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

Chapter 5 | Conclusions and Recommendations

Situations of conflict and fragility amplify gender inequalities and call for the Bank Group’s specific commitment to address them. Conflict and fragility increase the exposure of women and girls to GBV and make it more difficult for them to access social services, including sexual and reproductive health services. FCV also exacerbates their vulnerability to poverty and increases their unpaid work burden from their caregiving role. The Bank Group recognizes in many corporate and strategic documents, such as the FCV strategy and various International Development Association replenishments, that for Bank Group support to produce meaningful and lasting results toward greater gender equality in FCV countries, it needs to have five specific elements. These elements are relevance, inclusive ownership, depth, sustainability, and scale. The evaluation uses these elements to assess the Bank Group’s country support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response.

Achieving all these elements at once is challenging; however, recent project designs and results frameworks have improved in this regard. Project teams have applied lessons from initial projects to follow-on projects and designed innovative interventions that pay attention to gender inequalities and address FCV’s drivers and impacts. For example, the evaluation shows that some projects added or adjusted components during project restructuring phases to respond to risks or better reflect overlooked parts of a project’s theory of change. These adjustments increased the depth and, sometimes, sustainability and scalability of these projects. However, in the six analyzed FCV country case studies, the evaluation did not find any project design that had all of the five elements at the same time. In particular, we noticed a trade-off between depth and scale. Deeper projects—that is, those grounded in a comprehensive theory of change that used multiple entry points to address the root causes of gender inequalities—tend to be small, with little hope of achieving scale. Likewise, projects that achieve scale find achieving depth elusive.

Individual projects cannot produce the systemic changes that are needed to address gender inequalities. Promoting WGEE and addressing GBV requires transforming the “enabling environment” (that is, laws and regulations, policies, and formal and informal institutions). Time- and space-bound projects cannot produce deep, sustainable, and large-scale change in gender equality if the larger macroenvironment does not support that change. Nevertheless, there are some examples of individual projects that have contributed to systemic changes in a country. They did this by supporting the government in improving laws and implementing them, orienting development policies toward gender issues, and building institutional capacities, among other examples. However, single interventions were unable to produce substantial systemic changes.

The project-centric approach struggles to support long-term, integrated, and multisectoral interventions. Promoting WGEE, addressing GBV, and transforming the enabling environment to achieve these goals requires integrated and complex interventions that address the root causes of gender inequalities. For example, GBV interventions require a robust and integrated system of services to support GBV survivors; a variety of GBV-related laws, policies, and institutions; mechanisms to change entrenched gender norms and avoid the stigmatization of survivors; interventions that empower women and girls to react to GBV and strengthen their fallback positions; initiatives to increase men’s and boys’ support for GBV prevention and women’s and girls’ empowerment; and so on. An individual project cannot effectively provide all the interventions required for this level of integrated support.

The project-centric approach also struggles to simultaneously meet immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development needs. FCV situations often require both immediate relief and the long-term capacity building of local institutions, civil society, and communities to build peace, resilience, and gender equality. This requires simultaneously addressing both the impacts of fragility and conflict (that is, responding to the immediate humanitarian needs of women, men, girls, and boys) and the drivers of fragility, conflict, and gender inequalities (that is, fostering peace, resilience, and sustainable development for all). Addressing the drivers requires strategic coordination within the Bank Group and greater cooperation with humanitarian and development actors. For example, the Republic of Yemen’s recent country strategy indicates that the World Bank Group is more assertively promoting gender equality by combining both sides of the humanitarian-development nexus through its collaboration with UN agencies that specialize in operating in humanitarian settings.

