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

The World Bank Group Management Response

Management of the World Bank Group thanks the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) for the report Addressing Gender Inequalities in Countries Affected by Fragility, Conflict, and Violence: An Evaluation of the World Bank Group’s Support. The Bank Group’s commitment to both gender and fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) issues is strongly rooted in the respective strategies, the scale-up in Bank Group financing and results achieved, and the policy commitments in successive International Development Association (IDA) replenishments. Management welcomes the timeliness of the evaluation in a context of the upcoming updates to the Bank Group’s gender and FCV strategies and the ongoing work on the Bank Group evolution road map. Management thanks IEG for the constructive cooperation throughout this evaluation.

World Bank Management Comments


Management concurs with the report’s finding that situations of conflict and fragility can amplify gender gaps and notes the heterogeneity of challenges across FCV settings. Gender inequalities can be magnified in certain FCV settings, for instance, when a higher risk of gender-based violence (GBV) compounds challenges of limited access to quality health, education, and employment opportunities. The FCV strategy notes that the underlying drivers of fragility and its manifestations vary across countries and thus, there can be no one-size fits all approach.

Management is pleased that the report recognizes the progress made by the World Bank on gender in FCV settings and welcomes the identified areas for further improvement. The World Bank’s work in this area, whether in promoting women and girls’ economic empowerment (WGEE) or reducing gender-based-violence (GBV) recognizes the critical role of laws, regulations, policies, and institutions and their interplay with deep-seated social norms. These challenges notwithstanding, management is pleased that the report recognizes the progress made on gender in FCV settings, including some transformative operations (for example, the Local Development and Adaptation Project in Chad and the Regional Sahel Pastoralism Support Project).

Management values the approach around “transformational change” used in this evaluation but notes that it may not be fully applicable in certain FCV settings. The FCV strategy recognizes that operating in FCV settings is far from business as usual because of “often rapidly changing circumstances, differing levels of insecurity, fragile and volatile political situations, macroeconomic instability, low institutional capacity, a weak enabling and investment climate for the private sector, higher risks of violence against vulnerable populations, and significantly higher risks and costs of engagement” (World Bank 2020h, ix). The 2021 IEG evaluation on the World Bank’s engagement in situations of conflict noted similar challenges (World Bank 2021e).

Main Findings

Management welcomes the useful insights provided in the report on factors that have led to improved project design and measures to strengthen the impact of gender operations. The report recognizes that identified projects strengthened the consolidation and sustainability of results, developed local capacity, and improved the enabling environment for WGEE and GBV. Management acknowledges the work that lies ahead in further improving outcome orientation in gender operations in FCV settings. This would be analyzed in the upcoming updates to the gender and FCV strategies. Management agrees that the objective of achieving more depth and scale is appropriate and recognizes that having transformative gender impacts is challenging when faced with entrenched inequality.

Management notes that maintaining an appropriate mix of country engagement and project focus would be critical in FCV contexts. The report makes the case to move away from a project-centric approach and toward a strategic country engagement approach to address gender inequality. Management agrees with the country engagement approach—that is, a clear definition of WGEE and GBV priorities at the country level along with defined overarching, longer-term gender equality goals would support better outcomes. At the same time, management believes that project focus can also contribute to improved gender results. In some FCV environments where the situation does not allow broader country engagement, the first entry point may be at the project level.

Management would like to caution against some broad generalizations made in the report. The evaluation is mostly based on a relatively small sample of 40 projects in six countries. Given that, management cautions against potential misinterpretations of generalizations made in chapter 4, such as the following: “Addressing gender inequalities related to WGEE and GBV is rarely a priority for the Bank Group when addressing poverty and fragility” (66); “Knowledge of gender issues among World Bank technical experts in Global Practices is uneven and generally weak” (72); and, “It was common for TTLs [task team leaders] to not understand the difference between providing GBV safeguards in projects and addressing GBV as a countrywide problem” (73). The progress made by the World Bank on gender and FCV has been recognized in other recent IEG evaluations, notwithstanding the work that lies ahead in both areas.


