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Five Ways to Continue Closing Gender Gaps: Lessons from Albania and Rwanda

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Doctors congregating outside a hospital in Tirana in 2004. Despite gains made in closing gender gaps in the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating inequalities. Photo: Albes Fusha/The World Bank.
With the COVID-19 pandemic aggravating inequalities, closing gender gaps has become ever more urgent. We look to recent evaluations of World Bank Group supported programs in Albania and Rwanda for five lessons on how to keep Show MoreWith the COVID-19 pandemic aggravating inequalities, closing gender gaps has become ever more urgent. We look to recent evaluations of World Bank Group supported programs in Albania and Rwanda for five lessons on how to keep pushing the agenda. The ongoing social and economic disadvantages that women around the world face, known collectively as ‘gender gaps’, has left them especially vulnerable to the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women have lost jobs at higher rates, often losing out on education to become care-givers, and their already unequal decision-making power has diminished even further (World Bank, 2020 and 2021). This development calls for policy makers to act strategically to reverse the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and make progress towards reducing gender gaps, which persist despite decades of initiatives and efforts (e.g. UN, World Bank, and IDA). The World Bank Group supports the closing of gender gaps through the implementation of its Gender Equality Strategy, which emphasizes strengthening a country-driven approach, with policy dialogue informed by better country-level diagnostics and sex-disaggregated data to achieve results. IEG’s Country Program Evaluations assess the outcomes of World Bank Group support to client governments; they often include a focus on how this support helps reduce gender gaps and advance gender-specific goals in specific countries. Drawing from recent IEG evaluations of Albania and Rwanda, this blog highlights five general recommendations for governments and development partners seeking to make greater progress in closing gender gaps: 1. Integrate a gender perspective in Country Programs While many country strategies mention gender issues, a gender perspective is not always well integrated. For example, the World Bank Group’s Country Partnership Strategy for Rwanda for Fiscal Years 2014–18 described gender as an overall cross-cutting issue to be pursued – however, it provided little explanation of how gender would be integrated into the Word Bank-supported program or how progress would be reported on. Other common pitfalls include (i) making gratuitous reference to gender mainstreaming without identifying clear areas of action; (ii) reporting on gender using results indicators from individual projects, rather than focusing on outcomes at a higher level e.g., the program or country level; and (iii) inconsistent treatment across sectors – it is often the case that sex-disaggregated indicators appear in education and health sector projects, but not in energy and transport sector projects (World Bank, 2016: 20-23 and World Bank, 2019). 2. Leverage analytical work to build consensus Use analytical work to engage government authorities, citizens, and other stakeholders to articulate and build support and consensus for reforms. In Albania, in-depth analytical work undertaken by World Bank staff helped diagnose gender inequities, and inform the articulation of policy options to address vulnerabilities and gender disparities in a range of areas including labor force participation rates and wages, shortcomings in agency and property rights for women, and significant levels of domestic violence. In Rwanda, several gender-focused analytical products, including ones from the Adolescent Girls Initiative, informed World Bank-supported country strategies and operations. 3. Push most difficult reforms to remove legal and regulatory constraints In Albania, despite recent improvements, legal and regulatory constraints, combined with implementation gaps, still hinder economic opportunities for women. To address the significant gender gap in land ownership, in 2019, the World Bank Group encouraged inclusive land and property registration and policy reforms through the first gender-focused Development Policy Financing Operation. Some of the reforms supported included increasing registration of women as co-owners of properties and improving regulation that allows women to use property to access financing.  At the same time, the Bank worked closely with bilateral donors to coordinate complementary support to build institutional capacity to support the property registration reforms. 4. Ensure data availability While more sex disaggregated data has become available in recent years, data availability remains a challenge. In Albania, the absence of up to date household survey data makes it difficult to update analytical work, calibrate reforms, and gauge progress toward reducing gender disparities. Given the essential role of household survey data in effective project design and in advancing the gender agenda, the Bank will need to be more assertive in encouraging authorities to prioritize publication of future surveys and that these surveys are carried out regularly. 5. Monitor and evaluate using sex disaggregated indicators It is key to include and utilize results indicators to measure progress toward gender objectives. In Rwanda, the results framework for the Bank-supported country strategy included gender-disaggregated indicators, such as the number of female-headed households benefiting from social protection programs. The Rwanda Country Program Evaluation provided some evidence that the Vision 2020 Umurenge Program[1], which the World Bank has consistently supported, has had beneficial effects on the empowerment of women by increasing their access to labor earnings and financial services, in turn enabling precautionary savings and better coping in the face of shocks. A Way Forward Better integrating a gender perspective, using analytical work to build consensus among stakeholders, encouraging policy reform, investing in data availability and monitoring using sex-disaggregated indicators, are five ways governments and development partners can more effectively help clients bridge gender gaps. IEG aims to contribute to this effort through several upcoming evaluations including of Bank-supported programs in Bangladesh, Chad, and Madagascar, as well as of World Bank Group Support in Closing Gender Gaps in Countries Affected by Fragility, Conflict and Violence.   [1] An Integrated Local Development Program initiated by the Government of Rwanda in collaboration with development partners and NGOs to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth, and social protection.   Pictured above: Doctors congregating outside a hospital in Tirana in 2004. Despite gains made in closing gender gaps in the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating inequalities. Photo: Albes Fusha/The World Bank.

