World Bank gender-based violence mechanism raises “serious concerns”

13 July 2021

In November, the World Bank updated its procurement policy to include a disqualification mechanism to ban contractors for two years if they are found to violate its rules on gender-based violence (GBV). The mechanism, which applies to large works contracts approved after 1 January 2021, aims to tackle GBV and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) taking place in World Bank-funded projects, after a Bank-financed Uganda road project was cancelled due to allegations of abuse by project construction workers against women and girls in 2017 (see Observer Spring 2017).

The mechanism was recommended by the Bank’s GBV Taskforce, launched in October 2016 in response to the allegations raised in the road project (see Observer Autumn 2017).

However, there are concerns that the mechanism could deter communities from reporting GBV. Elana Berger with US-based Bank Information Center highlighted concerns with access to the board which oversees compliance with the policy, stating, “The fact that communities are not able to connect with the Independent Board or take part in investigations means that this mechanism is not accountable to those most affected by its decisions.”

She added, “There are serious concerns with this mechanism. Communities were critical to raising original issues of sexual exploitation around projects and they should be involved in all reforms.”

It is also feared that because the policy only applies to projects that are deemed high risk, the Bank could be disincentivised from categorising projects as such. Project contractors and borrowers are also closely involved in the selection of the board that oversees compliance with the policy, raising further concerns about the board’s independence.