Management agrees with the first recommendation to “make priorities regarding gender equality (including on WGEE and GBV) more explicit in country strategies, based on strong analytics and in collaboration with key stakeholders” (xvi). Management is committed to and has made progress in embedding gender in country strategies and strengthening the underlying analytics through Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCDs) and Risk and Resilience Assessments (RRAs). During the SCD and RRA processes, the Bank Group will continue to identify key gender-related constraints as well as opportunities for engagement related to WGEE and GBV in FCV contexts and integration where appropriate in the country engagement cycle. Management acknowledges the challenge in closing gender gaps in some FCV contexts facing significant political, security, and institutional constraints. Management will continue to leverage the Bank Group comparative advantage to raise policy, regulatory and institutional issues constraining gender outcomes in FCV settings, through the appropriate mix of financing instruments relevant to the country context, underpinned and complemented by knowledge, technical assistance, and convening efforts.

Management agrees with the second recommendation to “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” (xvii). Management remains committed to ensuring that the design of gender in FCV projects and strategies are built on a solid understanding of local realities and stakeholder involvement, while noting the limitations posed by the security situation in some FCV environments. The World Bank remains committed to stakeholder engagement for gender interventions during project design and implementation. As part of the IDA20 Policy Commitments, management will in “at least 15 IDA countries, of which five are categorized as FCS [fragile and conflict-affected situations, support GBV related services in health systems, and implement GBV prevention and response protocols as part of safe and inclusive educational institutions” (IDA 2022, viii).

Management agrees with the third recommendation to “ensure that gender expertise tailored to the context is available for FCV-affected countries to support projects, as well as the country engagement” (xvii) Management remains committed to mobilizing the appropriate skills and knowledge that tap into global as well as country specific expertise. This will be done among others during the SCD and the RRA process with the objective of contributing to country partnership frameworks and operational engagements with relevant gender-informed analytics. Management will continue to draw on local gender knowledge and skills and stakeholder engagement to improve the design and effectiveness of its operations.

Management agrees with the fourth recommendation to “coordinate and collaborate with relevant international stakeholders engaged in gender equality in the country, including humanitarian actors” (xvii). This recommendation will be implemented as part of the Country Partnership Framework process as well as through gender-specific work at the operational level whenever projects focus on WGEE or GBV aspects. The Bank Group will draw on its comparative advantage to support client countries in addressing gender inequality, exploring partnerships with international stakeholders in FCV settings wherever feasible to exchange knowledge and inform policy dialogue.

International Finance Corporation Management Comments

Management of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) welcomes IEG’s evaluation Addressing Gender Inequalities in Countries Affected by Fragility, Conflict, and Violence: An Evaluation of the World Bank Group’s Support and the recognition of IFC’s efforts to strengthen gender in FCV operations. IFC recognizes the importance of this evaluation, which looks at the intersection between two strategic priority areas for the institution (gender and FCV), with a focus on promoting WGEE and addressing GBV.

We have seen that in countries affected by fragility and conflict, women often face disproportionate barriers to economic participation compared with men, such as increased risk of violence, restrictive gender norms, and laws and regulations that limit women’s economic empowerment. The evaluation provides important insights for the Bank Group gender strategy.


IFC appreciates that this evaluation reflects the important challenges of gender inequality in FCV settings. However, we note the limitations in the representativeness and applicability of findings for IFC. While we acknowledge that the evaluation takes a country-focused approach, we note the following gaps: the limited sample size of projects reviewed, which only included three IFC projects across two clients and did not include a review of other projects that integrate a gender lens (via a gender flag) in the in-scope countries; the exclusion of several FCV countries (including Papua New Guinea and many countries in Africa) where IFC has a rich gender footprint; and finally, the limited number of interviews with private sector stakeholders, including companies and business organizations.

