IFI governance


The World Bank’s approach to gender mainstreaming

5 April 2011 | Inside the institutions

The World Bank’s current approach to gender mainstreaming promotes women’s empowerment as “smart economics” that serves a dual equality-development purpose. This approach, which largely ignores non-economic sources of gender inequality, has been criticised for its narrow, market-driven focus.

Since the 1990s, the Bank has advocated a country-owned, Bank-supported approach to addressing gender inequality. The Bank’s Operational Policy (OP) 4.20, introduced in 1994, and its 2001 Gender Mainstreaming Strategy were implemented with the stated intent of promoting gender as a cross-cutting issue in all sectors (see Update 33). Country Gender Assessments (CGAs) were introduced as a tool for determining priority sectors for gender integration in client countries by OP 4.20, and became the “principal means” for country gender analysis under the 2001 strategy. They were designed to coordinate with the Bank’s existing Country Assistance Strategies (CASs, see Update 70). Between fiscal years 2002 and 2008, gender assessments were undertaken for 46 out of 140 total country strategies.

The Bank’s four-year, $63 million Gender Action Plan (GAP), Gender equality as smart economics, was produced in 2007 to “improve women’s economic opportunity [through] access to jobs, land rights, financial services, agricultural inputs and infrastructure” (see Update 54). Bank commitments to gender integration in economic and sector work (ESW) were prioritised under the Action Plan. ESW is primarily in-country information and statistics gathering about existing infrastructure needs, governance practices and economic and social policy. About half of GAP’s budget went to ESW; this sum amounts to less than 7 per cent of total Bank-wide spending on ESW between 2003 to 2006, the most recent four year period for which statistics are available for comparison. The GAP relied upon quantitative performance indicators to measure progress in gender mainstreaming, such as “increase in the amount of available credit for women in focus countries” and “increase in the number of ESW in infrastructure subsectors that conduct gender-based analysis”.

In 2010, a 2011 to 2013 post-GAP transition plan was given a $68 million budget. Included in this is $2 million for the 2012 World Development Report, which the Bank has devoted to gender equality (see Update 72). The report is expected to maintain the Bank’s controversial market-oriented approach to gender mainstreaming. The post-GAP plan maintains the GAP’s focus on promoting gender equality through women’s economic empowerment, but was expanded to include investment in education and reproductive health as additional objectives. It also mentions vulnerable men and boys while the GAP focused wholly on women and girls. “ESW and operations”, “knowledge creation and sharing”, “capacity building to strengthen gender mainstreaming”, and “engaging civil society” are the transition plan’s four specified action areas for gender work. Like the GAP, the post-GAP plan’s performance indicators are measurements of the quantity of gender-related analysis in country strategies and statistics.

Universal metrics do not exist within the Bank to measure gender integration in policy and project lending. A 2009 IEG evaluation stated that gender coverage in Bank operations increased between 2002 and 2005, but “weakened markedly” after fiscal year 2005. “Adequate” coverage of gender issues fell at both the country/CAS and project levels between 2006 and 2008, to 60 per cent and 46 per cent respectively. The IEG determined adequacy of gender coverage using unique quantitative and qualitative measures at the country-, sector- and project-levels. Each emphasised the collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data and diagnosis of key gender-related barriers to development. The post-GAP plan, like the GAP, has been criticised by NGOs for its lack of a human rights framework.

Weak implementation of gender policies has been identified by both the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG, the Bank’s arms-length watchdog) and NGO observers as a significant impediment to gender mainstreaming (see Update 69). A 2009 IEG report stated that the accountability system outlined in the 2001 gender mainstreaming strategy had not been institutionalised, and that “there [were] few or no control systems at any level to ensure implementation of the gender policy”. The 2011 to 2013 transition plan calls for clearer accountability for implementation, particularly at the highest levels (country directors and above). However, specific policies that incentivise and insist upon senior management commitment to gender mainstreaming have not been introduced. In 2008, the Bank classified 0.5 per cent of its staff as ‘gender experts’. At the corporate level, the number of staff members formally dedicated to gender was 16 in 2009, compared to 267 staff members devoted to the environment in that year.