Back to cover

World Bank Group Gender Strategy Mid-Term Review

Chapter 3 | Country-Driven Approach

The gender strategy advances a country-driven approach as a critical pathway to support the closure of gender gaps. The strategy defines a country-driven approach as coherent alignment with CPF objectives among operations that are supported by policy dialogue and the diagnosis of gender gaps to achieve sustained outcomes. This chapter describes the variations observed in the sample of countries that have implemented a country-driven approach, ranging from stand-alone projects to the collective use of multiple Bank Group instruments across the portfolio to address gender gaps. The implementation examples were derived from focus groups, key informant interviews, and document reviews. Informants pointed to the need for additional internal actions to further enhance the country-driven approach.

Implementing a Country-Driven Approach

Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCDs) proved useful in identifying gender gaps in all cases examined. All of the 25 SCDs approved between FY14 and FY16 and reviewed by the Gender Group identified gender gaps in endowments and jobs.1 By FY18, 75 percent of 36 SCDs addressed gaps in all four key outcomes of the strategy. As experience with gender analysis in these diagnostic documents has grown, guidelines have been updated to offer clear advice and operational examples.2

CPFs and SCDs for the seven countries sampled by IEG in this review set out a high-level understanding of gender gaps consistent with key expected outcomes in the gender strategy. IEG examined a sample of documents for Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Kenya, Peru, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. The sample reviewed, including documents completed before the gender strategy, had content related to gender gaps, which is consistent with reports that all CPFs are gender informed (see appendix B).3 For example, the Côte d’Ivoire CPF (FY16–19) identifies gender gaps in health, employment, microfinance, and agriculture that inhibit women’s economic empowerment (World Bank 2015b, 8, 18). The Tajikistan CPF (FY19–23) notes the predominant role of women in the informal economy, which makes them more susceptible to economic shocks as well as to significant threats of domestic violence and early or unofficial marriage (World Bank 2019b, 14–15). The Peru CPF (FY17–21) incorporates gender and indigenous disparities in each of its three pillars (World Bank 2017a, 13). Thus, the SCDs and CPFs examined are consistent with guidance provided by the Gender Group,4 a finding substantiated by a GIA advisory review.

The majority of the seven CPFs examined contain content relevant to IFC’s direct role in closing gender gaps. In five CPFs, the predominant focus was access to finance and credit for women (Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, and Vietnam) and support to small and medium enterprises owned or led by women (Bangladesh, Egypt, and Kenya). Other gender gaps addressed by IFC in these CPFs were skills development for women in educational institutions (Egypt and Kenya), and investment through the private sector focused on reproductive health care (Kenya). Two of the seven countries (Peru and Tajikistan) did not mention IFC’s gender work, but indirectly referenced it through support for the skills agenda with tertiary education and vocational training (Peru) and increased access to finance for poor people and farmers (Tajikistan). Addressing gender gaps in jobs was an objective of all CPFs except Egypt, yet only one country (Tajikistan) had an indicator to assess progress on jobs.

Beyond the CPF, IFC also uses Country Private Sector Diagnostics (CPSDs) and country strategies,5 which GIA found to be underdeveloped. GIA’s review of 13 completed CPSDs identified 8 with no mention of gender, 4 that mentioned gender without any detailed discussion, and 1 with a detailed discussion of gender. Currently, IFC and the Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions Practice Group are developing a guidance note for CPSDs to help staff better assess gender as part of this process. Within the countries IEG examined, IFC country strategies did not exist. Interviews and focus groups noted an important role for industry-specific diagnostics, rather than country-specific ones, to support implementation. The key document for IFC in defining a country-driven approach is the CPF, which is discussed by the Board and signed off by the government. The CPF is informed by the CPSD, and depending on the timing, is either informed by or expanded on by the IFC country strategy.

Key informants in the World Bank pointed out that more attention is needed to translate the priorities expressed in CPFs to the portfolio. For example, the country team in Kenya is preparing gender diagnostics for the upcoming CPF, with the aim of prioritizing gender gaps and creating coherence across the country portfolio. Generally, task team leaders and focal points reported a need for further guidance, as the gender content in the CPF may need translation to the sector. Box 3.1 describes a good practice example of gender gap prioritization that provides a strategic platform to support operations that seek to realize the aspirations of the gender strategy.

