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Addressing Gender Inequalities in Countries Affected by Fragility, Conflict, and Violence

Chapter 1 | Introduction


This evaluation assesses the World Bank Group’s contribution to addressing gender inequalities in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV)1 from 2010 to 2022.2 The evaluation focuses on two goals of the Bank Group’s gender strategy (fiscal year [FY]16–23)—promotion of women’s and girls’ economic empowerment (WGEE) and prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV)—and will inform the Bank Group’s upcoming gender strategy on how to orient gender approaches in FCV countries. The evaluation will also inform the Bank Group’s implementation of its FCV strategy (2020–25), particularly the Bank Group’s efforts to address gender inequalities in FCV countries.

The evaluation is timely given the recent spread of FCV situations around the world and the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of gender equality advances. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, up to two-thirds of the world’s poorest people could live in FCV settings (World Bank 2020d) and that, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 20 million more people are now living in extreme poverty in FCV countries (World Bank 2022e). There is also evidence that COVID-19 has caused gender gaps to increase (UN Women and UNDP 2022; World Economic Forum 2021). Women and children are especially vulnerable to increased poverty, discrimination, and GBV in FCV environments (Akseer et al. 2020; Bendavid et al. 2021; Buvinic et al. 2013; Kelly et al. 2021; Klugman 2022; Pereznieto, Magee, and Fyles 2017; World Bank 2019d). Recent estimates (Pathfinders 2019; UNDP and UN Women 2018) suggest that progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires mitigating FCV’s impacts on gender equality. The Bank Group’s FCV strategy (2020–25) states, “FCV both affects, and is affected by, global factors including . . . gender inequalities, [which] . . . tend to be magnified in FCV settings” (World Bank Group 2020, 7).



This evaluation’s theory of change focuses on the interdependence of GBV and WGEE and their links with FCV. The theory of change of this evaluation assumes that the achievement of impactful changes in WGEE and GBV prevention and response in FCV-affected countries depends on recognizing the interdependence between them and addressing the root causes of gender inequalities.3 These changes require safe and equal access to jobs, resources, services, and community engagements and are rooted in a country’s enabling environment (figure 1.1 and appendix C).

The evaluation focuses on the Bank Group’s support to increase WGEE and prevent and respond to GBV. The evaluation defines WGEE as the women’s and girls’ ability to participate equally in existing markets; access to and control over productive resources; access to decent work; control over their time, lives, and bodies; and increased voice, agency, and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels, from households to international institutions (UN Women 2018a). Likewise, GBV is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and based on socially ascribed gender differences. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering; threats of such acts; coercion; and other deprivations of liberty. These acts can occur in public or in private (IASC 2015; World Bank 2015d). Economic (or financial) abuse—which is defined as a deliberate pattern of control of a partner’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources—is also increasingly recognized as part of GBV (Postmus et al. 2020).

Figure 1.1. Theory of Change

A flow chart displaying Theory of Change for addressing gender-based violence and promoting women and girls' economic empowerment

Figure 1.1. Theory of Change

A flow chart displaying Theory of Change for addressing gender-based violence and promoting women and girls' economic empowerment

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: GBV = gender-based violence; M&E = monitoring and evaluation

