Back to cover

World Bank Group Gender Strategy Mid-Term Review



Commitment to the gender strategy by World Bank Group management, staff, and partners has translated into progress following plans; good practices in implementing the strategy in Global Practices, industry groups, Regions, and countries; and improvements in project design, driven in part by increased gender tagging and flagging. Yet implementation actions do not consistently match this commitment, nor are they commensurate with the level of ambition in the strategy.

The implementation of the country-driven approach advocated by the strategy has been hindered by competing priorities, limited familiarity with the gender gap approach, and variability in the support models across Regions. Consequently, country-driven approach implementation has ranged from stand-alone projects addressing specific gender gaps to multiple World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) instruments used in concert to collectively address prioritized gender gaps.

Well-organized support for closing gender gaps is evident in IFC and in some World Bank Regions and Global Practices. In both IFC and the World Bank, staff designated to support work on gender are critical to connect strategic imperatives to practices in Bank Group operations. Staff designated to support work on gender are constrained in their ability to provide optimal support by the lack of clear selection criteria, insufficient time to complete required functions, limited professional development opportunities, and little recognition within performance management processes.

Although significant attention is devoted to monitoring commitments and assessing project design, less attention is paid to monitoring implementation. This reduces the Bank Group’s ability to gauge the outcomes of projects and, ultimately, the outcomes of implementing the strategy.

Review Purpose and Scope

The World Bank Group Gender Strategy (fiscal year 2016–23) presents gender equality as integral to smart development policy and posits that successful implementation of the strategy will help achieve the Bank Group’s twin goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. The strategy focuses on four objectives: human endowments, jobs, asset control and ownership, and voice and agency. To implement the strategy, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) established a new methodology and targets for measuring progress via gender tags for World Bank operations and gender flags for IFC advisory and investment services.

At the midpoint in the eight-year strategic cycle, this review provides a rapid assessment of the implementation of the strategy in the World Bank and IFC. The purpose of the review is to provide evidence and reveal opportunities to maximize organizational efforts over the final four years of implementation. It reflects on what is working well and less well to support continuous monitoring and learning in the World Bank and IFC in terms of strategy implementation. The review identified the connections and coordination among four essential institutional elements for an enhanced country-driven approach: knowledge management, staff designated to support work on gender, the IFC Gender Business Group and the World Bank Gender Group, and monitoring and evaluation.

The review used a qualitative approach supplemented by descriptive statistical analysis and was entirely desk-based to provide timely inputs to the Bank Group. It did not seek to verify outcomes in countries or demand and uptake from clients, nor did it assess partnerships. It was conducted on a tight timeline that reduced data collection efforts. The review relied on interviews and focus groups with corporate, regional, and country stakeholders, which were triangulated with documents and other sources of evidence, such as tag and flag data, Independent Evaluation Group evaluations, Bank Group documents, and a review undertaken by Group Internal Audit. The Bank Group’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response was initiated after data collection was complete, so it was not considered in the review. The review sought to answer the overarching question: How well is the implementation of the gender strategy positioning the Bank Group to contribute to closing key gender gaps?

To enhance the implementation of the gender strategy, the review finds that the World Bank and IFC need to focus on coherently addressing gender gaps through country teams. These teams need to receive coordinated support from the gender groups as well as access appropriate context, sector, industry and gender expertise from staff designated to support work on gender.

Gender Strategy Commitment and Implementation

The gender strategy has garnered commitment from World Bank and IFC management, staff, and partners—a precondition for success. Interviews and documents demonstrate that the strategy and the gender flag and tag have generated attention and accountability. This buy-in is necessary for successful implementation of the strategy as management creates incentives and ensures that processes reinforce the strategy’s aims. Organizational actions to implement the strategy do not consistently match this commitment, however, nor are they commensurate with the level of ambition in the strategy. Competing priorities and a lack of familiarity with the gender gap approach constrain staff in their implementation of the strategy.