Prioritization of gender gaps helps country teams become more coherent and strategic across the country portfolio. Five of the seven countries in the sample are at various stages of emphasizing specific outcomes in the strategy. In other words, country teams have found selecting among gender gaps makes the country programming more strategic. Interviewees recognized a need for further action beyond the CPF. Absent appropriate prioritization of gender in the program, a diverse set of projects tagged and flagged for gender in the portfolio can appear to be “sprinkled” rather than strategic. One indicative example is the Supporting Education Reform Project in Egypt (World Bank 2018a), where gender gaps in teacher development are not an area prioritized in the CPF, nor are they linked to the portfolio. In working to address gender gaps more strategically, the country team in Peru focuses on GBV and provides a more systematic way to think about gender for operational teams by creating a road map for analysis, action, and monitoring. Other country teams, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, use gender focal points in the country and Region to ensure that operations focus on these priorities. Vietnam has interlinked elements that focus on policy change related to women’s economic empowerment. In such cases, country directors and managers clearly communicate the priorities to task team leaders, project leads, and investment officers. IEG’s Knowledge Flow and Collaboration under the World Bank’s New Operating Model similarly found that strong leadership is necessary for collaboration (for example, where country directors demand it) and that collaboration across teams is strongest on initiatives that are highly visible to senior management (World Bank 2019a).

Box 3.1. Gender Analysis Informing the Niger Country Partnership Framework for Fiscal Years 2018–22

The progressive development of gender in the country analysis and programming for Niger offers an evolved example of prioritization. Mainstreaming gender and strengthening governance and capacity for public service delivery was one of three strategic pillars in Niger’s Country Partnership Strategy for fiscal year (FY)13–16. The Performance and Learning Review found that progress toward realizing relevant objectives was “too timid to make a notable difference” (World Bank 2015c, 7); it found also that the lowest satisfaction ratings in a stakeholder survey related to work on gender. The Performance and Learning Review also found that, as a cross-cutting issue, gender was “often swamped by other concerns in the various sectors” (World Bank 2015c, 35), making it difficult to effectively mainstream gender in project implementation. Greater effort would be needed to reach stakeholders outside of government and to increase the visibility of gender-related (and other) interventions in dissemination activities.

The Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) provided in-depth analysis of the causes and consequences of gender discrimination. It noted that social- and gender-based traps (such as attaching less value to the education of girls than of boys) may result from long-standing cultural values. The SCD noted that approaches to increase agricultural productivity must consider likely impacts on women’s access to labor; childcare responsibilities and time available for farming; and access to land. It also proposed approaches to addressing those impacts through a strong focus on reducing fertility and providing community-based childcare to address the negative effects of the household dependency ratio on women’s relative productivity. The SCD noted the importance of taking gender into account in policies that were not specific to gender, such as the identification of new agricultural technologies and techniques and their likely effects on women’s time. Drawing on experience with conservation agriculture in Zambia, the SCD noted that some types of climate-smart agriculture may increase the burden of labor on women.

The Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for Niger for FY18–22 used the SCD analysis and accepted that gender is relevant to each of the three CPF focus areas. The CPF seeks to address female empowerment, agency, and opportunity. The analysis also identifies gender gaps in specific areas across the strategic pillars. In addition, the CPF responded to lessons from the Completion and Learning Review and the need to include gender outcomes in the results matrix.

Whereas in the Country Partnership Strategy for FY13–16 there were no indicators related to gender gaps, the relevant indicators in the CPF are sex-disaggregated and measure defined gender gaps. Sex-disaggregated indicators cover standard areas, such as percentage increase in yields produced by targeted beneficiaries (men and women) in selected livestock value chains (Indicator 1.2), and seek to measure gaps, such as the number of mining permits issued to artisanal miners (Indicator 1.3) and the mobile market and internet penetration rate (Indicator 6.1). As such, the analysis and measurement of gender gaps is integral to the CPF.

Source: World Bank 2015c, 2017c, 2018d.

The gender strategy also signals the importance of joint World Bank–IFC work and the coordinated use of multiple instruments, which can be observed to some extent in Bangladesh, Egypt, Peru, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, the World Bank tackles issues similar to those of IFC in its private sector support, as these synergies have had the strongest influence on policy. Also in Vietnam, IFC and the World Bank share survey instruments and planning related to childcare, eldercare, and women’s labor force participation. In Egypt, IFC and the World Bank jointly address the regulatory and business environment constraints that inhibit women’s full participation in the economy. Working with mutual priorities has helped IFC focus at a country level, since it generally operates via regions, industries, and global programs. Within IFC’s Gender Strategy Implementation Plan (GSIP) II, a wide range of project collaborations are planned with the World Bank. The plan highlights the importance of undertaking country-driven engagements within regional plans. Another example of synergies between IFC and the World Bank is Sri Lanka, which is described in box 3.2.

