Building a feminist recovery for all: Gender transformative policies are more urgent than ever

1 October 2020

Orange the World 2019 - Ecuador Participantes de la Marcha "Vivas nos Queremos" se manifiestan en contra de la violencia de género. Photo: UN Women/Johis Alarcón

This virtual Civil Society Policy Forum session on 1 October was sponsored by ActionAid UK, ActionAid, Fight Inequality Alliance, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, BWP, Kvinna till Kvinna, Gender Action, Oxfam.


  • Moderator: Wangari Kinoti, International Policy Advisor, Women’s Rights, ActionAid
  • Panelist 1: Amani Rizq, Senior Program Officer, Kvinna till Kvinna
  • Panelist 2: Elaine Zuckerman, President, Gender Action
  • Panelist 3: Estefania Vela, Executive Director, Intersecta
  • Panelist 4: Koen Davidse, Executive Director for the Netherlands Constituency, EDS19, World Bank

Introductory remarks

Wangari Kinoti (moderator): Welcome to what we can guarantee will be an interesting session. I work on women’s rights and policy, especially on women’s paid and unpaid labour, structural violence and economic justice.

There has been a lot of analysis, research, thinking and writing from feminist researchers, academics, economists, policy specialists and many others on the Covid-19 pandemic. How its racialised and geographic. How it exacerbates debt, looking at its impact on labour and the economy and so on.

What is clear is that it is crucial that the World Bank Group (WBG) and IMF, as those shaping the economic and health realities to people across the globe, listen to and apply this knowledge. Covid-19 requires a global outlook and pathways to recovery. This panel on a feminist analysis informed recovery is necessary and urgent.


Question from moderator: What does what we know of the impact of the current Covid-19 policy environment tell us about the systemic changes that are so urgently needed?

Amani Rizq (Kvinna till Kvinna): I work for the Kvinna Till Kvinna foundation. I am here to bring the information from the ground in Jordan with women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and discussions around Covid-19. Bring information from a report Kvinna Till Kvinna published entitled Maintaining a role for women’s rights in international development finance which took place at the end of 2019.

The increase in debt to 40 billion at the end of 2019 has forced people to take off to the streets to demonstrate against the government and women movement was part of the demonstration against the IMF and WBG policies and austerity measures.

Opinions of IMF and WBG have become negative for two reasons (1) after the tax law changed in a non-transparent manner in 2019 and (2) because of their lack of recognition and advocacy against the shrinking civic space in Jordan which is impacting the civil society work and civil rights and doing harm when funding projects without tracking this aspect.

A recommendation from Human Rights Watch in our report “emphasizes that IFIs need to make better use of the analysis of civil space as part of the creation of country engagement frameworks. “If it [civic space] is not analyzed within partnership framework it will not be taken up by the bank in projects.”

The women organisations criticise the fact that citizens’ consultation for IMF loans is not mandatory so it is seen as Banks’ and a state -owned process. They demand a scale up in IMF and WBG’s civil-society engagement in-country to match its dedication to inequality and gender issues. This includes mandatory consultation for any Article IV report with experts, such as women’s rights groups and labour unions (see Inside the Institutions IMF Surveillance).

Consultations done by World Bank are limited and when they happen insufficient budget is allocated for gender issues. For example, the World Bank managed to link the public transport issue (which has proven to be a main obstacle for participation of women in Jordan) to the Development Policy Loan as a key gender issue, due to consultation with civil society. However, in the end and according to parties on the ground, not enough budget was allocated towards this part of the loan to have considerate impact.

WHRDs see that the consultations are not conducted in an inclusive manner and it treats civil society organizations and other relevant actors as similar group. To them it is important to ensure that a diverse set of women’s organizations are represented in consultations through targeted outreach.

The IMF-supported measures aiming to encourage women to access the labour market, particularly the private one. Thus, they are accompanied by policies aimed at supporting private sector development to create more job opportunities for women without making sure the government is providing proper work conditions that protect women’s rights and well-being leaving them under the mercy of employers who are putting them in danger especially during COVID -19 times.

Limiting the issue of women’s employment to encouragement and flexible working arrangements for care responsibilities is not enough, for several reasons. Unemployment in Jordan is relatively high, especially among women. In Jordan, unemployment reached 14 per cent among women in 2019. Without addressing the structural reasons for unemployment related to economic policies that have been unchanged for decades, women who want to enter the labour market are more likely to continue to be unemployed. This emphasises the predominant patriarchal social norms that lower women’s employment to a secondary position in favour of their assigned gendered roles, mainly unpaid care work especially in the times of COVID-19 where case work is unrecognized. Thus, employers might simply choose not to hire women which what is happening in Jordan gradually and making women fall through the cracks! This happens in Jordan and many countries in the region and around the world due to the neoliberal economics of IMF and world Bank that became the normal reducing the role of the state in favour of private sector, cutting back on public expenditure and liberalising markets and trade which harms the most vulnerable groups including women.