How to Implement a Strategy to Close Gender Gaps?

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Photo: © Stephan Gladieu / World Bank. Prof. Amivi Kafui Tete-Benissan (left) teaches cell biology and biochemistry at the University of Lomé. She’s also a vocal activist who encourages girls to pursue science as a career path. “Female students represent only 10 percent of our student body in science and engineering,” she says sadly.
Many large development organizations face challenges in implementing a gender strategy. A mid-term review of the World Bank Group’s Gender Strategy uses a theory of action to illustrate the institutional factors that enable implementation. Recent evaluations in the African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the World Food Program point to difficulties in helping staff to think Show MoreMany large development organizations face challenges in implementing a gender strategy. A mid-term review of the World Bank Group’s Gender Strategy uses a theory of action to illustrate the institutional factors that enable implementation. Recent evaluations in the African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the World Food Program point to difficulties in helping staff to think and act with a gender lens in their work. Key issues often revolve around who supports staff, how to resource support and what knowledge is required to assist implementation. The current gender strategy of the World Bank Group has defined the institution’s approach since 2016. At the heart of the Gender Strategy is a move towards the prioritization of gender gaps drawing upon focused analysis, action and measurement. The gender gap approach seeks to address deficits identified in the gender mainstreaming approach (used previously), such as: weaknesses in embedding a gender equality orientation across organizations, fragmented results and low replication of success (UNU-WIDER, 2014: 13). A recently completed IEG mid-term review of the World Bank Group’s Gender Strategy identifies opportunities to maximize implementation efforts. The review found that commitment to the Gender Strategy by Bank Group management and staff has translated into progress against plans and good practices in implementing the strategy. This commitment is reflected in changes in how organizational goals are framed and in the increased number of projects targeting gender gaps. When support was well defined, resourced, and coordinated, it helped projects address specific gender gaps for agreed priorities. While commitment at the level of strategy is a prerequisite, actions at the level of the country portfolio and in coordinating support, are also needed. The review found that challenges in implementation arose when there was a lack of support to help identify a gender gap, limited ability to translate technical knowledge into practice, or limited monitoring of gender in projects implementation. To visualize and discuss needed enhancements we put together what evaluators call a theory of action – a diagram that describes the important elements for implementation, their design and connections. The theory of action identified four interconnected institutional elements and factors that enable the implementation of the strategy: commitment to strategic objectives; prioritizing gaps at a country-level; coordinated support to implementation; and monitoring and evaluation of commitments and projects from design to closure. The diagram below elaborates on these four areas.   Commitment to Strategic Objectives Maintaining a focus on the strategic objectives requires strong commitment from the management and governance structures of the organization. Buy-in is necessary for successful implementation of the strategy through, for example, creating staff incentives to reinforce the strategy’s aims. Without this commitment gender will not remain in focus and other areas of work will become prioritized. Implementation actions need to consistently match this commitment and be commensurate with the level of ambition in the strategy. Prioritization of a Country-driven Approach The gender strategy advances a country-driven approach as a critical pathway to support the closure of gender gaps. In the World Bank Group, a country driven approach is particularly important as country programs form the main unit to define, implement and review progress with national governments. The Gender Strategy highlights that sustained progress to closing gender gaps will accrue through coherent alignment from country objectives to projects, policy