Mind the gaps: Toward a new World Bank Group gender equality strategy

8 October 2015 | Minutes

Caren Grown (Senior Director for Gender, World Bank Group)

The aim of this session is to update civil society partners and interlocutors about  the World Bank Group’s ongoing work to craft and launch a renewed strategy for achieving gender equality, as a vital prerequisite to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. The session will feature a presentation on the background, scope, and process for developing the new strategy and participants will be invited to share any questions, comments and recommendations in preparation for the WBG Board of Executive Directors’ review of the new strategy in December 2015.

These notes are incomplete.
Please see 

WBG Strategy Concept Note

  • Foundational premises: that men and women are not homogenous groups, that market institutions effect and evolve and interact
  • The approach is to consider how to align the dimensions to impact upon economic opportunities, agency (voice, decision-making control, including collective) and endowments (domain of health and education)

Progress & Gaps, Contexts

  1. Human endowments – healthier and longer liver for men and women, and progress all developing regions
  2. Economic opportunities – gender gap in labour force partiiciation in DCs narrowed, women are less likely to work full time and earn 10 to 30 percent less than men

Formal female-owned SMEs face a credit gap of roughly $300 billion
This area is the stickiest – most resistant to change
note that Bank has committed to ‘universal financial inclusion by 2020

  1. Voice & Agency – more country have laws on gender-based violence – but 1 in 3 women experience it globally
    Women Business & the Law report, released September, showed new database which found increasing countries adopting laws on gender-based violence (though incidence & prevalence of such violence remains high) – this issue is at epidemic levels (see UN Women He for She campaign)
    Also proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments has increased from 13 percent in 1990 to 22 in 2014, representing small gainsOverall mixed picture provides context to strategy
  2. Strong policy framework exists
    CEDAW (unsigned by US & Somalia) 1979 ot MDG3 (2000) and SDG 5 (2105)
    note donor commitments do not match rhetoric
  3. Private sector seeing self-interest in closing gaps, in terms of productivity, leadership and customer base
  4. WBG engaging in gender issues explicitly for several decades, culminating in current high level recognition at the Bank
    FY14 all Country Assistance Strategies/Partnerships Frameworks included a gender assessment and 55 per cent of projects integrated gender in analysis, design and in results frameworks

Approach proposed by Concept Note ‘ Directions’

Proposed to align with WBG’s twin goals on elimination of extreme poverty and shared prosperity via focus on
a) removing constraints for more and better jobs

  1. b) Removing barriers to women’s ownership and control of assets

Where women’s labour force participation has grown fastest, poverty rates have decreased fastest. Better jobs for women provide private sector companies with competitive advantage, and households with higher welfare

Concept Note – perhaps underplayed/gave lesser attention to the other relevant areas.

Approach to the two main areas means 1) removing constraints for more and better jobs, and removing barriers to women’s ownership and control of assets

A key aspect of participation in the economy is the ‘care’ economy, due to the nature of children as a ‘public good’, and care services generally are a key dimension of economic policy.

Thus engaging in strategies to increase Female Labour Force participation needs to consider the impact on the care economy

To achieve these things means also continuing to address so-called ‘first generation’ issues including maternal mortality and even (reverse) gender gaps in education

Consultation Process

Via online platform and consultations in 22 countries, with goal to meet key clients, including civil society, development partners, private sector and ministries

Over 1000 people participated, over 60 face-to-face meetings, and over 50 online submissions

Support emerged for a country-driven approach, with the need to be selective, as well as more and better data


Support for a country-driven approach, so no one-size-fits-all model, so countries need to tailor to own contexts and to local prevailing types of gender inequalities. Also, considering countries as also containing internal complexity.

Proposing to move away from gender mainstreaming, given mixed evidence for historical success of this approach – hence proposed selective approach to mainstreaming.

Emphasis on developing more and better data, especially to confront gaps on aspects of sex-disaggregated asset access & ownership, earnings, and others

Broad-based support for more and better jobs agenda – convergence of views

Care issues also came high on the agenda, including many mid-income countries facing care deficits

Regarding voice and agency, social & cultural norms were often cited. The Bank was challenged as to whether it has capacity or should address aspects of gender-based violence. View of Bank was that two areas were nonetheless relevant, e.g. by ensuring transport policy/systems design consider safety


1) Focus on jobs and assets resonated globally

2) Broadening of strategic lens to include closing first generation gaps


Bank’s approach is designed to be operational – so seeking to know what works and what types of approaches have the greatest pay-offs

  1. Country-Led Approach: WBG will
    1. Work to increase the demand for “gender smart solutions” from clients, therefore the WBG needs to show that an appropriate lens will be beneficial to the overall outcome
    2. Help governments and companies better understand the benefits of closing gaps
    3. Involve the private sector to close gaps in various economic sectors (as part of ‘One WB Group’ approach)
  2. Learning What Works:
    1. Establish what works, especially related to economic opportunity, in particular sectors and contexts, then disseminate
  3. Strategic approach to mainstreaming
    1. Build a more results-orientated approach
  4. More and Better Data
    1. Invest in data collection in partnership with UN agencies
    2. Enhance good diagnostics and strengthen analysis at the country level
    3. Will propose guidelines on how to incorporate such questions within survey household data that is sex disaggregated
  5. Building on what works
    1. Identifying and building on good practices
  6. Leverage partnerships for effective outcomes
    1. UN Women MOU December 2014, as part of achieving SDG 5
    2. New financing facility

Stronger focus on Fragile and Conflict-Affected States (FCS)

Hence challenging locations which were intentionally selected for some of the consultation process

Recognition of need to adopt different operational approaches;

Increased risk of gender-based violence

Role of masculinities

Complex interactions among economic opportunities, resources, rights

Questions & Discussion

Strategy to Board for discussion in mid-December – with an accompanying internal operationalisation approach set out at that stage.

This will be accompanied by an upgraded gender data portal.

2016 will be a key focus to improve Bank staff’s capacity to work on these issues, and assessing the frontiers of knowledge internally on what works.

Significant focus internally on private sector and role of IFC, with emphasis on SMEs and also banks which in latter case to understand better the women’s market as underserved and important segment

Also looking into forms of insurance –note recent report (She for Shield) including new in-depth diagnostic for insurance markets

Care is now a key opportunity and priority in terms of engagement with private sector in particular.

Ambition within few years to have flagship product of what works for women to set out example to internal capacity building – this also relates to WBG’s power to convene to help advance this particular gender. This is shown by the role played by Christine Lagarde and the Bank can learn from that and be a strong partner to that approach.