Estefania Vela (Intersecta): Why do we even need to discuss gender? Why is gender relevant to understand the problems we face and the solutions we require, not just to save lives but ensure people don’t just survive but thrive the crisis. Gender, race, class analysis shows us who is impacted by Covid19 and how.

The problem of Covid-19 is not just about a simple virus. There are ‘pre-existing’ social, political and economic conditions that impacts who is affected by the pandemic.

Two examples from Mexico: When schools shut – no consideration of what families are supposed to do? Care work is invisible – we saw this play out in Covid-19 crisis. By not addressing care work, each individual had to fend for itself – the care of children fell on women. Women have been disproportionately excluded from the labour force. It is not just a blip, not just a small crisis. Everything we had before compounded, there are no small solutions. Need to think about the social and economic models we have in place.

The home – for who is it safe? One in three women are killed are killed in their homes. Last survey, one out of two women had experienced intimate partner violence, not addressed with the mandate of stay at home. Because of austerity measures, shelters had been weakened. We do not have shelters, do not have broader policies that address conditions of domestic violence. We can see a blip, or see it for what it is – a deeper social crisis that requires us to rethink our relationships, policies, institutions.

This plays out at the international level, relationships of power, pre-existing ‘conditions’. This is how we need to see the concept of debt justice. Global institutions have to address the crisis, unless we change those policies, will fail to solve problems of inequality, will entrench them further. When there is a relationship that allows countries to take out debt, how are gender inequalities seen within this? Is it just a blip or are we finally going to address what is at stake, massive social, political, economic inequalities that disproportionately affect women?

Elaine Zuckerman (Gender Action): Today I will share findings from a report that Gender Action will publish prior to the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings. The report title is, Unmet Gender Promises: making IFI projects and policies deliver on gender-equal rights.

The macro frame reflects this panel’s theme: At a macro level the report calls for the WBG and other international financial institutions (IFIs) to shift their paradigm toward sustainably supporting public goods that genuinely improve the lives of poor women, men and sexual and gender minorities (SGMs).  We call for a transformation of the Bank’s decades-long paradigm, starkly exposed by today’s Covid-19 pandemic, which has imposed public social spending cutbacks and privatization of services and infrastructure, leaving poor women and men whose lives IFIs claim little means to survive in times of crisis.

The Report Focus: Pivoting to the report’s micro level, it analyzes the gender policies and gender-sensitivity of IFI Environmental and Social Frameworks (ESFs) and examines field case studies to see how these policies have been applied. Note that gender policies tend to guide IFI staff in their project work. ESFs are directed at borrower countries.

A word on Terminology – On gender policies: We used the term gender policy broadly to refer to IFI’s main gender instruments which they call gender policies or gender strategies or some variation. I believe that Caren Grown who is on today’s call clarified that today the WBG has a gender strategy but lacks a gender policy.

Our methodology was based on applying two sets of ecofeminist rights-based indicators that Gender Action developed to analyze and score IFI gender policies and the gender-sensitivity of their ESFs. We assigned points to how IFI gender policies and ESFs performed then ranked IFIs by indicator as Strong, Adequate and Weak. Our gender policy analysis covered 10 IFIs, scored by 10 indicators. Our ESF analysis covered 12 IFIs, scored by 11 indicators. Since I lack time to list these in my short presentation but hope you will review the report at when we post it closer to the Bank-Fund annual meetings.

Recommendations: Overall our report concludes that the World Bank and most IFIs must strengthen their gender policies and gender-sensitivity of IFI Environmental and Social Frameworks (ESFs) most pressingly within a public sector paradigm.
Some specific IFI Gender Policies and Strategies recommendations are:

Gender Policies:

  • IFI policies must ensure that gender equal rights (GERs) complement their women’s economic empowerment agenda. Too many IFIs neglect GERs while they unilaterally make the business case for women’s employment to boost economic growth. Both are needed. The WB gender strategy commendably addresses reproductive and land ownership rights but fails to address any other GERs.  Eg we have an indicator on how much:
  • Gender policies must recognize and reward unpaid and underpaid care work. Some policies recognize women’s unpaid care work and promote technologies to alleviate it, but they rarely promote monetizing and remunerating care work’s economic contributions and distributing it across genders. The WB’s gender strategy promotes child care ctrs but does not otherwise promote alleviating unpaid care work.
  • Mandate: Some gender policies are mandatory but the WB’s is voluntary.

