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The World Bank Group in Bangladesh

Chapter 4 | World Bank Group Contributions to Key IDA Themes: Gender, Governance, and Displaced Populations


The World Bank Group contributed to substantial progress in girls’ education and maternal and child mortality. Although progress was made in improving female empowerment through employment, further efforts are needed to address gender gaps in labor force participation, economic rights, and financial inclusion.

The Bank Group’s shift in its approach to governance from project-based to support for country systems was in the right direction given its cross-cutting nature. Although there was limited progress overall due to weak government commitment to reforms, the World Bank contributed to sustained improvements in public procurement after more than a decade of sustained engagement.

The World Bank responded promptly and actively mobilized financing to support the displaced Rohingya population and host communities of Cox’s Bazar. Early results from its interventions suggest that there has been good progress, despite implementation delays due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).


Throughout the CPE period, there was increasing recognition of gender issues in the Bank Group, reinforced by the corporate gender strategy and gender platforms and through World Bank interventions in education and health. Bank Group support contributed to improving gender equality through substantial progress in increasing girls’ access to education and reducing maternal and child mortality (see chapter 3). Gross primary enrollment for girls increased from 109.3 percent in 2010 to 125 percent in 2020, while gross secondary female enrollment increased from 56.2 percent in 2011 to 81.5 percent in 2020. Rates of maternal mortality were reduced from 248 (per 1,000 live births) in 2011 to 173 in 2017.

However, Bank Group work to support financial inclusion and combat gender-based violence has yet to produce significant results. In terms of the labor market, efforts to increase female labor force participation focused on investment in education on the supply side and on the establishment of female-friendly workplaces on the demand side, but these efforts have yet to show sustained progress. Although the female labor force participation rate increased from 31.7 percent to 38.4 percent between 2011 and 2019, it lagged comparator countries. In urban areas, this rate declined recently due to decelerating growth in the RMG sector, while much of the uptick in the rural rate is due to unpaid agricultural work (Solotaroff et al. 2019).

Through its analytical work, the Bank Group contributed to a deeper understanding of the impact of social norms on gender equity, which also informed its lending. Whispers to Voices (World Bank 2008), considered a milestone for empirical work on gender, was followed by an updated Voices to Choices (Solotaroff et al. 2019), which addressed female employment gaps, asset ownership, inclusion, and entrepreneurship. IFC’s (2017) Tackling Childcare: The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare raised awareness and made the business case for employer-supported childcare and other family-friendly workplace policies to enhance women’s employment, children’s learning and health outcomes, and business and economic growth. Analyses of employer data and insights from employee discussions confirm the need for and opportunities associated with childcare solutions.1


Governance challenges persisted over the CPE period, posing major risks and constraints to the country’s development aspirations. At the CAS stage, the Bank Group focused on three key results areas related to public resource management. The multidonor trust fund, which anchored the World Bank’s engagement during the CAS, supported ambitious reforms related to finance, audits, and the legislative branch. However, these efforts were constrained by weak government commitment to reform. Overall, there was limited progress in improving budget management and the quality and timeliness in reporting or improving audit quality and audit capacity (World Bank 2020e). However, there has been progress in increasing the capacity to mobilize own-source revenue in selected local (rural) governments (Union Parishads).

The decision to make governance a cross-cutting theme at the CPF stage took the form of Bank Group support for improvements in country systems, including procurement and public financial management. This included the use of the PforR instrument to strengthen country systems for financial management and promote reforms in value-added tax administration. Additional Bank Group support for governance, including the national ID system, did not perform well due to corrupt and collusive practices under the project, which led to the debarment of the contractor.2 The Public Financial Management Service Delivery Project is relatively new (FY19), so it is too early to assess its effectiveness (see table 4.1 of completed governance projects). Unfortunately, the shift from project-based to cross-cutting theme did not include the use of indicators to measure progress, making it difficult to assess the efficacy of World Bank support on governance.

An exception to the lack of progress was public procurement reform. With more than a decade of sustained engagement, the World Bank supported a series of Public Procurement Reform Projects and financed digital technology operations to enhance governance. It also supported the introduction of electronic government procurement across many public sector organizations. The World Bank produced a series of policy notes on the legal and regulatory framework; the Integrated Budget and Accounting System and integration of nondevelopment and development budgets; civil servants’ pensions; and SOEs’ financial reporting and oversight, in an effort to inform development of the Public Financial Management Reform Strategy (2016–21).

Table 4.1. Independent Evaluation Group Ratings List of Governance-Related Operations-Closed Projects

Project Name

Approval Date

IEG Outcome Rating

IEG Bank Performance Rating

BD: Deepening MTBF and Strengthening Financial Accountability


Highly unsatisfactory

Highly unsatisfactory

BD: Strengthening Auditor General’s Office


Moderately unsatisfactory (PPAR)

Moderately unsatisfactory

BD: Public Procurement Reform Project II




Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: BD = Bangladesh; IEG = Independent Evaluation Group; MTBF = medium-term budget framework; PPAR = Project Performance Assessment Report.