The evaluation assesses to what extent the Bank Group’s support to WGEE and prevention of and response to GBV in individual FCV countries has been relevant, inclusively owned, deep, sustainable, and scalable—that is, to what extent it has contributed to transformational change. This evaluation assesses the Bank Group’s support in terms of five elements that are highlighted in the FCV strategy (2020–25) and other Bank Group strategic documents. The FCV strategy (2020–25) recommends that operations are relevant to each specific FCV context, because “given the diversity of FCV challenges, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach” (World Bank Group 2020, ix). Where a government’s actions or policies are directly responsible for causing fragility, conflict, and violence, a context-specific, context-sensitive approach “identifies factors that divide societies; provides a clearer understanding of local contexts to avoid aggravating social tensions, reinforcing power imbalances, or exacerbating conflict risks; and may also help promote accountability, sustainability and local ownership” (World Bank Group 2020, 17). The FCV strategy also recognizes that inclusive ownership is critical in FCV-affected countries, where exclusion, inequalities, and perception of injustice are drivers of fragility and conflict, and state institutions lack legitimacy, accountability, and inclusiveness. The FCV strategy also affirms that “addressing the root causes of gender inequality and closing gender gaps in human capital, access to jobs and assets, and voice and agency must be a priority [of the Bank Group]” (World Bank Group 2020, 21)—what this evaluation defines as deep support. The FCV strategy stresses that the Bank Group will pursue sustainability by addressing FCV’s drivers and strengthening populations and institutional capacities and resilience. It also highlights the need to scale up interventions and the comparative advantage of the Bank Group in scaling up. This evaluation consolidates these five elements into the notion of “transformational change,” defined as a change that is relevant, inclusively owned, deep, sustainable, and large-scale. (See box 1.1 for definitions of each of these elements).4

Box 1.1. Transformational Change and Its Elements

Transformational change, as defined in this evaluation, encompasses five elements: relevance, inclusive ownership, depth of change, sustainability, and scale of change. Each one is necessary but not sufficient by itself to achieve transformational change.

Relevance is the extent to which the expected change responds to beneficiaries’ needs and global, country, and partner institutions’ needs, policies, and priorities and continues to do so if circumstances change (OECD 2019). The expected change is “relevant” if it is evidence based (World Bank 2016e, 2021f) and context specific (World Bank 2016e, 2020g).

Inclusive ownership refers to the participation of key actors, including government leaders, public officials, legislators, civil society actors, the private sector, service users and providers, academia, and citizens, in setting the development agenda (World Bank 2012b). In this sense, inclusive ownership is part of the broader definition of relevance. Inclusive ownership requires key actors’ active involvement in the whole process and their capacity development (World Bank 2012b). Inclusive ownership is critical in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV), where exclusion, inequalities, and perception of injustice are drivers of FCV, and state institutions lack legitimacy, accountability, and inclusiveness (World Bank Group 2020). Inclusivity considers the intersection of the key social differences that shape discriminations and social identities, such as age, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, refugee status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and so on, in each FCV context (World Bank 2020f).

Depth of change is the extent to which change is gender transformative and effective in achieving its expected outcomes in promoting women’s and girls’ economic empowerment and preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Gender-transformative change “actively examines, questions and changes rigid gender norms and imbalances of power that advantage boys and men over girls and women. It aspires to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and reshape unequal power relations; it moves beyond individual self-improvement among girls and women toward redressing the power dynamics and structures that serve to reinforce gendered inequalities” (UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women 2020, 1).

Sustainability “ensures that today’s development progress is not reversed tomorrow” (World Bank 2016e, 11). Sustainability has multiple dimensions: economic, environmental, sociocultural, political, and institutional. In FCV contexts, sustainability is particularly challenging and requires flexible, multidimensional, and long-term engagements that adapt and build capacity (World Bank Group 2020).

Scale of change is the extent to which change has a large-scale impact. To this end, interventions must include strategies for scaling up, adapting, or replicating. They can also have a demonstrative or catalytic effect on other actors’ interventions (World Bank 2016e).

Sources: Independent Evaluation Group, adapted from OECD 2019; UNDP 2011; UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women 2020; World Bank 2016e; World Bank Group 2020.

