do or do not include gender-related actions, and how they plan to implement and monitor them. Similarly, the Joint Staff Assessment exercise in which Bank and Fund staff validate the quality of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) is expected to cover how the gender dimension was addressed.

To ensure that gender is “treated as a cross-cutting issue potentially relevant in all countries and sectors, rather than as a distinct sector”, the Bank has created horizontal structures. These include the Gender and Development Board, composed of representatives from each of the Bank’s regions and networks. The Board develops guidelines and procedures, conducts research and training and oversees the integration of gender issues into Bank operations. The Gender and Development Group, which is part of the Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network (PREM), coordinates the work programme outlined by the Board. The Bank’s Operational Policy on the gender dimension of development (OP 4.20) dating from 1994 has just been revised and updated, and a new Bank procedure on gender provides more specific guidance on implementation.

The Bank’s first annual monitoring report on progress in gender mainstreaming found that there was substantial progress in integrating a gender dimension into policy instruments such as PRSPs, economic and sector work, and lending operations. The report concluded, however, that there are still areas for improvement. It implicitly concluded that attention to gender issues in lending operations was mainly restricted to human development sectors, not for example infrastructure or structural adjustment. Suggested steps include increasing the ability of regional and country teams to complete country-level gender analysis and integrate this into policy dialogue; working more closely with civil society organisations and other donors and increased capacity building plus knowledge sharing among staff and clients.

However, Ann Whitehead, an academic at the University of Sussex who has written extensively on gender issues, commented: “the mechanisms for making different parts of the Bank accountable for working on gender issues have no bite, no sanctions; it is all a matter of staff members’ individual interests. Gender specialists rarely go on the main technical missions around PRSPs. And Joint Staff Assessments, such as that conducted for Tanzania, may not mention gender. When they do, the comments are of poor quality. Yemen is a recent example.”

Official resources

World Bank Gender Mainstreaming Strategy

Online database with sex-disaggregated national statistics

Operational Policy and Bank Procedure

Cecilia Valdivieso, Sector Manager, Gender and Development, World Bank


Telephone: +1 202 4731981

Civil society resources

How to Challenge a Colossus: Engaging with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Gender and Development Network

Forthcoming Gender and Development Group report on PRSPs

New Bank report on gender policies, Bretton Woods Update 22

World Bank to rate all projects for gender impact, Women’s E-news, April 2002

Women’s EDGE, a U.S. coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to ensuring that U.S. international aid and trade programs work for women has just published “The Advocate’s Guide to Promoting Gender Equality at the World Bank”. This report is intended to be a “primer” on World Bank efforts to promote gender equality for all those interested in advocating for women’s rights in Bank-funded initiatives. It provides a brief history of Bank efforts to promote attention to gender equality in policies and projects, an assessment of how well the Bank has done in these activities thus far, current thinking at the organization and a description of advocacy efforts previously undertaken by women’s organizations and other external actors. The report includes current views of a number of Southern and Northern women’s organizations on gender advocacy at the Bank and their recommendations regarding the most important steps to take to promote gender equality in Bank-funded initiatives.

To order the report, please contact Cammy Challender

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