Box 3.2. Country-Driven Approach: Example from Sri Lanka

The Women in Work Program in Sri Lanka is a five-year (March 2017–June 2022), $11.5 million partnership with the Australian government and the International Finance Corporation’s largest country-based gender program. The program aims to close gender gaps in the private sector by enhancing opportunities for women’s employment and leadership; increasing access to financial and nonfinancial services for women and women-owned businesses through the financial sector; and increasing opportunities for women-owned businesses in the supply chains and distribution networks of lead firms. The country program deploys global products such as Banking on Women, Women’s Insurance Program, Tackling Childcare, a peer learning network (SheWorks Sri Lanka), and Economic Dividends for Gender Equality certification. The program is led by the Gender Business Group, in partnership with International Finance Corporation industry groups such as the Financial Institutions Group, Corporate Governance, and Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Services supported by the country manager. The program has collaborated with the World Bank on policy reform, specifically to draft a national employment act.

Source: Key informant interviews; Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and IFC, forthcoming.

The World Bank mechanism to monitor the implementation of the gender strategy (gender tags) creates incentives to focus on individual projects, rather than promoting a country-driven approach. In Côte d’Ivoire and Tajikistan (two out of seven countries examined), individual tagged operations predominantly facilitate the closure of gender gaps. The pressure to get a project counted toward targets set by Regions and Global Practices may be part of the reason individual projects are emphasized, according to task team leaders. For example, some respondents made statements along the lines of Not getting the gender tag is not an option.” IEG’s citizen engagement evaluation identified similar tension between meeting corporate targets and ensuring the quality of engagement. IEG cautioned that a corporate commitment to increase beneficiary feedback in 100 percent of projects could inadvertently generate a “check-the-box” attitude, to the detriment of quality (World Bank 2018b). The new upstream support model of gender tagging may reduce some of the tagging pressure, but this result will depend on the resources allocated by Country Management Units, Global Practices, and industry groups, as well as on country teams prioritizing gaps across operations or synergizing instruments (box 3.3).

Box 3.3. Opportunities to Reduce Project Pressure with an Upstream Support Model

During the initial years of tagging, rigor in meeting criteria (gaps, activities, and monitoring) was lax and decisions about including gender gaps in operations were often made late in the design process. To reduce variability in operational design, the Gender Group created an “upstream support model,” which was launched in November 2019. In the model, Global Practice gender experts provide support to operational teams in gap analysis and the tagging process from before they create the project Concept Note until the Project Appraisal Document is approved. This model may mitigate project pressure, as decisions about the inclusion of gaps can be made earlier. In this model, the Gender Group trains staff from the Regional Development Effectiveness offices to be regional gender assessors and designated staff from Global Practices to be trained as gender experts, who are called on upstream to provide support to task teams on entry points to close relevant gender gaps. Trained regional assessors and Global Practice gender experts take a test and are certified by the Gender Group.

Source: Independent Evaluation Group key informant interviews; World Bank 2019b.

Interviewees in IFC did not report the same imperative for flagging IS or AS projects as interviewees from the World Bank, as their incentives are different. For AS, gender discussions often occur during review processes and were reported to be focused on project improvement rather than attaining a flag. For IS, attaining a flag does not create a financial incentive for investment officers, which reduces the priority of flagging. Unlike AS, IFC has not set a target for the level of flagging in IS, nor does it track flags in key performance indicators, although GSIP II included a projection that 12–13 percent of IS projects would be flagged by FY20 (IFC, forthcoming a). An incentive to target gender gaps in both AS and IS projects comes from IFC’s Anticipated Impact Measurement and Monitoring (AIMM) system. Within AIMM, a project that provides evidence of a substantial effect on gender gaps will receive a higher project score, which is considered in review meetings. Interviewees reported that an increased score in AIMM creates an incentive for projects to seek to close gender gaps. Additionally, the corporate awards, which provide a bonus payment, have prioritized nominations that include a gender component.