“Transformational change” is a composite and dynamic construct for assessing change processes, and not just the intended and achieved outcomes from those processes. This lens is corroborated not only by the principles of the FCV strategy but also by external literature (ITAD 2019; UNDP 2011) and is fully aligned with the “transformational vision” of the Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN 2015) and the general recognition that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires reducing gender inequalities (UNDP and UN Women 2018; UN Women 2018b), especially in FCV settings (UN and World Bank 2018; World Bank 2020d). As such, promoting WGEE and addressing GBV requires transforming gender norms (Cislaghi 2019; Heilman and Stich 2016; IRC 2019; Jayachandran 2021; Klugman 2022; Klugman et al. 2014; Marcus 2018; Marcus and Harper 2014; Sida 2009; Van Eerdewijk et al. 2017; World Bank 2015d),5 strengthening women’s and girls’ individual and collective agency (Evans and Nambiar 2013; Fox and Romero 2017; ICRW 2020; Kabeer 1999; Van Eerdewijk et al. 2017; World Bank 2012b), and working with formal and informal institutions to achieve gender-transformative change (Hillenbrand et al. 2015; Van Eerdewijk et al. 2017; World Bank 2012b, 2015d). (See appendix C for more details.) Therefore, the processes to achieve WGEE and reduce GBV are not just functional but are results in themselves. The approach also recognizes that achieving transformational change requires improving country systems’ enabling environments.6 Thus, the methodology of this evaluation adopts a case study approach that uses the country as the unit of analysis.

Achieving transformational change requires a long-term perspective that is best developed through the country-driven approach. The Bank Group recognizes that engagement in FCV countries must go beyond individual projects by adopting a systemic and long-term perspective to address the root causes of gender inequality and fragility (World Bank 2012b; World Bank Group 2020). This long-term perspective allows the Bank Group to work across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, as stressed by the Bank Group FCV strategy (2020–25). The Bank Group, then, “seeks to integrate long-term development considerations of institutional support and sustainability” (World Bank Group 2020, 25).

The main evaluation question is as follows: How can the Bank Group improve its support to FCV-affected countries to produce transformational changes in tackling GBV and promoting WGEE? This overarching question consists of three main questions, listed in box 1.2, and several subquestions (see appendix A).

Box 1.2. Evaluation Questions

EQ1. How has the World Bank Group supported fragility, conflict, and violence–affected countries to identify the transformational changes that were needed to tackle gender-based violence and promote women’s and girls’ economic empowerment?

EQ2. How has the Bank Group supported fragility, conflict, and violence–affected countries to undertake and assess transformational changes in gender-based violence prevention and response and women’s and girls’ economic empowerment?

EQ3. What are the main internal and external factors that have enabled or hindered the Bank Group’s support for transformational changes in fragility, conflict, and violence–affected countries, and how has the Bank Group addressed them?

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Research Methods

The evaluation analyzes transformational change at the country level. More specifically, the team analyzed the Bank Group’s country program in six FCV countries (see appendix B), including the program’s gender-relevant strategies, financing, analytics, and engagements. The country focus aligns with the Bank Group’s country-centered approach to development (World Bank Group 2014) adopted by the FCV strategy 2020–25 (World Bank Group 2020), the gender strategy 2016–23 (World Bank 2015d), the 19th Replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA 2020), the 20th Replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA 2022), and International Finance Corporation (IFC) strategies (IFC 2019a). The country-driven approach assumes that gender gaps are most effectively addressed through system change at the country level (World Bank 2012b, 2015d, 2021f; World Bank Group 2014). The six countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, the Solomon Islands, and the Republic of Yemen—represent a diverse cross-section of country contexts but are not representative of all FCV countries. The evaluation team chose to analyze these few countries in depth, focusing on how and why changes occurred, rather than carrying out a cursory review of the Bank Group’s entire FCV portfolio.