Management acknowledges IEG’s suggestion that the Bank Group shift from a project-centric focus to a strategic country engagement. IFC is looking to further develop a strategic country engagement approach and believes that it is important to advance sectoral approaches. In addition, IFC highlights the importance of regional approaches and engagement, especially given WGEE and GBV is cross-border in nature in situations of forced displacement and economic migration. Regional Bank Group programs, facilities (for example, the Mashreq Gender Facility), or engagement with regional blocs (for example, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) may be needed to deliver transformative change and address the root causes of fragility and gender dynamics in countries of origin of forcibly displaced populations. Country program collaboration should also include IFC’s country teams and industry colleagues, in addition to the World Bank’s Country Management Unit and Global Practices, to help ensure that the private sector participates in the country engagement approach.

Management does not fully agree with IEG findings that IFC has difficulties tailoring its business model to FCV contexts. IFC tailors its approach in FCV in several way, such as through investments (including via blended finance facilities), research and programs (such as the respectful workplaces advisory offering), peer learning platforms, and the Africa Fragility Initiative’s application of the Contextual Risk Framework.

IFC management acknowledges IEG’s finding that “IFC’s engagement with the private sector to promote safe and gender-equal workplaces has shown promising results but did not involve governmental institutions or women’s organizations in designing these measures beyond initial consultations” (81–82). IFC acknowledges consultation and collaboration with government and women’s organizations could be strengthened in some instances; however, it would also like to highlight situations where this did occur. Examples include Myanmar, where IFC worked with the Business Coalition for Gender Equality to provide gender-focused advisory support and worked to establish the Inle Professional Women’s Network to support women’s economic empowerment; Papua New Guinea, where IFC founded the Papua New Guinea Business Coalition for Women to build local knowledge and capacity; and Malawi where IFC stakeholder consultations included government (through the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the Ministry of Gender, and women’s associations [for example, the COMESA Federation of Women in Business]).

IFC management recommends that future evaluations reflect more strongly on the business environment and the potential role of the private sector in advancing gender equality and highlight implications for IFC associated with its role. Stakeholder consultations should more systematically include private sector stakeholders, including corporations, business organizations, and chambers of commerce, during the evaluation process.


IFC management agrees with the first recommendation 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” (xvi). IFC supports greater and more systematic country engagement, leveraging tools such as SCDs and RRAs to identify opportunities and define priorities relating to WGEE and GBV. IFC management also suggests that IEG consider joint World Bank-IFC analytical tools such as the Country Private Sector Diagnostics (CPSDs). IFC’s Africa Fragility Initiative (AFI), for instance, regularly contributes fragility analyses to these strategic documents and applies IFC’s Contextual Risk Framework, which offers a more systematic approach to identifying high-risk environments. Since IFC launched this framework, it has been used to quantify gender risks in strategic documents in African FCS countries, including in three RRAs, five CPSDs, and six IFC country strategies.

For example, in Mali the CPSD explicitly identified GBV and associated protections as a high-risk indicator and a key driver of fragility. The CPSD assessment prioritized a focus on inclusivity of women in the workforce and supply chains, women smallholder farmers, and female health access to close gender gaps and build resilience. Three recommendations from the assessment focused on interventions intended to directly affect gender disparities in the country and in turn affect this important driver of fragility.

IFC management agrees with the second recommendation to “foster engagements with communities, civil society, women’s organizations, local authorities, and other key stakeholders” (xvii). IFC management notes that IFC has a robust consultation process in place and collaborates with external private sector clients and partners to design and execute gender-focused projects in FCV. In many instances, this process also includes local stakeholders, such as civil society, government, United Nations agencies, and women’s organizations, including to identify priorities in a participatory way, tailor interventions, ensure the project approach is flexible and can adapt to local constraints, and to build local capacity and knowledge.

