Gender and the World Bank: climbing the Himalayas ?

30 April 2003

Women rights advocates met in Washington DC on April 10 to discuss ways to promote gender equality at the World Bank. This meeting was part of efforts to raise awareness on this issue both among women rights supporters and Bank- and IMF– watchers, and encourage joint advocacy.

The general feeling is that despite some progress in recent years the Bank still has a long way to go (see Bretton Woods Update 33). As Director of the World Bank Gender Unit Karen Mason put it, “if we are climbing the Himalayas then we are now at base camp two”. In October 2001 the Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department concluded that internal incentives to ‘mainstream’ a focus on gender issues in the Bank were not in place, with inadequate resources, no accountability mechanisms to ensure staff integrate these issues, and a lack of capacity, among other factors. A previous OED study, carried out in 1997, had drawn similar conclusions. Since 2001 the Bank has adopted a ‘gender mainstreaming strategy’ and recently devised a new monitoring and evaluation system to track and evaluate its implementation.

A new ‘Advocate’s guide’ written by Carolyn Long for Women’s Edge acknowledges progress. However whether these new initiatives will result in incorporation of gender-responsive actions into policies and operations remains to be seen. The report also echoes persisting problems perceived by some Southern NGOs gender specialists, such as “the Bank’s promotion of gender equality within the prevailing paradigm of economic reform and globalisation”, its support of privatisations with negative impact on women’s labour and well being, or the “emphasis on women as mothers, not as workers”. Addressing these problems and others is part of the recommendations to advocates in the North included in the report.

A new review by Gender Action of 13 Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) written in 2002 finds that gender “PRSPs do not yet thoroughly mainstream gender although they are becoming more gender sensitive”. Few countries had anything near gender equal participation in their consultative processes, no PRSPs assess or address gendered impacts of structural adjustment measures like privatisations and trade liberalisation measures, and few PRSPs follow up gender commitments with monitoring indicators, implementation strategies and funding commitments.

This emphasis on monitoring is crucial as often policy commitments to gender equality “evaporate” in planning and implementation processes.

The advocate’s guide to promoting gender equality at the World Bank , Women’s Edge

Do Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) Address Gender ? A Gender Audit of 2002 PRSPs , Gender Action

Inside the institutions: The World Bank and gender , Bretton Woods Update 33 with useful links