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World Bank Group Gender Strategy Mid-Term Review

Chapter 1 | Introduction

The gender strategy focuses World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) efforts on closing gender gaps in endowments, jobs, asset control and ownership, and voice and agency. The current strategy builds on the framework and domains of gender equality established in the World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (World Bank 2011).1 The strategy focuses World Bank, IFC, and client attention on achievements that:

  • Improve human endowments;
  • Remove constraints to more and better jobs;
  • Remove barriers to women’s ownership of and control over assets; and
  • Enhance women’s voice and agency and engage men and boys.

The strategy introduces an outcomes-focused, evidence-driven approach to closing gender gaps, leveraging past efforts of the World Bank and IFC. It expands and enhances activities established under the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan (World Bank 2006), together with lessons from experience, to focus on economic empowerment (World Bank 2010a). It outlines an approach to enhance existing corporate processes, such as monitoring systems, diagnostics, Country Partnership Frameworks (CPFs), Regional Gender Action Plans (RGAPs), and Global Practice follow-up notes. The strategy also identifies knowledge about “what works” as key. Gender Innovation Labs (GILs) have been established or renewed in South Asia, East Asia and Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa, and a federation of all GILs convened. IFC has evolved from Gender Entrepreneurship Markets and Women in Business to business lines and global programs focused on closing gender gaps, such as the ongoing Banking on Women, Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), Women’s Employment Program, Powered by Women, and Women’s Insurance Program.2 The strategy also emphasizes the need to address gender-based violence (GBV), drawing attention to reducing intimate partner and other forms of GBV, developing interventions to improve the safety and security of women in public transport and the workplace, and developing integrated health and livelihood approaches for women in conflict.3 Through these changes, the strategy seeks to move implementation beyond being broadly gender informed to using evidence to address priorities that achieve substantive outcomes.

This report, which comes at the midpoint of the eight-year strategic cycle, provides a rapid review of the implementation of the strategy in the World Bank and IFC. The purpose of the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) review is to provide evidence and reveal opportunities for strengthening implementation in the final four years of the strategy. Box 1.1 presents the questions the review set out to answer, and box 1.2 clarifies terminology the report uses to discuss staff designated to support work on gender. Successful implementation of the World Bank Group Gender Strategy (fiscal year [FY]16–23) and the ongoing effort to close gender gaps will contribute to the achievement of the twin goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. Progress on the objectives of the gender strategy will especially contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This report provides insights on the commitment to the strategy’s objectives, support for country-driven approaches, coordination of gender expertise, and measurement of progress (see box 1.2 discussion of staff designated to support the gender strategy). It reflects on what is working well and what is working less well to support continuous monitoring and learning in the World Bank and IFC in relation to the implementation of the strategy.

Box 1.1. Questions Answered by This Review

This review answers one overarching question:

How well is the implementation of the gender strategy positioning the World Bank Group to contribute to closing key gender gaps?

Subquestions include the following:

  • How do the knowledge products from the [Gender Group, Gender Business Group, Gender Innovation Labs, or Global Practices] serve the needs of operational teams and industry groups?
  • How valuable is the support of staff designated to work on gender for operational teams and industry groups?
  • How is the monitoring of the strategy and corporate commitments incentivizing operational teams and industry groups to close gender gaps?
  • What enablers and constraints need to be addressed in the implementation of the strategy?

Box 1.2. Who Are the Staff Designated to Support Work on Gender?

Throughout the report, an umbrella term “staff designated to support work on gender” refers to all staff in the World Bank Group who have been specifically designated to assist others and perform functions that contribute to the closure of gender gaps. Where evidence arose, the report identifies the specific role. The roles discussed in the report are listed below.

This approach has been taken as there is limited consistency in the titles, form, and function of staff designated to support work on gender in the Bank Group. Chapter 4 more fully discusses the coordination of staff support to the gender strategy.

  • World Bank Global Practice gender experts—Each Global Practice has at least two staff identified to support the closing of gender gaps. These staff have been trained and certified as Global Practice experts by the Gender Group to provide upstream support to operations seeking to get the gender tag.
  • International Finance Corporation gender leads—The International Finance Corporation has appointed gender experts managed by the Gender Business Group who undertake a wide array of functions and are allocated to a region (for example, South Asia) or specific product (for example, Women’s Insurance).
  • Regional gender assessor—The Gender Group has trained and certified staff members in Regions since 2019 to assess projects at Concept Note stage regarding the gender tag.
  • Focal points—A wide variety of staff help connect the gender strategy to operations. Some are gender experts who work in an industry group, Country Management Unit, Global Practice, or Region, while others have important context and sector knowledge but limited backgrounds in gender. Most of these staff are known as focal points, though to provide differentiation in the organizational hierarchy they can have varying titles, such as regional gender leads, country focal points, or gender program leads. Staff in these roles are expected to be sources of relevant information and guidance and may be certified as regional gender assessors in the World Bank.