Displaced Populations (Rohingya Crisis)

In its Rohingya crisis response, the Bank Group sought to increase access to basic services for the displaced Rohingya population, delivering several operations in less than three years. The World Bank responded quickly between June 2018 and March 2020 to support the government in addressing the impact of the Rohingya crisis on both the host communities and the displaced Rohingya population (see table 4.2). The three complementary operations approved in March 2020 were part of a second phase of World Bank support for the government.

Most operations supporting the Rohingya are recent, and, as such, there is limited evidence of impact. Implementation Status and Results Reports suggest implementation has been progressing well, although it has slowed down due to COVID-19. The target for the number of children (0–11 months) who have received three doses of pentavalent immunization has been exceeded. Additional financing under the Health Sector Support Project was rapidly reprogrammed to support prevention of and response to COVID-19 for the displaced Rohingya population and host populations. The number of displaced Rohingya children enrolled in informal learning centers reached 112,000 by project closing (versus a target of 150,000) due to closures of learning centers for more than a year due to COVID-19. The number of women and girls with access to gender-based violence services exceeded the target, while various civil works under the Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project are in various stages of implementation (table 4.2).

IDA’s regional subwindow for refugees and host communities allowed the World Bank to help advance policy changes with reference to refugees. The government’s official position was that the Rohingya will eventually be repatriated. As such, the government was not interested in borrowing from the World Bank to support the Rohingya and was initially reluctant to have the World Bank involved in what it saw as a humanitarian issue. However, the World Bank engaged in “quiet dialogue” and argued that it would play a development role (for example, related to education and health). The World Bank worked with the government to agree to the provision of services for the Rohingya based on existing systems.3 The World Bank undertook a rapid needs assessment, with human development being the initial priority (for example, immunization, education, gender-based violence). There was significant collaboration between the World Bank and UN agencies, with joint advocacy on behalf of the displaced population and in implementation (see chapter 2, Partnerships).

Table 4.2. Projects Supporting the Host Community and the Displaced Rohingya Population



Objective/Progress to Date

Phase 1

AF for the Health Sector Support Project (FY18)

Grant of US$41.67 million from RSW and credit of US$8.33 million

Enhance the capacity of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to respond to the Rohingya crisis and support the extension of HNP services to the displaced population in Cox’s Bazar.

ISR (October 2021): More than 70,000 DRP children (ages 1–11 months) had received three doses of pentavalent immunization (exceeding the project target of 35,000) as of September 2021. For the same period, the number of births delivered in HNP facilities in Cox’s Bazar reached 25,000, exceeding the project target (20,000).

AF Bangladesh Reaching Out-of-School Children Project II (FY19); Parent +AF: closed June 2021

Grant of US$20.84 million from RSW and a credit of US$4.16 million

Support the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education in planning, coordinating, managing, providing, and monitoring safe and equitable learning opportunities for the displaced children in Cox’s Bazar, while the original project catered to the needs of the host communities.

ISR (June 2021): The number of DRP children enrolled in informal learning centers reached 112,000 (versus the project target of 150,000) due to a closure of learning centers for 1.3 years caused by COVID-19.

Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project (FY19)

US$165 million (US$137.5 million from RSW and $27.5 million credit)

Improve access to basic services and build disaster and social resilience of the DRP through infrastructure provision to strengthen emergency response services, provide community works and services, and prevent gender-based violence.

ISR (September 2021): Number of people with access to improved public infrastructure (improved water sources) was 216,300 (DRP); eligible households participating in workfare and services reached more than 175,000, exceeding target (100,000); works packages for infrastructure (roads, multipurpose shelters, bridges) are in various stages of implementation and delays encountered due in part to COVID-19.

Phase 2

Health and Gender Support Project for Cox’s Bazar District (FY20)

US$150 million (US$125 million from RSW)

Enable 3.6 million people in Cox’s Bazar, including the Rohingya, to have access to health, nutrition, and family planning services, and also address gender-based violence through preventive and response services.

ISR (September 2021): The number of women and girls using services to respond to gender-based violence from the health services in Cox’s Bazar reached more than 19,000 as of July 2021 (exceeding the target of 15,500).

AF for the Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project (FY20)

US$100 million (US$83.3 million from RSW)

Scale up access to energy, water, sanitation, and disaster-resilient infrastructures for the Rohingya and the surrounding host (see also the update for the Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project in FY19).

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: Total: US$590 million (of which RSW = $491.67 million; IDA credit = $98.33 million). AF = additional financing; COVID-19 = coronavirus pandemic; DRP = displaced Rohingya population; FY = fiscal year; HNP = health, nutrition, and population; IDA = International Development Association; ISR = Implementation Status and Results Report; RSW = regional subwindow.

  1. Out of 306 companies surveyed, 55 percent reported that their employees’ children were eligible for childcare (that is, children from six months to six years of age), 23 percent offered some form of childcare solution to their employees, and 16 percent planned to provide a childcare solution in the future.
  2. World Bank, “World Bank Announces Settlement with Oberthur Technologies SA,” Press Release, November 30, 2017,