Task team leaders, investment officers, and project leads stressed that closing country gender gaps is beyond the scope, budget, and timeline of a single project. Fully addressing gender gaps takes sustained effort, spans multiple projects, and can be addressed more strategically using Bank Group instruments collectively, according to focus groups. For example, childcare regulations can be addressed with more pronounced effect using a coherent approach comprising policy change, firm practices, and investments in childcare providers supporting countrywide implementation, rather than by addressing childcare for individual firms. Similarly, focus groups reported that overcoming existing norms was a substantial challenge to attaining the aims of the strategy that required policy dialogue as well as other actions, such as involving religious and community leaders in activities.6

World Bank Regions, IFC, and country teams have taken additional steps to move beyond individual tagged and flagged operations. All six of the World Bank’s RGAPs were completed by 2018. These plans were well consulted, bring forward regionally specific gender issues and gaps, and provide an implementation framework including indicators and targets. The East Asia and Pacific noted in its Mid-Term Review of the RGAP that the plan has improved prioritization, fundraising, and monitoring. Aligned with the regionalization of IFC, GSIP II was developed based on consultation with regions focused on client demands and business priorities. IFC’s regions have detailed a range of activities under each of the objectives of the gender strategy for client work, research and evidence, peer-to-peer platforms and partnerships, and sector reform and policy.

Bank Group staff interviewed for this report noted the critical roles of country directors and managers and regional leadership, commitment, and resource allocation in implementing RGAPs and GSIP II. The World Bank implementation processes for the gender strategy vary by Region, with Middle East and North Africa, East Asia and Pacific, and South Asia providing substantial support via country and regional focal points. Among the remaining World Bank Regions, this level of support is at the discretion of country directors and managers (this topic is discussed in detail in chapter 4). The approval by several levels of IFC’s regional management and also discussion with the extended management team has generated commitment to GSIP II. IFC’s regional and country leadership regularly highlighted the important role of the support of the GBG’s regionally embedded staff to the implementation of GSIP II. Development partners wanted the Bank Group to ensure consistent internal capacity, as they observed variability across country teams and believed this weakness should be addressed in the remaining years of strategy implementation.

In five of the seven countries examined, the country teams have shifted beyond individual tagged operations to some degree. Within these teams, implementation is on a continuum leading toward a country-driven approach. The Vietnam country team’s efforts emerged out of a need to prioritize and ensure impact. The actions taken by this team began before the current gender strategy was implemented, which suggests the commitment of time and effort to develop a country-driven approach. A similar approach created increasing cohesiveness across instruments related to GBV in Kenya and Peru. For example, Peru’s Centralized Emergency Response Project includes a dedicated phone line run by the Ministry of Women to cover GBV issues (where the confidentiality of callers would be maintained). GBV has also been addressed in the transport sector with the establishment of a safe and accessible transport system for women in Peru.

In Bangladesh, the country team is taking further steps to ensure the country portfolio is aligned with the gender strategy and South Asia RGAP, both of which focus on women’s economic empowerment, voice, and agency. A gender and social inclusion report will be produced to update the 2008 analytical report Whispers to Voices: Gender and Social Transformation in Bangladesh (World Bank 2008). The report and other analytical work aim to address constraints on women’s employment and asset ownership in Bangladesh. These constraints—which include the high prevalence of GBV, child marriage, and practices that limit women’s inheritance of family property—also undermine the voice, agency, and safety of girls and women. This example highlights that prioritization and further analysis of local priorities, if needed, are steps that support policy dialogue and build demand with clients to implement the country-driven approach.

The opportunity is to strengthen the country-driven approach in the remaining years of strategy implementation. Establishing a country-driven approach requires more from the World Bank and IFC than individual tagged and flagged operations. Experience in Bangladesh and Vietnam shows that country and regional units across the World Bank and IFC play a central role, with the gender groups providing the leadership and coordination that generate an environment conducive to implementation. The World Bank Global Practices and IFC industry groups have supporting roles in creating sector-specific knowledge. Staff designated to support work on gender are critical as they manage diagnostics, translate knowledge, and provide operational support and advice in generating synergies (chapter 4 discusses this role in more depth).

  1. 2017 Gender Group Update to the Board of Executive Directors.
  2. Guidance documents, such as gender and jobs diagnostics, and subsequent guidance documents on project tags.
  3. This finding is reported in International Development Association monitoring and previous Independent Evaluation Group reports, such as early assessment of Systematic Country Diagnostics and Country Partnership Frameworks.
  4. Country-level analyses are included in Country Partnership Frameworks, Systematic Country Diagnostics, and Gender Assessments. The sample of countries reviewed did not include any Joint Implementation Plans, and thus they were not reviewed.
  5. Country Private Sector Diagnostics are joint World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) pieces of analysis, whereas IFC country strategies were launched in fiscal year 18 and are focused on only IFC analysis. Both documents should sit under the Country Partnership Framework, which forms the main Joint Implementation Plan between IFC and the World Bank. The Country Private Sector Diagnostic and IFC country strategy are intended to provide upstream engagement at the country level.
  6. These are two activities of the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project that aim to change social norms.