Enhancing the Country-Driven Approach

The gender strategy advances an enhanced country-driven approach as a critical pathway to support the closure of gender gaps. The enhanced approach requires that operations, supported by policy dialogue and diagnosis of gender gaps, align with Country Partnership Framework objectives in a coherent manner that helps close gender gaps. In the sample of country programs examined in the review, the approach to addressing gender gaps ranges from stand-alone projects to the collective use of multiple Bank Group instruments, with stand-alone projects being the more common approach. Part of the reason that individual projects are emphasized may be the pressure for a project to be counted toward gender-tagging targets set by Regions and Global Practices.

The prioritization process, which links diagnostics with country strategy and operations, is intended to help Bank Group country teams take a coherent approach to closing gender gaps across the country portfolio. Systematic Country Diagnostics and other diagnostics are being used to identify gender gaps, and Country Partnership Frameworks have reflected the gender gaps among their priorities, but so far those priorities are not consistently being translated into a coherent portfolio of operations that address gender gaps. Five of the seven countries in the sample are at various stages of prioritizing gender gaps. Without prioritization, the diverse in the portfolio can appear to be “sprinkled” rather than strategic. For this reason, the Country Management Units in Bangladesh, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Kenya, Peru, and Vietnam are focusing their interventions on specific gender-related areas. In such cases, country directors and managers act as champions for gender and clearly communicate the priorities to task team leaders, project leads, and investment officers. Experience in Bangladesh and Vietnam shows that World Bank and IFC country and regional units should have central roles in implementing the strategy, with the gender groups providing the leadership and coordination that generate an environment conducive to implementation.

Coordination of Staff Designated to Support Work on Gender

The gender strategy provides few details on how to organize staff support to best use evidence in closing gender gaps. Copious resources have been focused on evidence production during the first four years of strategy implementation. However, operational staff report that this evidence can be difficult to access, overly technical, and of limited operational relevance if not accompanied by staff designated to support work on gender. When such assistance has been available, evidence has been applied to improve project design, inform development partner perspectives, and generate demand for services. When effective, staff designated to support work on gender are critical connectors among institutional, regional, and country levels; these staff often work together to provide needed operational solutions, translate knowledge, and mobilize support.

Evidence in support of operations has been produced by the gender groups of IFC and the World Bank, as well as by Gender Innovation Labs. The World Bank Gender Group conducts research, supports improving gender data, and develops specific themes. For example, the group currently works to improve the usability of World Bank gender data, which are scattered across different portals. IFC’s Gender Business Group generates evidence for stand-alone gender products; for services they are incubating; and for support to regions. Among its products have been business cases to support the development of stand-alone advisory services related to insurance, childcare, and entrepreneurship. Gender Innovation Labs have produced influential evidence on what works through impact evaluations, most of which use randomized control trials. In one notable case, an innovative psychometric test used in Ethiopia and shown to be effective in supporting women’s access to larger business loans has been expanded in Madagascar and Zimbabwe, with Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Zambia also interested.

Staff highlighted that they need more knowledge and data on gender gaps at the level of sectors and subsectors specific to a country. In the interviews and focus groups, a consistent theme emerged: staff typically do not read gender-related knowledge products if those products are too technical or do not immediately seem applicable within the country or sector context. Gender-based violence is one specific area where operational teams find it difficult to translate evidence into operations.

In implementing the strategy, IFC has taken a more active role in organizing and coordinating gender leads and focal points in comparison to the World Bank. The World Bank’s Gender Group takes a less active approach to the coordination of staff designated to support work on gender, though it organizes a community of practice that convenes monthly. IFC’s Gender Business Group, in contrast, works through regional and product gender leads who often manage other staff at the global, regional, and country levels and coordinates with focal points in industry groups. IFC has successfully connected country-level advisory services with global programs, such as the Women’s Insurance and Tackling Childcare projects. The World Bank Gender Group has a broader scope to cover, making an approach like IFC’s difficult. In the World Bank, no single unit is responsible for coordinating expertise to support the gender strategy or ensuring the adequacy of capacity and time allocation, which leads to variability in resourcing and skills.