The Bank Group’s top-down approach creates another obstacle to promoting gender equality for country engagements. The evaluation found that the Bank Group’s support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response in FCV environments is not sufficiently embedded in local contexts because it does not consistently consider local stakeholders’ goals and capacities and FCV-affected women’s and girls’ needs, constraints, and expectations. The Bank Group’s use of in-depth participatory gender analyses and existing knowledge platforms is generally limited. Instead, the Bank Group’s project designs are typically negotiated with central government counterparts. The World Bank often conflates “country ownership” with “client ownership,” but this privileged relationship with the government leaves very few spaces for other actors. This conflation makes Bank Group interventions less embedded in local contexts, which can undermine support for WGEE and addressing GBV. Moreover, although the Bank Group often involves local stakeholders, such as CSOs, local institutions, and community-based organizations, including women’s organizations, in project implementation, it rarely involves them in project design. In addition, women’s organizations are not generally involved in implementation at the national level. All of this means that the priorities expressed by female and male beneficiaries are rarely reflected in projects. The evaluation has documented several instances where this led to shortcomings in project relevance, efficacy, and sustainability.

The evaluation found that there are four factors that can undermine the Bank Group’s efforts to achieve lasting and meaningful change in WGEE and in GBV prevention and response. These factors include the following: (i) the level of prioritization of gender issues in the country engagement, (ii) the level of human and financial resource support, (iii) the quality of internal and external collaboration and coordination between interventions and with stakeholders, and (iv) the ability to manage contextual factors (particularly in FCV situations). Currently, the Bank Group is not sufficiently addressing these factors, which, if ignored, could easily turn into constraints to addressing gender inequalities.

Addressing gender inequalities has not been adequately prioritized in the Bank Group’s country engagements. This is reflected by the absence of an explicit strategic approach to tackle gender inequalities across country strategies. Country teams typically identify gender priorities at the project level rather than at the country strategy level, which limits both the scale and duration (or sustainability) of engagements. Moreover, when a country program has strategic goals related to gender inequalities, they are not usually based on solid diagnostics, are often short-term, and do not persist from one country strategy to the next.

The inadequate allocation of human and financial resources for the Bank Group’s support of WGEE and of GBV response and prevention have dampened achievements in FCV situations. Successful interventions to support WGEE and address GBV require gender experts or dedicated and adequately trained gender focal points supported by gender experts at the country level. These human resources can ensure regular exchanges with local actors and can foster synergies across Bank Group teams. They can also ensure collaboration with other development partners, the Bank Group’s presence in national gender platforms, engagement in consistent dialogues with government counterparts on WGEE and GBV issues, and delivery of context-specific guidance to Bank Group and implementing partner staff. In addition, greater financial resources can strengthen overlooked components of projects’ theories of change or mitigate trade-offs among the five transformational elements. By contrast, insufficient human and financial resources can constrain the Bank Group’s efforts to achieve full transformational change in WGEE and GBV.

The Bank Group’s limited internal and external coordination and collaboration with relevant actors constrain its support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response. The evaluation found that there was weak coordination and collaboration within the Bank Group on WGEE and GBV issues (which limits the synergies across the Bank Group’s projects, sectors, instruments, and institutions). In addition, it noted that there was weak Bank Group coordination and collaboration with local and international stakeholders that work to promote gender equality at the country level. This reduces the possibility that different institutions will operate strategically and leverage one another’s comparative advantage to achieve common objectives. By contrast, the evaluation shows that projects with strong engagements with nonstate actors and women’s associations at the local and the national levels were more likely to achieve transformational change in WGEE and in GBV prevention and response.

Contextual factors in FCV countries can also threaten results if these factors are not anticipated and internalized in Bank Group project designs. The evaluation found that conflict dynamics, gender norms, COVID-19, and partner capacity have significantly influenced the Bank Group’s support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response in FCV countries. Some of these factors, such as gender norms and partner capacity, are known ex ante and should be integrated into theories of change and accounted for in project designs. We have seen that certain projects convincingly do so. Other factors, such as the emergence of COVID-19 or outbreaks of conflict and violence, may be less predictable ex ante but can still be anticipated and accounted for as risk factors in project design, and internalized in project design by adding sufficient flexibility so the World Bank Group can quickly adjust to changing situations.

