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


Increasing situations of fragility and conflict in recent years have called for the World Bank Group to step up its engagement in fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV)-affected countries and to fine-tune an approach to address gender inequalities in these contexts. The Bank Group’s 2020–25 FCV strategy recognizes that FCV affects and is affected by gender inequalities, which require tailored strategic and operational approaches.

This evaluation assesses the quality of Bank Group support to FCV countries in promoting women’s and girls’ economic empowerment (WGEE) and addressing gender-based violence (GBV). It does so by assessing the Bank Group’s support in terms of five key elements—namely, the extent to which Bank Group support (i) is evidence based and context specific and addresses the beneficiaries’ needs and priorities (relevance); (ii) involves key actors in the process of change, including in defining its goal and trajectory (inclusive ownership); (iii) is effective in achieving its expected outcomes and tackles the root causes of gender inequalities (depth); (iv) is set up to preserve progress over time (sustainability); and (v) aims at producing large-scale impact (scale). This is because, as the Bank Group recognizes in many corporate and strategic documents, these elements are needed to produce meaningful and lasting results—that is, to produce “transformational change,” as defined by this evaluation.

The evaluation analyzes the experiences of six countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, the Solomon Islands, and the Republic of Yemen) where the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation provided support to advance WGEE and address GBV during the past 10 years (from approximately 2010 to 2022). The evaluation draws on a combination of desk review of documents (related to analytical, operational, and strategic work); more than 200 interviews with World Bank and International Finance Corporation staff, government partners, and national and international stakeholders; and field visits, focus group discussions, and face-to-face interviews in Burkina Faso. The analysis and interpretation of findings are also guided by an extensive review of the literature on the interlinkages among WGEE, GBV, and FCV and empirical research on what works to tackle gender inequalities in FCV situations.

The Challenge

Addressing gender inequalities to produce change that is relevant, inclusive, deep, sustainable, and scalable in risky and weak environments is a complex task, which requires strong skills, collaboration, and local capacity exactly where these resources are particularly scarce. The evaluation found that Bank Group support to FCV countries to increase WGEE and address GBV is consistently relevant and promotes inclusive ownership but is much less frequently deep, sustainable, or scalable. Crucially, depth, sustainability, and scale are rarely found together in the same project design. (Figure O.1 shows the prevalence of these five elements in the projects analyzed by the evaluation and how they overlap. The figure shows that most projects both promote inclusive ownership and are relevant, but only a subset of those are also deep, sustainable, or scalable. Moreover, no project displays all elements—the intersection of the five sets is empty). These findings have several implications. First, the Bank Group embraces the goal of addressing gender inequalities in FCV countries, as evidenced by its inclusion of elements of transformational change in project designs. Second, there have been challenges in strengthening and expanding each individual element. Third, projects face difficulties in combining the five elements.

Although the biggest challenge is producing a change that is at the same time relevant, inclusively owned, deep, sustainable, and at scale, this evaluation also surfaced specific findings within each of the five elements analyzed as follows.

Interventions are more relevant when their design relies on gender assessments to identify women’s and girls’ specific needs and constraints. Projects that identify and address gender-discriminatory mechanisms in context-specific and culturally sensitive ways, and pay attention to the heterogeneity of women and girls, make the intervention relevant to different groups of women. Using female quotas to increase the number of female beneficiaries works only when the project also removes obstacles preventing women and girls from benefiting from the project. Despite difficulties in tailoring its business model to FCV contexts, the International Finance Corporation has demonstrated through some of its investments (for example, in Lebanon’s Al Majmoua microfinance institution) that this can successfully be done.

Figure O.1. Elements Contributing to Transformational Change in Project Design

A Venn diagram showing elements of transformational change highlights that there are no projects with all five elements

Figure O.1. Elements Contributing to Transformational Change in Project Design

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Projects that foster inclusive ownership in implementation are relatively common in the evaluated pool of projects. The evaluation found that the Bank Group often conflates “country ownership” with “client ownership,” but this privileged relationship with the government leaves very few spaces for other actors, especially local actors. Consultations with local stakeholders and communities, including women’s organizations, are frequently used to generate ownership, but rarely as a means to involve local actors in project design.

Less frequent are deeper projects, understood as those that tackle the root causes of gender inequalities (one example is the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend in Burkina Faso and Chad). Achieving depth requires integrated and multisectoral approaches that combine multiple interventions—for example, supporting the demand for and supply of services and correctly balancing the two—and is a task that has been difficult to achieve in many projects. Analytical work that examines the links between WGEE and GBV and could support deeper project design is also infrequent. Some of the work conducted by the International Finance Corporation analyzed the negative impact of GBV on WGEE, for example in terms of absenteeism, worker turnover, low productivity, and occupational hazards, and the firms’ potential responses.

