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World Bank moving backwards on gender?

12 February 2010

An evaluation of the World Bank’s progress on gender suggests that the Bank may actually be going backwards in some areas.

The World Bank’s arms-length evaluation unit, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) conducted a review of Bank loans in 93 countries between 2002 and 2008, with case studies in 12 of these. They did not cover the Bank Group’s private sector lending from the International Finance Corporation which is due its own IEG gender evaluation “in the near future”.

 Compared to their 2001 evaluation (see Update 36), the IEG found that “gender integration into Bank support increased both in quantity and in scope” but “the implementation of the Bank’s gender policy, initially strong, weakened in the latter half of the evaluation period.” As a result, “the evaluation found a decline in the frequency of meaningful gender integration into [the Bank’s country assistance strategies.]”

This weakening of the Bank’s approach was caused by “insufficient steps to implement an accountability framework and set up a monitoring system,” the failure to properly integrate gender into high level decision-making, the absence of a results framework,  sporadic funding, and the ditching of an approach that tried to integrate gender into all Bank work in favour of one focussed on selected programmes.

The IEG is highly critical of this selective approach which “tended to diminish the relevance of the Bank’s gender policy.” They cite countries such as Bolivia and Pakistan, where the Bank identified only health and education projects as having important gender dimensions, meaning that other sectors, such as agriculture or municipal services could ignore gender without being in breach of Bank policies. This patchy approach is particularly worrying as “the evaluation found that in roughly 75 per cent of Bank operations, women … will participate less and benefit relatively less from project activities if the design does not mitigate such an impact.” In Benin, for example, the IEG found that a project in the cotton sector, where many women work, “did not address gender inequalities and could actually have resulted in strengthening unequal gender relations.”

The IEG also found that, despite a commitment to have conducted country gender assessments in all Bank countries by 2005, to date only 48 had been completed – around half of the Bank programmes evaluated. Titi Soentoro of Manila-based independent IFI watchdog, the NGO Forum on the ADB, said, “this evaluation shows that the Bank does not have a serious commitment to address gender disparities and women’s inequality. The major problem is that the Bank’s gender policy goals are seen only as aspirations, not essential minimum requirements.”

Gender plan falls short

The Bank’s much criticised 2007 Gender Action Plan (GAP, see Update 57) should, according to the IEG, shoulder some of the blame for these problems as “the introduction of the GAP without appropriate policy foundations … had the effect of blurring the Bank’s overall gender policy.” A Bank paper prepared for donors at November’s IDA mid-term review showed the limited effectiveness of the GAP, which was supposed to integrate gender into the ‘economic’ sectors of labour, land and agriculture, private sector development and infrastructure. The paper found that, between 2006 and 2008, “gender coverage” in GAP sectors remained very low, only increasing from 33 to 41 per cent. 

The IEG recommended putting in place proper accountability, evaluation and monitoring frameworks, and “restoring a broader requirement for gender integration at the project level.” The Bank management’s response to the report agreed with many of the IEG’s recommendations;  proposals are due to come to the Board in the second quarter of this year, and a “GAP transition plan” is due in the fourth quarter. 

Elaine Zuckerman from US NGO Gender Action said “In addition to the problems of weak implementation, the Bank’s gender policy excludes development policy loans, notorious for conditionalities which harm most vulnerable groups including women, although these compose an increasing proportion of total Bank loans.”