The evaluation used three methods for collecting and analyzing qualitative evidence. First, the team carried out an in-depth desk review of Bank Group strategies, project documents, and analytical work for each of the case study countries. Each case study analyzed two types of projects: (i) those that promoted WGEE or prevented and responded to GBV as project development objectives or components, and not just as safeguards, and (ii) those that influenced WGEE but were not explicitly designed to do so, and were ideal for learning.7 The evaluation did not focus on the human development aspects of gender equality, so it excluded health and education projects, but it did include a health project in the Republic of Yemen because it had a “hidden” GBV case management component.8 The evaluation looked especially closely at the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project because it is one of the Bank Group’s regional flagship initiatives (World Bank 2014b, 2015d). Second, the team conducted more than 200 semistructured audio or video interviews with World Bank staff, IFC staff, project task team members, government partners, and national and international stakeholders from the media, academia, religious and traditional institutions, international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), women’s rights organizations, and bilateral and multilateral donors. In Burkina Faso, a team member visited several target localities of two relevant World Bank projects,9 where she conducted 15 focus groups with women and adolescent girls and 10 in-depth in-person interviews with other key informants. She also held informal conversations with local actors and observed the women’s income-generating activities for one project. Third, the team conducted a literature review of articles, reports, and gray literature, including World Bank and IFC studies, and an analysis of national statistics (see appendix A for additional methodological details).

The evaluation team pursued three strategies to ensure rigor and quality in the methodology. First, the team developed detailed templates to guide the data collection, particularly for interviews and the desk analysis. These templates ensured that each case study focused on the same issues and collected the same type of evidence. Second, case studies were conducted by gender experts who were familiar with the country by having lived in the country, speaking the local language, or having already conducted gender-focused evaluations in that country. This allowed the evaluation to understand the local context and reach out to a broader and more diverse set of key informants. Third, almost all country cases relied on local consultants to organize interviews and transcribe and translate documents. In Burkina Faso, a local consultant also collected field data.

Limitations of the Evaluation

The evaluation’s reliance on country case studies limited the representativeness of the data. The evaluation is based on individual country case studies, and, therefore, the evidence is not representative of all FCV countries. The evaluation opted for depth in its analysis, not for breadth, and focused on processes as much as results. That said, the evaluation attempted to make the findings generalizable as well. It relied on established literature to build the theory of change, prepare the tools for extracting and analyzing information, and interpret the findings. The interviews helped triangulate the data.

COVID-19 and the unstable environment in FCV countries limited or delayed data collection and analysis. This was because the team could not organize missions to the countries and had to carry out most of the research remotely. Poor phone and internet connections caused interviews to be interrupted and routinely rescheduled, which greatly prolonged the duration of data collection. COVID-19 also impacted individual team members, key informants, or their families in various ways, which caused additional delays. Moreover, most case study countries had unstable environments and experienced various shocks during the data collection. This included multiple crises in Lebanon (see box 4.3), a coup in Burkina Faso, the Republic of Yemen’s ongoing conflict, and the assassination of Chad’s president and its aftermath. The evaluation planned to include a case study for Afghanistan, but this had to be dropped after the Taliban’s takeover. These difficulties limited the evaluation’s in-person research, thereby limiting the data’s richness.

The difficulty of finding experts in some countries caused further delays and limited the number of country case studies. This evaluation required a combination of abilities that proved to be hard to find. For example, an ideal team member would have evaluation skills, deep gender knowledge (particularly of WGEE and GBV), and strong knowledge of the country and its language. As such, the process of locating and selecting experts to conduct and support country case studies was delicate and time-consuming. It also limited the number of case studies that could be carried out.

Road Map

This evaluation consists of three main parts. The first part, or chapter 2, discusses the Bank Group’s challenges with improving the relevance, inclusive ownership, depth, sustainability, and scale of its support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response in FCV countries. The chapter discusses three trade-offs that the Bank Group experienced when supporting FCV countries in WGEE and in GBV prevention and response—first, among depth, sustainability, and scale; second, among elements of the theory of change; and third, between humanitarian and development goals. The second part, or chapter 3, analyzes the improvements in the design of Bank Group projects as they moved from initial phases to subsequent phases and shows that projects approved after 2018 introduced innovative measures to reduce FCV’s drivers and impacts. The chapter discusses the Bank Group’s shift from a project-centric approach to a strategic country engagement approach to ease the trade-offs discussed in chapter 2 and facilitate transformational change in promoting WGEE and addressing GBV. The third part, or chapter 4, discusses the factors that constrain or enable the Bank Group’s ability to produce impactful change in promoting WGEE and preventing and responding to GBV in FCV countries. The chapter first examines how country programs prioritize WGEE and GBV issues in FCV contexts. Second, it looks at some of the financial and human capacity constraints to achieving transformational change. Third, it examines the Bank Group’s engagement, collaboration, and coordination with country-level stakeholders on WGEE and GBV issues. Fourth, it looks at the contextual factors of FCV countries that inhibit transformational change—including conflict dynamics, gender norms, COVID-19, and limited partner capacity—and the ways in which teams have overcome these constraints. Chapter 5 presents the evaluation’s main takeaways and recommends four actions that the Bank Group can take to improve its support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response in FCV countries.

