IFI governance


Gender and development: What is happening now?

16 April 2015 | Minutes

Sponsors: Bank Information Center (BIC), World Bank Group Gender Cross Cutting Solutions Area

Panelist: Caren Grown (Senior Director, Gender Cross Cutting Solutions Area, World Bank Group), Kelly Verdade (Executive Director of ELAS Brazilian Women’s Fund), Makoma Lekalakala, South Africa Chair: Alex Foxley (World Bank Executive Director – Chile)

The World Bank Group is preparing a renewed gender strategy – which is expected to be finalized and discussed by the Board of Executive Directors later this year. The strategy is being developed to help us support countries and companies achieve gender equality as one pathway to ensuring lasting poverty reduction and shared prosperity. A Concept Note has been prepared and it serves as a basis for discussion during consultations with stakeholders from mid-April through mid-July.

Caren Grown, the Senior Director leading the development of the strategy will present the approach to the strategy to civil society. Two responding voices will sit on the panel to share their work on the ground and we expect the floor to open up for an interesting dialogue

Caren Grown , WB strategy

WB – challenge for its strategy has been affected by expectations that have not always been realistic, though we do have to continue to measure and understand our work

WB needs to focus on being strategic and understanding priority areas, so a more strategic approach to mainstreaming

Secondly the WB needs to focus on deep dives to achieve two major outcomes

1) a stronger focus on more and better jobs

2) a great focus on ownership & assets

Why this deep dive double-focus? Because jobs and assets are key to realizing improved gender outcomes


  • But job growth isn’t automatically even and we still need to focus on gender gaps, such as women predominating in informal employment, we need to consider how we provide better protection and employment benefits.
  • Gender wage gaps are closely related also to productivity and growth issues.
  • Also care is crucial to achieving these goals
  • These are aligned with the world Bank’s major objectives

We’ve been developing our strategy process to work in the jobs solution area to think about where the WB can be in this area.

We’ve chosen these areas also because the WB has had for 5 years regional gender action plans, all of which mention jobs and some aspect of the need to increase ownership of productive assets

Strategy will continue to be country-led – not a cookie-cutter approach. It will be different from country to country to understand country context and giving clients the driver seat.

This is a World Bank Group-wide strategy, which also means working with the public sector and the private sector. The IFC has done work on the Banking on Women programme, and a number of other projects, to understand the business case across a number of sectors.

Interesting both public and private sector have things to learn from each other.

These two deep dives are also representative of the Bank group’s comparative advantage – we already do a lot of work in many areas – this is a strategy that is about helping the bank to do better relative to its own comparative advantage. It’s important to look at the whole panoply of actors, with other institutions which have different capacities and skills – the bank cannot take on all agendas everywhere.

Jobs and assets are crucial to women and girls, and the literature shows that women need resources.

We will have to figure out how to do more of increasing women’s voice and agency, and that includes doing more work on gender-based violence and understanding any time where we invest in the economic sphere to pay attention to both unanticipated impacts/consequences of changing the economic balance of power.

We have a gender-based violence working group now within the Bank, and this will be a strengthened going forward.

West Africa loan – psycho-social counseling of survivors in post-conflict situations

Strategy to be complete shortly after annuals, coinciding with mid-term review of IDA 17 – we will start consulting next week on the now public concept note www.worldbank.org/genderconsultation – we will seek input on the concept note

We will seek input from a broad spectrum. We will in days publish a number of results of consultations. Throughout May and already there is a fully open survey for anyone to engage in which will be published

There is a great sense in the Bank that this is ‘our’ strategy, Bank-wide, not gender team’s.

Kelly Verdade

The mention of development goals was welcome – these issues cannot be postponed any further. We should ask what is the face of poverty? It has a sex, it has colour, it has a face.

Gender equality is indeed basic to achieving the end of poverty, which is obvious to feminists, but not everyone has an understanding of this issue.

It’s not always easy to show how to connect gender equality is connected to development.

Many activists in Brazil see the WB’s approach to gender as superficial.

There are legislative and norm improvements in Brazil, but there are still problems being suffered, e.g. in terms of health ; in Brazil it is criminal for a woman to interrupt a pregnancy – which reflects the ‘two countries’ of Brazil, one smaller, white, and rich – who can pay for their health needs, while other women die due to the same causes. There are also moral and religious dimensions to this, including in provision of health services which are linked to religious communities where violence can still be perpetrated against women patients.

Despite years of research, we see that women in Brazil struggle to achieve the same salaries and many other dimensions. The private sector in Brazil, despite adopting a social responsibility strategy, it’s still viewed as ‘charity’ and do not perceive the relevance of supporting rights or a sustainable legacy for society.

Women are really excluded within the private sector, companies and small businesses – women are still not there, or not enough

On exclusion, the formal spaces of power within the political system – even while having a president that is a woman, in congress women are no more than 9% of congress. While in Argentina there are more than 30% of women represented in their equivalent.

The WB should continue to receive projects from Brazil’s government, but things remain very challenging.

A major dimension of a gender-smart approach is taking an inter-sectional approach – despite the gains in Brazil – we still struggle to show the gendered and racialized dimensions, as do lesbian women, and rural women and indigenous women – the achievements are simply not equally shared.

The Bank will have to engage with local groups and civil society – the Bank has to fight for it, not just open the door – the Bank needs a methodology to achieve the participation of civil society. This is about localism and context, so the country-context approach will not be achieved unless they are present, going beyond commitments to gender equality and a gender lens. We don’t even have sufficient space to say when things are not working, so we must improve that.

Makoma Lekalakala, Debt-Life Johannesburg

Examining a major fossil fuel investment by the World Bank, in the Matimba coal-fired power station operated by Eskom. The legislation in South Africa is very progressive but implementation on the ground is very different. SA has ratified most international agreements regarding gender equality and empowerment – which was what prompted the Bank to be able to invest.

The stories show a drop in the ocean of all women’s experiences in the area of the detrimental impact on their lives and families via a disruption of social and economic activities, particularly in the lives of women.

As a result of the influx of labour, the area has become predominantly male population, which has placed a strain on limited infrastructure, as the municipality cannot provide services as before. Women have suffered disproportionality as a result, in many dimension, such s in housing where we now see so-called ‘apartheid labour camps’, which are single-sex hostels on farms.

The project has brought other social ills, and other lifestyles not previously known to the area, including prostitution with increasing rates of HIV aids. There is only one municipal hospital, which cannot accommodate the influx and changes in medical needs.

There is an erosion of cultural and traditional practices. The site of the power station was previously used to access traditional medicine – now people travel much further. This was also built on a grave site which women had used, including their role and power in terms of cultural practices associated with these sites, so they now face a significant additional social strain.

The project has led to much clean water being diverted, and many people now have less access to clean water, and often go without clean water for significant periods of time.

This also tells us – in relation to the MDGs – though we have a very good constitution, nevertheless we see two areas of the MDGs being violated. A critical area is decision making that has been violated. Another critical MDG area is the reduction in women’s role managing natural resources – an issue also shown by the impacts of the power station including in the agricultural land and access to water.

I would thus recommend that a rights-based approach is taken. The strategy talks about using such an approach – is this a practical or paper-only approach?

How effective will the strategy be – will it monitor at a practical level when rights are violated or overlooked? Many mechanisms of accountability have insufficient power, only to make recommendations, such as the Inspection Panel.

I think also what is important is that if the Bank says its aim is to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity – this has not happened in many case. SA, like Brazil, has two worlds which is also heavily radicalised, in terms of who will benefit.