The IDB and European Investment Bank (EIB) score strongly for mandating implementation of their gender policies.

Overall rankings – comparatively looking at IFI gender policies and strategies, we found that the Asian Development Bank (ADB), African Development Bank (AfDB) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have stronger gender policies than do other IFIs. These three commendably emphasize gender equal rights and women’s empowerment complementarily. The IDB and European Investment Bank (EIB) also laudably score strongly for mandating implementation of their gender policies. The WB’s gender strategy neither emphasizes rights nor mandates projects to implement its guidance.


  • Similarly almost no ESFs received strong scores for mandating that IFI projects address gender issues, or require projects address gender dimensions intersectionally with environment, climate, consultation, consent, monitoring & evaluation, class, caste and SGM issues.
  • ESFs must strengthen the gender dimensions of their resettlement and compensation mechanisms. The strongest ESF gender-sensitivity score was for Resettlement & Compensation, with half of 12 ESFs scoring strongly on this indicator. The WB was not one of the six ESFs that scored strongly on gender-sensitive R&C. IFI ESF resettlement and compensation commitments that are somewhat gender-sensitive, they rarely target women- and girl-headed households nor require gender equal compensation.
  • All ESFs must address interrelated project gender, environment and climate impacts. ESFs hardly acknowledge or address women’s primary roles protecting the environment and managing natural resources and biodiverse ecosystems. Our cases demonstrate that adverse climate and ecological effects especially undermine women’s livelihoods and health. Some ESFs consider gender-sensitive environmental assessments during resettlement, but rarely for environmental and climate issues.
  • ESFs must ensure full information disclosure and inclusive consultation in all projects. In our Strong, Adequate and Weak scoring system, most ESFs scored Weak on gender-sensitive information disclosure and Adequate on promising gender-sensitive consultations, but in practice consultations are often held too late for affected people to consent to or refuse projects. The right to refuse could end the forced resettlement scourge described in this report’s cases.
  • Gender policies and ESFs must ensure prevention of all forms of SGBV. While the Bank’s gender strategy directed at Bank staff addresses SGBV its ESF directed at borrower countries fails to require protection against SGBV and harassment. (Only a few ESFs do this. Cases repeatedly demonstrate SGBV’s detrimental impacts especially on women and girls.)
  • Financial Intermediary subprojects must adhere to IFI gender policies and ESFs. Opaque FI subprojects compose increasing proportions of IFI portfolios including about 60 per cent of WBG IFC operations. Our cases demonstrate that FI subprojects fail to adhere to gender policy and ESF requirements while they have harmful gender impacts.
  • Gender policies and ESFs must rule out discrimination of sexual and gender minorities (SGMs). Only a handful of IFIs have begun protecting SGMs. The World Bank’s non-discrimination directive accompanying its ESF stands out for promoting SGM inclusion.
  • All IFIs must ensure coherence between gender policies and ESFs. The WBG’s gender strategy guidance targeting staff is little reflected in the WB’s ESF and IFC PSs. Examples of incoherence at other IFIs are while the IDB has the strongest IFI gender policy, the IDB’s other safeguard policies scored Weak on gender sensitivity. The reverse applies to the EBRD.

A first conclusion is to repeat that, while policy implementation is key, policies must first be robust. We hope our report will inspire IFIs that have gender policies to strengthen them, and the AIIB and NDB, which still lack gender policies, to create and implement robust mandatory gender policies.

My last conclusion is to repeat that even strong implemented gender policies will only be effective if IFI operational conditions increase rather than decrease public spending and reverse decades of privatization of services and infrastructure which makes them unaffordable to poor women, men and SGMs today during the covid19 crisis and after the COVID19 pandemic.

Wangari Kinoti (moderator): We’ve heard of concerns of inclusion, question around debt and conditions, whether will address inequalities, heard about austerity and impact of women, safety and alarming rates of gender-based violence and what we have just heard from Elaine about critiques of gender policies. What your initial response to that?

Koen Davidse, Executive Director for the Netherlands Constituency, World Bank: I will share these discussions with my colleagues at the Bank. I am a member of the gender working group at the board. Most important issue I heard was around voice of women, especially important now.

Having this discussion on anniversary of Beijing conference, we should be discussing progress on SDG 5. International organisations are keeping score on gender policies, including WBG and IMF, UN women keeping score of countries gender policies. There are around only 25 countries policies on gender-based violence, unpaid care, economic empowerment.