Bank Group staff designated to support work on gender have proven to be critical to linking strategy and practice, but their work is constrained by a lack of clear selection criteria for the different functions and roles, insufficient time to complete required functions, few professional development opportunities, and little recognition within performance management processes. The selection and professional development of gender focal points in the World Bank is ad hoc, partly because a gender specialty is not a recognized career path in the Bank Group. Many staff designated to support work on gender in Global Practices, industries, Regions, and countries are filled either by volunteers or through designation by senior staff who may have sector or country expertise but are not gender experts. These constraints are less pronounced at IFC, though they do occur. Moreover, the professional development pathways are inadequate to develop staff into gender leads and experts, and little formal planning has been done to help retool staff in the World Bank and IFC.

Ensuring and Measuring Progress

Monitoring commitments and assessing the quality of project design get significant attention. Two main sets of commitments on gender attract the interest of the Board and shareholders: International Development Association replenishments and the capital increase. The World Bank collects corporate data and reports on all International Development Association commitments as well as the capital increase. IFC reports on all capital increase commitments related to gender except on annual financing dedicated to women and women-led small and medium enterprises, a situation the organization is working to change. The attention given to these requirements has yielded improvements in collecting sex-disaggregated data and ensuring the intent of the strategy translates into the results chains of projects.

Monitoring implementation gets less attention, which raises the risk of missing evidence to assess outcomes. A review of seven Country Partnership Frameworks found that they did not fully monitor gender gaps identified in their pillars. A review of 97 IFC and World Bank projects also implies there has been limited measurement of two of the four gaps: voice and agency, and specific human endowments at a country level. Of these projects, 72 had yet to report any progress or were not intending to track gender gaps at all. Additionally, 69 had no plans to undertake their own project evaluations beyond reporting requirements. Practice managers reported that budget limitations prevent adequate monitoring of progress on gender gaps during supervision. With limitations in supervision and in monitoring and evaluation, there is a risk that making mid-course corrections in the implementation of the strategy will become very difficult, and at the end of the strategy period, there will be missing evidence on the World Bank and IFC contributions to outcomes.


Drawing on the analysis of enablers and constraints in implementing the gender strategy, the review identifies four opportunities to enhance implementation in the remaining years of the strategy period.

  • Strengthen synergies among Regions, Global Practices, industry groups, and country teams to develop coherence in the country’s portfolio. Good practice examples show that country teams can coherently implement priorities when staff designated to support work on gender are resourced. The gender groups can assist in enabling this process by sharing lessons from efforts between the World Bank and IFC such as childcare and women’s labor market participation. Informants reported significant challenges in addressing gender-based violence, which suggests a potential area for joint effort by the World Bank and IFC.
  • Define and maintain standards for staff designated to support work on gender in the Bank Group at the regional and country level, with the Gender Group exercising an enhanced coordination role. Implemented standards would enable greater consistency from staff designated to support the strategy. Standards should be articulated for the selection, professional development, resourcing (both human and financial), and performance management of staff, drawing on practices in the East Asia and Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia Regions. Enhanced coordination by the Gender Group entails actively supporting implementation of the standards, providing guidance, and managing knowledge across Regions. IFC, for its part, is well organized in its approach to implementing the gender strategy, although it could provide additional training and support to investment officers to assist with the development of client demand.
  • Enable staff designated to support work on gender, task team leaders, project leads, and investment officers to work jointly on generating evidence to amplify the use of knowledge on meeting country and global priorities. The review highlights that when groups of staff work together, there is an effect on implementation beyond the use of evidence in a single operation. Focal points, task team leaders, and Global Practice gender experts and IFC gender leads, for example, reported that in jointly generating evidence they were able to translate it into other operations and share examples with internal and external stakeholders. IFC efforts could focus on identifying and documenting examples of gender-flagged investment services, especially in Infrastructure and in Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Services. The importance of emphasizing joint working arrangements for evidence use by operational staff is confirmed in both the academic literature and in the evaluation of gender and diversity by the Inter-American Development Bank.
  • Maintain corporate monitoring and ensure attention to the monitoring and evaluation of implementation in both IFC and the World Bank. Mobilize the gender groups of the two institutions, as well as staff designated to support work on gender, to develop capacity and support monitoring and supervision during implementation. Commission outcome-focused evaluations and, potentially, impact evaluations in both IFC and the World Bank related to the closure of gaps at the country level, global level, or both.