Based on the evidence gathered by the review, the team developed a theory of action that represents the institutional elements and factors that enable the implementation of the strategy. The theory of action highlights that attaining the objectives of the strategy requires a country-driven approach, within which Bank Group country teams work with clients to set priorities and develop portfolios for resolving gender gaps (figure 1.1). A country-driven approach enables synergies and coherence of implementation as well as the development of client awareness and commitment in both the public and private sectors. Key institutional elements that support a country-driven approach are the World Bank and IFC gender groups, staff designated to support work on gender, and the creation and management of knowledge—all reinforced by monitoring and evaluation. The gender groups should provide strategy leadership and create an environment conducive to implementation through coordination. Staff support provides a critical connection for implementing the strategy through client dialogue, operational solutions, knowledge transfer, and mobilization of other staff. All of these elements contribute to the monitoring and evaluation of progress.

Figure 1.1. Theory of Action That Enables Implementation of the World Bank Group Gender Strategy


Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: IFC = International Finance Corporation; MIGA = Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency; TTL = task team leader.

Figure 1.1. Theory of Action That Enables Implementation of the World Bank Group Gender Strategy

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: IFC = International Finance Corporation; MIGA = Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency; TTL = task team leader.

Review Audience, Analytical Approach, and Methods

This review intends to inform the Boards of Executive Directors, senior management (vice presidents), the World Bank Gender Group, and the IFC Gender Business Group (GBG) about the implementation of the strategy and identify opportunities to strengthen implementation in the remaining period. Secondary audiences are the staff and managers in units tasked with implementing the gender strategy: Operations Policy and Country Services, country teams, Global Practices, and IFC regional departments and industry groups. Findings may also be relevant to bilateral and multilateral agencies and other organizations that design and finance investments to close gender gaps, as well as researchers and clients of the World Bank and IFC.

The review used a mainly qualitative approach, supplemented by descriptive statistical analysis. Interviews and focus groups of multiple stakeholders (approximately 180 people) were conducted in the Bank Group at country and corporate levels to understand the activities designed and implemented to work toward closing gender gaps. Seven countries were purposively selected for closer analysis to attain a view of gender strategy implementation under diverse conditions. The sampling considered regional distribution, the active portfolio of both IFC and World Bank projects seeking to close gender gaps, and the countries’ positions on the Gender Gap Index (World Economic Forum 2019). Interviews focused on the questions in box 1.1. Findings from these stakeholder reports were triangulated with gender tag (World Bank) and gender flag (IFC) data, key documents, and previous IEG reports. Analysis identified positive examples of practice and challenges, as well as factors that enabled or constrained Bank Group work. Details of the review’s design, country sampling, and sources of evidence are in appendix A.

In accordance with the initial terms of reference provided by the IFC and World Bank gender groups, two streams of the Mid-Term Review were conducted, one by IEG and the other by Group Internal Audit (GIA). IEG worked from the material provided by the gender groups to develop this review. GIA provided an advisory report focused on review of the internal processes, implementation practices, and accountability structures, which this report has drawn on for evidentiary support. Throughout the process, GIA and IEG worked collaboratively, undertaking joint interviews where possible and sharing ongoing analysis in producing their respective reports.

The review was executed with agility to provide timely input for the World Bank Group Gender Mid-Term Review. The main data collection process was completed in about six weeks, which reduced the amount of data that could be collected and analyzed and limited the scope of this review to desk analysis without the benefit of field and project visits. The Bank Group’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response was initiated after data collection was complete and so is not considered within the review. The review did not conduct a broad survey of staff competencies on gender, seek to verify outcomes in countries, assess partnerships, or gather the views of clients. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 were put in place toward the end of data collection, making client feedback difficult to collect. Instead, perceptions of staff expertise and client demand were examined with interviewees in the Bank Group and its development partners. The quality of the World Bank’s gender tag and IFC’s gender flag data was not assessed. Future evaluations could engage more deeply with each of these areas.

Structure of the Review

The logic of the review is based on the theory of action (figure 1.1). Chapter 2 discusses the commitment to achievement of the strategy’s objectives. Chapter 3 describes the country-driven approach and the opportunity to generate further synergies among projects. Chapter 4 describes the coordination of staff designated to support work on gender and support the use of evidence. Chapter 5 outlines how strong emphasis on commitments and project design overshadows efforts for monitoring and evaluation of implementation. Finally, chapter 6 presents the conclusions and describes opportunities for the World Bank and IFC to maximize the remaining years of strategy implementation.

  1. Three premises are at the foundation of its framework: (i) households are heterogenous entities composed of individuals with varying preferences and needs; (ii) markets and institutions influence the relationship between economic development and gender equality on a direct and indirect basis; and (iii) markets and institutions are dynamic, and their attributes can change and evolve in response to society and to external stimuli, such as policy interventions. The domains of gender equality are human endowments, economic opportunity, and voice and agency.
  2. A Gender Entrepreneurship Markets program was launched in December 2004 to mainstream gender issues into all dimensions of International Finance Corporation work, while at the same time helping to better leverage the untapped potential of women and men in emerging markets. In 2010, the initiative was renamed Women in Business.
  3. In addition to the Gender-Based Violence Task Force, the World Bank Group has developed guidance documents to safeguard protection in investment project financing.