Explicit planning for the sustainability of achievements in WGEE and in GBV prevention and response—and of the increased capacity of the country to continue to promote WGEE and address GBV—remains rare. Supporting preexisting initiatives and local actors is an effective approach, and so is improving the enabling environment for WGEE and for GBV prevention and response—that is, the policy, legal, and institutional framework, both formal and informal, as exemplified by the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend and the Mashreq Gender Facility in the Sahel and Lebanon.

Few projects are designed to produce large-scale changes in WGEE and GBV prevention and response. A few aim at expanding geographically to more beneficiaries. Others, such as the social safety net projects in the Sahel region, more fundamentally plan to strengthen national or subnational systems. The evaluation did not find any example of a project that tried to achieve scale by partnering or coordinating with other donors to develop a common strategy to deliver larger, complementary programs or by “delivering as one.”

The Trade-Offs

The Bank Group faced three trade-offs when pursuing WGEE and GBV goals within an individual project. The first trade-off is among the elements of transformational change—particularly depth, sustainability, and scale. The evaluation observed only one example where scale and deep change were both achieved within the same project design and found no examples where all three were achieved at once. For example, national social safety net projects are by nature large-scale but are not often deep. Likewise, various deep, integrated projects remain small-scale and are not yet sustainable. The second type of trade-off is among the different parts of the theory of change, which individual projects cannot effectively address. Promoting WGEE and addressing GBV require holistic and integrated approaches that involve multiple sectors. However, individual projects did not have the scope or resources to address all of these interconnections and sectoral interventions at once. Some projects, for example, stimulated the demand for services at a level that was too high for the existing supply. The third trade-off is the nexus between emergency, humanitarian, and development goals (which is often a temporal trade-off between the short- and long-term perspectives in FCV situations). Many key informants, both inside and outside the Bank Group, recognized the difficulty in 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).

Getting to Results

The Bank Group has been improving the relevance, inclusive ownership, depth, sustainability, and scale of its interventions aimed at supporting WGEE and addressing GBV, although project design still has limitations.

The evaluation found that several projects included improvements at restructuring or in the second-phase design that made them more relevant and deeper, and sometimes larger in scale and more sustainable. Innovations were facilitated by using gender assessments and lessons from earlier project implementations, using gender expertise to address gaps in design, increasing budget allocation to promote WGEE or address GBV, and ensuring project continuity, flexibility, and timely adaptation.

The Bank Group also introduced innovative projects starting in 2019. These new projects are almost all FCV focused and intended to address both the impact and drivers of FCV, including conflict and climate change—hence, easing the trade-off between humanitarian and development goals. Several of these projects adopt decentralized, community-based approaches that include women and other marginalized groups and aim at building resilience and peace.

The approach is still centered, however, on delivering individual projects (which intensifies the trade-offs). Individual projects struggle to support the sustainability and scalability of deep approaches for WGEE and GBV; to adequately address the multisectoral, holistic nature of complex interventions; and to meet both humanitarian needs and the long-term goals of gender equality, resilience, and peace.

Shifting from a project-centric approach to a strategic country engagement approach in addressing gender inequalities can help the Bank Group tackle the trade-offs identified by the evaluation by using its full portfolio of activities, engaging in regular policy dialogue on gender issues, and coordinating and collaborating with other development partners on the country gender agenda.

The Bank Group, however, struggles to adopt a country engagement approach to address gender inequalities. The evaluation found that the Systematic Country Diagnostic–Country Partnership Framework model in the six analyzed FCV countries does not include an explicit long-term approach for addressing gender inequalities in those countries and that the focus of country strategies on GBV and WGEE, when it exists, is easily lost from one strategy to the next. This discontinuity makes it difficult to connect individual projects to others over the long term. Moreover, it is rare for country strategies to define how various activities in the country portfolio combine to achieve higher-level goals related to WGEE or GBV. In addition, analytical work does not adequately explore the interplay between gender inequalities and FCV issues, although recent Risk and Resilience Assessments are more likely to discuss gender inequalities, especially the links between FCV and GBV, than older ones.