Debt problems have been exacerbated by Covid-19. There are players in debt not necessarily with the IMF and WBG. IMF and WBG are looking for more permanent solutions to make debt more sustainable, calling for solutions, greater transparency, better investment with the money that is borrowed (is up to governments, IMF and WBG can only advise).

Both organisations (IMF and WBG) are committed to greater gender equality and greater social protection as we weather this crisis. WBG remained biggest donor on social sectors. Have seen the WBG address gender more and more – since the 1990s. Gender Strategy, IDA19 and Women, Business and the Law report. Wanted to thank Caren Grown (Director of Gender) for keeping gender on path of the World Bank’s Gender Strategy. 60 per cent of World Bank operations contributed to bridging one or more of these gaps. Poverty is on the rise, gender-based violence is on the rise. Girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys, lack of access to health services, including reproductive and health services. I do not have an answer to all the points mentioned by the panelists. But it is important that the World Bank does stay the course with making gender central to the Covid-19 recovery. Proud of the work the Bank has done on the Sahel demographic dividend programme, which is being scaled up. Need to promote women’s entrepreneurship, access to resources, also core data for decision-making, visibility of some of the issued Estefania was talking about. Efforts must be joined, with civil society, with governments.

Wangari Kinoti (moderator): Good to hear the commitment to social protection, I am hoping that includes gender-responsive public services.


Veronica Serafini (Latindadd): To make effective public policies required, it entails financing them –  the financing of expenditure, collection of taxes. Due to the low tax pressure, Latin American tax revenues are small, which forces countries into fiscal deficit and increased debt and MICs are not eligible for the debt suspension initiative. Only way to address is new loans which will mean more debt. Latindadd demands debt service cancellation, incorporation of women into decisions, tax to multinational corporations and progressive tax system in the countries. What are WBG and IMF doing to advance these demands?

Allana Kembabazi (Initiative for Social and Economic Rights Uganda): One of the things we saw with Covid-19 failures in public health system exacerbates, poor women unable to travel to get healthcare, which lack sufficient, strong public health systems. The WBG has been pushing public-private partnerships in Uganda, pushing vouchers targeting poor women, but found that women receiving the vouchers were actually rich and middle income. Will we see a shift in the Bank’s approach to putting more focus in supporting public health systems which have the potential to reach women? The private sector come in and then they leave and find the poor are stranded. As we are thinking about economic stimulus packages, the process devoid of participation of women. Result was that money channelled through institutions not accessible to women e.g. Uganda Development Bank – where you need land title to access finance, which excludes many women. What measures are you going to take to safeguard participation of women, whether in economic stimulus packages which risks heightening inequality?

Answer from Koen Davidse, Executive Director for the Netherlands Constituency, World Bank: On the issue of middle-income country debt, that is a very complicated issue. No easy solution. Some middle-income countries happy not to consider debt relief because they want to consider access to financial markets. Half of the poorest countries suffering from unsustainable debt risk. Something more systematic has to happen.

Allana, on public health systems, definitely more attention on them. WBG has supported over 100 countries in terms of the Covid-19 response, strengthening the public health system a response to that. That’s not to say there isn’t a sense that in the social sectors, there is a need for extra resources, if they can take care of things so less crowding out of money from social sectors. There will be more strengthening of social spending, it is part of the Bank’s Covid-19 response strategy.

Issue of access to finance, informal sector hit really hard. 60 per cent informal sector women, we are not reaching them. Need to look at financial instruments, micro-finance. Measures for women with no access to finance.

Christian Donaldson (Oxfam International): Koen mentioned that the mid-term evaluation of the World Bank’s Gender Strategy is coming soon. Are there any more details in terms of timeline and opportunity for CSOs to participate?

Answer from Koen Davidse: The Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) is looking at the Gender Strategy.

Caren Grown (World Bank Group Gender Director): We do hold consultations on our work, your comments very useful. On the Covid-19 response, we are very engaged with UN Women and others to ensure Covid-19 response doesn’t exacerbate gender gaps. Some of the programmes under intense time pressure, focused on vaccines, public-private partnerships and equipment, but we made sure not diverting sexual and reproductive health spending, protecting women workers including childcare they need. We have provided specific guidance to all of our teams. As we move forward on issues including social protection – going beyond cash – extending to populations that may not be covered.

We are launching a Covid-19 policy tracker soon to complement UN Women’s Covid-19 response tracker. More resources for social spending, we are working closely with human capital team to make case for social spending, including care. Focusing on the financing of care, regulatory issues, bringing employers in.