Finally, IFC highlights the importance of fostering regular and deep engagement with the private sector to define and achieve gender equality objectives and actions. IFC regularly works with private sector partners, such as companies, chambers of commerce, and other business organizations, to inform program design and build buy-in on proposed gender interventions (for example, women’s employment, respectful workplaces). This is critical because these stakeholders are often more relevant to IFC operations and are well placed to respond to challenges relating to WGEE and GBV in FCV contexts.

IFC management agrees on the third recommendation, which affirms a 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” (xvii). To support this, IFC has

  • Purposely strengthened the presence of gender experts in FCV countries, with seven staff and consultants from the Gender and Economic Inclusion Group currently based in FCV countries.
  • Expanded support to conflict sensitivity and gender equality by scaling up the AFI Initiative (12 pilot countries) to 32 FCV countries.
  • Leveraged industry gender leads and teams to support an increased gender footprint, including in FCV countries.

Further, IFC agrees on the importance of building staff capacity more broadly to address gender inequality in FCV countries and encourages further consideration on how the Bank Group can continue to increase gender knowledge exchange across the institutions and better incentivize staff to integrate gender considerations into their programs more widely. This is important because several structural, gendered, and cultural barriers exist that affect IFC’s ability to directly hire and retain experts locally.

To date, IFC has already worked to address these barriers by increasing knowledge exchange on gender equality across the organization. It has also worked to leverage gender experts to support project teams in meaningfully integrating gender considerations into their investments and advisory services projects. For example, an in-depth training on IFC’s respectful workplaces client offering was recently delivered to almost 20 IFC gender staff across the Gender and Economic Inclusion Group and industry gender teams, to strengthen their GBV expertise and sensitivity in project design and implementation, particularly in FCV countries where GBV risks are heightened. Training to advance gender equality in FCV contexts has been integrated into courses for investments officers, such as Tools for Investing in FCS and LIC IDA. IFC has also worked to support knowledge exchange through conflict sensitivity frameworks and guidelines for engaging the private sector, which incorporate gender as a key dimension, to better enable operational staff to embed into project design an understanding of issues related to conflict. AFI launched a corporate wide e-learning on conflict sensitivity to train IFC staff working in FCV countries on approaching their operations in a conflict-sensitive way. Together with the industry team, AFI led a client engagement and business development training for over 30 team members in FCV countries across the region.

As a result of these efforts, IFC’s gender focus has strengthened in projects in FCV countries. The share of gender flagged advisory projects in FCV countries has consistently grown, reaching 50 percent in FY22 and 64 percent in FY23 to date (from 33 percent in FY16). Similarly, so far in FY23 gender-flagged investments account for 27 percent share of long-term finance commitments in FCV countries (from 11 percent in FY19). Further, as of June 2022, AFI supported over 100 investment and advisory projects in 24 FCS countries and facilitated $82.39 million in financing through advisory support—and gender equality is often a key dimension.

IFC management agrees on the fourth recommendation with the importance of coordinating and collaborating “with relevant international stakeholders engaged in gender equality in the country, including humanitarian actors” (xvii). In addition, IFC believes that other international stakeholders may also be critical for success, including those representing the private sector and IFC’s development partners.

On the topic of collaboration with humanitarian actors, IFC has been working with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Labour Organization, UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), and partners to implement projects to improve the lives of the forcibly displaced and the host communities, including in Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Iraq, and Lebanon. In 2021, IFC officially launched a joint initiative with UNHCR to create inclusive economic opportunities that will benefit refugees and their host communities. IFC’s Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund worked with UNHCR to attract new businesses to the refugee settlement and support their scale-up to increase access to products, services, and jobs, and to develop and grow refugee and host community owned businesses. Gender equality is a specific focus of this initiative and includes activities such as dedicated outreach campaigns to generate more applicants from women-owned or managed businesses and provide additional support mechanisms to women-owned or managed businesses based on gender assessments.