Keeping the Focus on Gender Equality

Ahead of International Women’s Day, I argue that in order to realize the Bank’s twin goals we need to internalize gender equality into our solutions and our evaluations.

Eradicate poverty and boost shared prosperity? There’s no chance of reaching these ambitious goals unless gender equality is an integral part of the agenda. The World Bank Group has recognized this by introducing gender as one of five cross-cutting solutions areas.  

What does this mean for independent evaluation?

GenderIEG, like many other groups, has occasionally evaluated the Bank’s gender policies on a large scale. These evaluations generated useful lessons and recommendations that are important to shaping the future agenda and they’ve been welcomed, especially by shareholders. But the track record of implementing our recommendations makes me wonder if we should do more to support this cause and help the World Bank Group achieve its goals.

When I look back at our last evaluation on Gender and Development in 2010 and at what’s happened since then, a number of questions remain.

Gender mainstreaming as a way of deprioritizing?

The intentions are good. Mainstreaming an issue that cuts across the development challenge is important to ensuring it’s internalized. But is gender-mainstreaming the panacea for addressing gender in country policies and programs? Clearly not.

An assessment of the country context is crucial when deciding whether a targeted approach to gender is more appropriate than a mainstreaming approach. For the evaluation of country strategies, this means the relevance of gender in the country context should be assessed case by case, and followed up in country operations and analytical work accordingly. For example, in multi-country thematic evaluation contexts of Bank support to Fragile and Conflict-Affected States, the urgency of responding to targeted gender-based violence as a war tactic emerged as a very specific priority theme that wasn’t addressed by the Bank.

Connecting broader goals with gender equality?

Instead of rethinking how business is done, the substantive integration of gender equality often falls victim to the momentary attention the subject receives. We can start internalizing gender equality in our solutions if we understand poverty eradication and shared prosperity from the perspective of who’s gaining and who’s losing because of World Bank Group interventions at the household and intra-household level. Our improved ability to assess distributional impacts demanded by the Bank Group’s twin goals of eradicating poverty and boosting shared prosperity is a formidable entry point for a systematic assessment of what’s happening to gender equality.

Not enough data?

Three years after completing our evaluation, we find that the availability of household-level and intra-household data remains a serious gap. Impact evaluations and M&E aren’t designed to collect and process data, let alone use it for making informed decisions about mid-course corrections or future designs. Data is essential for developing and implementing meaningful solutions.

As evaluators, we will continuously generate evidence and evaluation insights for all these issues by integrating relevant questions into our ongoing work. For instance, we will evaluate inclusive growth, poverty eradication, and boosting shared prosperity from a perspective of gender equality. We will ask difficult questions, look for evidence of when the playing field is not level for both genders, or if interventions have positively or negatively affected the relationship between genders—and meaningfully build these insights into our evaluations. Also, we will move from calling out data gaps to creating demand for data that should incentivize data collection systems to adapt and collect relevant information.

But first, we need to generate a better understanding within IEG about the relevance of gender equality to our evaluations and how that affects our methodologies. We’ve started to get a better sense of how to gauge understanding and raise awareness, and are developing guidance for IEG evaluations to adopt. We’re also developing an IEG Award for outstanding performance on gender equality projects.

Are there other actions we should take? Please share your thoughts.


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Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to the whole thing. Do you have any suggestions for first-time blog writers? I'd really appreciate it.
Ms S Wijesinha
Women face various challenges in the workplace and at home front as well (I feel that their vulnerability is BEEN exploited) and you cannot blame the same people they are living with. Pregnant women are exposed to more threats more and the fact that young women have not faced these situation earlier .In the South Asian region with a Psychological view has to safeguard the child while being exposed to threats faced from the external world. This could be named as the need of the day. Sri Lanka
billiga skor på...
Youre so right. Im there with you. Your blog is surely worth a read if anybody comes across it. Im lucky I did because now Ive got a whole new view of this. I didnt realise that this issue was so important and so universal. You absolutely put it in perspective for me. billiga skor på
Caroline Heider
Many thanks for your comment. I am glad you found it informative. Gender equality is important and a lot more needs to be known about how interventions help or hinder bringing it about. We will be posting updates as we progress and hope you return for more.
Gita Gopal
Hi! A pleasure to see that the DG leading the gender blog. I am also delighted there will be more systematic attention to integrating gender equality issues into IEG evaluations. And you raise very interesting points! I agree with you that gender mainstreaming has not delivered the results as expected. And targeted approaches are needed. But, are the 2 necessarily contradictory? I feel they must be complementary, and the strategy must clearly be tailored to each country context. I have now been working for the past 5 years on these issues at the grassroots in a small state at the Southern most tip of India (Kerala). In Kerala, women are today healthy (low maternal mortality rate, sub-replacement fertility) and educated (parity at primary and at secondary with participation being much higher for women at the tertiary level). This said, 5% representation in the legislature and a dismal participation in the labor markets. They remain healthy and educated, but individually poor and powerless! In countries where you have basic gender equality in human, social, political, and economic dimensions, a targeted approach could be enough (such as Poland and so on). But in countries such as India, in my view a gender mainstreaming approach must be accompanied by a targeted approach. In Kerala it has been predominantly a targeted approach and it has been found inadequate to strengthen gender equality. Notable progress in several areas, but miles to go in very important other dimensions! And now male gender issues are emerging which are constraining achievement of gender equality. So in my view, the implications for gender should be considered in project design and where there is a significantly different adverse impact on one gender or the other, would you not agree it should be addressed?
Caroline Heider
Gita, many thanks for your comment and excellent example of how multi-faceted gender and gender interventions are, and how much depends on country context and where the roots and/or manifestations of inequality lie. I agree with you that a mix of interventions are needed, some targeted and others that are broader by conscious of their consequences on gender equality. At IEG we aim to integrate a gender-lens into a lot of our work so that we generate evaluation evidence over time on both targeted and non-targeted interventions to understand what results they have had and the reasons why they were successful or not. That, we hope, will help decision-makers and development practitioners address issues such as the ones you have observed in Kerala. Your example really brings to life the challenges we as development and evaluation community face in achieving results.

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