  1. This evaluation adopts the definition of “FCV-affected countries” put forward by the World Bank Group Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence (2020–25). According to this definition, FCV-affected countries include the following: (i) fragile countries, with deep governance issues and state institutional weakness (identified through policy-based and governance indicators); (ii) countries in active conflict (identified based on a threshold rate of conflict-related deaths); and (iii) countries with high levels of interpersonal and gang violence (identified based on the per capita level of intentional homicides; gender-based violence [GBV] and violence against children are included). The World Bank Group also uses a narrower definition of “fragile and conflict-affected situation” (FCS), which includes only (i) and (ii). The evaluation used the narrower definition to select the country case studies, based on the fiscal year 2021 FCS list.
  2. The period covered by the evaluation is roughly 2010–2022; it slightly varies across countries depending on when the projects being reviewed were approved and when the most recent documentation became available to the evaluation team (not all documents published in 2022 were available when the case studies were completed).
  3. A theory of change is an element of design that describes the main pathways through which a project, program, or policy can accomplish its desired change. By this definition, a strong theory of change presents not just the project’s desired results but all the activities, contextual factors, and assumptions that contribute to the chain of results and determine the causal links.
  4. The concept of “transformational change” has already been adopted by the Independent Evaluation Group evaluation Supporting Transformational Change for Poverty Reduction and Shared Prosperity (World Bank 2016e). That evaluation defines “transformational engagement” as “an intervention or a series of interventions that helps achieve deep, systemic, and sustainable change with large-scale impact in an area of a major developmental challenge” (World Bank 2016e, 2–3).
  5. Gender norms are a specific subset of social norms that relate to how men, women, boys, and girls are “supposed” to act and behave throughout the various stages of the life cycle, in a given group or society. They are generally implicit and can be part of the invisible social status quo: they are embedded in formal and informal institutions, nested in the mind, and produced and reproduced through social interaction. They play a role in shaping women’s and men’s (often unequal) access to resources and freedoms, thus affecting their voice, power, and sense of self (Cislaghi and Heise 2020).
  6. An enabling environment for gender equality can be defined as “a set of interrelated and interdependent systemic conditions such as policies, laws, institutional mechanisms, and resources, and so on, which facilitate the promotion of gender equality” (UN 2005, 2).
  7. The evaluation team selected and analyzed 33 investment project financings, a joint World Bank–International Finance Corporation (IFC) technical assistance (the Mashreq Gender Facility), one IFC investment, and three IFC advisory services—38 activities in total, which for convenience are going to be referred to as “projects.” In keeping with the World Bank’s definitions, two separate phases of a program (such as the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend [SWEDD] or the SWEDD I and SWEDD II) are counted as two distinct projects, whereas additional financing is considered to be part of the main project. However, two project designs were substantially restructured, and for this analysis, the restructured project design was treated as a different design; thus, there are 41 different designs in total. The list of all projects is included in appendix A.
  8. Human capital aspects and access to services were excluded from the evaluation following the recommendation provided to the team during the scoping phase to keep the assessment focused on the two priority areas of WGEE and GBV. That said, human endowments are part of the theory of change and were analyzed in interventions addressing WGEE and GBV as complementary and necessary elements.
  9. The SWEDD and the Forest Investment Program—Decentralized Forest and Woodland Management Project.