The Bank Group can improve the transformational potential of its support for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response in FCV countries by using the entire country engagement model to deliver them. The project-by-project approach does not work for making lasting and meaningful inroads in promoting WGEE and addressing GBV. This is because addressing gender inequalities in FCV contexts is a difficult and complex endeavor that requires actions along multiple pathways and in multiple sectors. Individual projects inevitably face trade-offs that cannot be overcome within their restricted scopes and boundaries. Escaping these trade-offs requires the Bank Group to fundamentally shift from its current project-by-project approach to a more comprehensive country engagement approach that guides its overall support for WGEE and GBV response and prevention. Only a country engagement approach can generate long-term synergies across sectors, projects, and instruments within the country program to ease these trade-offs and effectively combine multiple interventions in a coherent and coordinated way.


There are levers that the Bank Group can pull to better pursue transformational change for WGEE, GBV prevention and response, and gender equality in FCV countries. This evaluation found that planning for transformational change is challenging but not impossible. To do so, the evaluation recommends that the Bank Group transitions its approach to gender equality in FCV countries from a project-centric model to a wider country engagement approach through four actions. The first two actions strengthen the Bank Group’s strategic focus on gender inequalities, specifically WGEE and GBV, in FCV countries. The third and fourth actions help mobilize resources at a level commensurate with the Bank Group’s stated commitments to the gender agenda in FCV contexts.

To strengthen its strategic focus on WGEE, GBV prevention and response, and gender equality, the Bank Group would need to

  • Make priorities regarding gender equality (including on WGEE and GBV) more explicit in country strategies, based on strong analytics (primarily Systematic Country Diagnostics and the World Bank Risk and Resilience Assessments) and in collaboration with key stakeholders. This explicit prioritization involves (i) identifying overarching, long-term gender equality goals that span across more than one country strategy, are consistent with the country’s context and needs, and transform the enabling environment; (ii) defining more focused, medium-term objectives that are consistent with the country strategy’s overarching goals and help coalesce the Bank Group’s various instruments, institutions, and sector interventions in relation to those objectives; (iii) coordinating and collaborating among Bank Group teams in the Country Management Unit and Global Practices and at the corporate level; and (iv) leveraging the Bank Group’s influencing power to consistently elevate gender issues in policy dialogues.
  • Foster engagements with communities, civil society, women’s organizations, local authorities, and other key stakeholders to define gender equality objectives and the actions to achieve them. These engagements involve (i) identifying priorities related to gender equality (including WGEE and GBV) in a participatory way; (ii) tailoring interventions to specific FCV contexts, starting with bottom-up engagements with local stakeholders during the design stage; (iii) adopting flexible and decentralized approaches to account for local constraints and diminish project risks; and (iv) building on local knowledge, processes, and capacities to increase the local ownership, cultural sensitivity and, ultimately, sustainability of the intervention.

To mobilize resources and partnerships at a level commensurate with its commitments to support countries in promoting WGEE and preventing and responding to GBV, the Bank Group would need to

  • Ensure that gender expertise tailored to the context is available for FCV-affected countries to support projects, as well as the country engagement. This gender expertise should be adequate for (i) supporting strategic thinking to diagnose and identify gender-related priorities and integrate them into country strategies; (ii) ensuring the quality of project design and monitoring and evaluation; (iii) effectively using the Bank Group convening power to support country-level engagement with relevant stakeholders for the identification of gender-related priorities, their translation into policies and programs, and their implementation, monitoring, and evaluation; and (iv) improving the capacity of Bank Group staff and local stakeholders to address gender inequalities in FCV contexts.
  • Coordinate and collaborate with relevant international stakeholders engaged on gender equality in the country, including humanitarian actors. This stronger coordination and collaboration should leverage each actor’s comparative advantage to achieve common goals. This collaboration should contribute to strengthening the adoption of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach and ensuring the Bank Group’s participation in national gender platforms and coordination groups to exchange knowledge and lessons, promote common initiatives in policy dialogues, and establish synergies across interventions to enhance their depth, scale, and sustainability.