IDA19 has cemented some of results we want to see as part of the Bank’s gender strategy, risk mitigation in the health sector, taking a systems approach of what works for prevention and how to scale that. IEG gender strategy mid-term review is almost complete. The World Bank’s Committee on Development Effectiveness will discuss this some time in late October/November. IEG did interview multiple stakeholders from within the Bank. Developing a roadmap for stronger implementation for guidance going forward.

On consultation – we do strongly across the Bank but we do it unevenly. But consultation is a mandatory requirement for all our lending. Final word of ESF and policy. From all my time, approaches to close gaps between men and women, boys and girls has become more problem orientated, target orientated rather than mainstreaming. I have been frustrated with the lack of progress on women’s rights and wellbeing relative to men. We have been moving from a tick box, mandatory compliance approach to a learning approach embedded in policies of countries. We do have guidance for which gaps are critical to approach through ESF – overall lending trying to take a much more transformative approach. More monitoring and tracking as part of implementation of projects.

Roosje Saalbrink (Womankind): Thank you to speakers for sharing concrete examples, thank you for Koen Davidse and Caren Grown, I am encouraged by response to Beijing+25 and the Covid-19 response tracker and hearing more about how this gender guidance is given to teams and pushing for from Ministries of Finance. How and how concretely women’s voice are heard, the emergency loans – how is that ensured in the current loans specifically – is there an issue of ex-ante and ex-post human rights impact assessments with data, and how are diverse women’s voice part of packages and policy changes. Yesterday, the Women’s Budget Group in the UK launched a report that 1per cent investment in the care sector generates 2.7 times as many jobs as the same investment in construction – generating 6.3 times as many jobs for women and 1.1 times as many jobs for men (which in turn generate tax revenue through income taxes). Investing in care is more sustainable as its three times less polluting per job created overall than equivalent investment in construction.

Floor Knoote (Kvinna till Kvinna): The focus of World Bank’s work has been on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, which is sometimes considered a ‘low hanging fruit’. In review of your gender strategy, would you consider including more human rights-based language (as opposed to empowerment language) in your new strategy, considering women’s and men’s rights as a core development objective?

Answer from Koen Davidse: Human rights based language is a challenge – the Bank is a non-political institution. I am in favour of having that focus, but there are others less so. But let us keep our eye on the prize, let us keep an eye on policies including women’s participation that makes more impact. We have made some progress. Consultation of loans is required. In terms of the emergency health response, not as consultative as it normally would be. I represent 13 countries to the World Bank – in those countries there was consultation.

Caren Grown: Agree with Koen that we need to keep our eyes on the prize. Many of our projects have a rights-based approach, they may not use the language. But they are focused on supporting countries to make the legal requirements for gender equality. Data and evidence crucial for looking at what’s going to be impactful – we are taking a problem-based approach and working with our colleagues. We are starting some new work on fiscal policy which is really important, research and evidence based but with some country pilots. We will have a technical advisory group which will include friends from the Women’s Budget Group in the UK, working with our teams to ensure they include robust data. Moving away from share of women beneficiaries to gaps and how we are achieving moving forward. What we can do with partners like the IMF – we can do more with dialogue with governments in terms of adhering to their own commitments, SDGs, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. If we can make the case to the finance ministries – it may sounds instrumentalist – but it is a better outcome for women and men and that is ultimately what we want.

Final remarks

Amani Rizq (Kvinna till Kvinna): A recommendation to the World Bank/IMF is to encourage/pressure governments to guarantee transparency and the right to information on discussions related to COVID 19 response and recovery plans, tax, budget and overall fiscal policy matters, so that women’s rights defenders and others can better assess government decisions and actions on revenue and spending which affects gender equity and women’s participation in this time of crisis?

Estefania Vela (Intersecta): Even though we have been talking about gender equality for decades, when push comes to shove, solutions fall short or just not at all. Many activists stressing that you see gender inequality in terms of access to water, healthcare, housing, life free from violence. Gender needs to be taken into account and the role of IFIs key.

Elaine Zuckerman (Gender Action): 1) Policies – Caren and I have been having this dialogue for a long time on the World Bank’s gender strategy and ESF. Agree that impacts on the ground critical, but the reason they do have strategy and ESF, it knows that strong robust policies need to have and need to be implemented. 2) Debt discussion, partially heartening to hear about the World Bank’s debt suspension, but many countries need full debt cancellation. Example that came to mind is Haiti after the earthquake where the Bank cancelled all past debt and made grants only going forward. I call for the Bank to extend the same kind of debt cancellation rather than suspension to the countries that need it.