Project monitoring and evaluation frameworks do not adequately capture outcomes related to WGEE and GBV or the relevance, inclusive ownership, depth, sustainability, or scale of the outcomes and processes of change. Not many results have been documented so far in monitoring and evaluation frameworks because design and implementation have shortcomings, the most promising innovative projects are very recent, and indicators have limitations. Recent improvements in monitoring and evaluation position the projects to better capture outcomes in the future, but several elements of transformational change (such as inclusive ownership, changes in the enabling environment, capacity building, and others) are still not tracked.

Country strategy results frameworks generally use indicators taken from individual projects to measure what the project did (often just its outreach) and not how the project contributed to the country’s progress toward achieving gender equality.

Factors Enabling and Constraining Transformational Change

This evaluation found four groups of enabling or constraining factors that can make Bank Group support to FCV countries in addressing GBV and promoting WGEE more or less transformational, understood as change in the five elements. These factors are the following: Bank Group prioritization of WGEE, GBV, and gender equality; the modalities of collaboration, coordination, and engagement with stakeholders; the use of financial and human resources and capacities; and the FCV country contextual factors, including conflict dynamics, gender norms, COVID-19, and implementing partners’ awareness and capacity.

Prioritization of Women’s and Girls’ Economic Empowerment, Gender-Based Violence, and Gender Inequalities

Addressing gender inequalities related to WGEE and GBV is seldom considered a priority in either country strategies or projects. Interviews suggest that gender inequalities are often considered by Bank Group staff as just another priority competing with many others. This is also indicated by how frequently country strategies identify gender as a “cross-cutting issue” without specifying which gender issues or gaps pertain to the strategy’s priority areas. No key informant external to the Bank Group thought that prioritizing gender was a Bank Group comparative advantage, and many commented that the Bank Group could have the power to raise gender issues in policy discussions but does not do it. That said, the evaluation found many examples of projects that did not have gender-focused objectives, but whose design became relevant and deeper when the project team and management considered it important to identify entry points to address gender inequalities through those projects.

Financial and Human Resources

Projects that recognized their potential to support WGEE and address GBV and allocated adequate resources to this end were more likely to achieve results in WGEE and GBV. By contrast, projects aimed at promoting WGEE without a budget that was fit for purpose struggled to achieve results in WGEE. In particular, projects that benefited from gender advisory support had more transformational elements at design. The availability of gender experts in countries is rare, which does not ensure quality gender advisory support to Country Management Units and project teams. Nor does it guarantee internal and external coordination on gender issues and the Bank Group’s regular presence in gender networks.

Modalities of Engagement, Collaboration, and Coordination

The Bank Group’s coordination and collaboration are strong with implementing partners and on specific projects but are weak with women’s rights organizations, donors, and international nongovernmental organizations on the broader gender agenda. Collaboration with the ministries of women and other government institutions in charge of gender issues is also weak and irregular. The Bank Group does not use the outcome of its consultations with civil society organizations to improve planning and project design, which can undermine project achievements. Bank Group engagement with key change agents, such as opinion leaders and men and boys, is still limited but increasingly pursued. Top-down planning without meaningful consultations can undermine the achievement of expected results in WGEE and GBV.

Contextual Factors

Contextual factors make it difficult for the Bank Group to achieve transformational change on GBV and WGEE in FCV countries; however, in many cases, these factors can, and should be, anticipated and internalized in project activities. The Bank Group has dealt with conflict dynamics in several ways, from collaborating with United Nations agencies and using decentralized approaches to face a long-lasting conflict in a country without a governmental counterpart (for example, in the Republic of Yemen) to readjusting interventions and adopting innovative approaches to maintain support for the empowerment of women and girls affected by the breakout of a conflict (for example, in Burkina Faso). COVID-19 has also required projects to adapt by shifting in-person interaction to remote support, which penalized the poorest population living in remote areas. The Bank Group has used various approaches to account for gender norms, including “nesting” sensitive interventions, such as GBV case management, in socially accepted ones; sensitizing communities to interventions challenging gender norms; and “seconding” gender norms, for example, by supporting women’s economic empowerment in their traditional activities. A more transformational solution is longer-term engagement with local communities and key change agents to transform gender norms—for example, through the creation of discussion spaces to foster community dialogue and engage with men, boys, and opinion leaders on positive masculinity. The awareness and capacity of implementing partners to promote WGEE and address GBV vary across countries but are generally low.


The findings of this evaluation underpin four recommendations for the Bank Group to improve its support to FCV countries for WGEE, for GBV prevention and response, and for gender equality.

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’s 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 in gender equality in the country, including humanitarian actors. This stronger coordination and collaboration should leverage each actor’s comparative advantage to achieve common goals. The collaboration should also strengthen the adoption of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach and ensure 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.