dialogue, diagnostics, and monitoring. Fully addressing gender gaps takes sustained effort, spans multiple projects, and can be addressed more strategically using Bank Group instruments collectively in a country. For example, to enable more women to enter the workplace can require a change in childcare practices, which needs a coherent approach comprising of policy change, training and private sector investments to support countrywide implementation. Coordinating Support to Implementation To build on commitment and prioritization a country program needs a range of support. The review noted that implementation of the strategy could be enhanced when four sources of support worked together: knowledge generation, curation and use; gender groups that maintain standards, advise staff who support implementation of the strategy on the prioritization of gaps and help synergize efforts between different organizational siloes; gender specialists, and focal points with contextual and sector know-how who can connect different resources; and gender innovation labs to support new influential efforts to address gaps. The review identified how these four sources enabled or constrained implementation of the strategy. For example, all four play a role in supporting the use of analysis to identify and address gender gaps. Gender groups and Gender Innovation Labs can invest in and champion evidence production, such as, impact evaluations, business cases, and specific studies that can assist project implementation. Yet, even with these sources of support in place, unless operational staff receive assistance from both gender specialists and focal points, evidence on gender gaps can be difficult to access or be too hard to translate into different contexts. Monitoring and Evaluation Cutting across all these areas is the need to monitor and evaluate. Without processes to assess commitments, project design, implementation and outcomes, actions may fail to adapt and attention to gender may weaken. The World Bank has put in place processes to measure progress on closing gender gaps through reporting on both corporate commitments and project design, but less attention to implementation and outcomes. With good monitoring and evaluation of gender gaps, opportunities for adaptation can be identified and the assessment of outcomes can help direct implementation towards success. For example, through monitoring supported by the Gender Action Learning System, a project in Kenya identified during implementation the need for enhanced targeting of women entrepreneurs. Further, as a result of a range of evaluation activities, a commercially viable and effective technical assistance(?) and training program for women-owned and women-led small and medium enterprises was scaled-up. Together monitoring and evaluation help to maintain focus on priority gaps and help understand if the gaps are closing meaningfully. Final Thoughts Ensuring synergies in support helps to overcome implementation bottlenecks. Having well organized support enables actions to be contextualized and focus on prioritized gender gaps. Enhancing internal organizational support models through improved coordination, standards and evidence translation are within the control of development agencies and as review shows, requires continued effort. Read the World Bank Group Gender Strategy Mid-Term Review Photo: © Stephan Gladieu / World Bank. Prof. Amivi Kafui Tete-Benissan (left) teaches cell biology and biochemistry at the University of Lomé. She’s also a vocal activist who encourages girls to pursue science as a career path. “Female students represent only 10 percent of our student body in science and engineering,” she says sadly.

World Bank Group Gender Strategy Mid-Term Review

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Colorful image of many silhouettes of women of all races and ages. Image adapted from shutterstock/ Angelina Bambina
The gender strategy Mid-Term Review assesses how well the implementation of the gender strategy positions the World Bank Group to contribute to closing key gender gaps at the midpoint of the strategy’s eight-year cycle (FY16–23). The gender strategy Mid-Term Review assesses how well the implementation of the gender strategy positions the World Bank Group to contribute to closing key gender gaps at the midpoint of the strategy’s eight-year cycle (FY16–23).

Meet the Evaluator: Elena Bardasi

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Elena Bardasi
Building evaluative evidence for the Bank’s gender strategyBuilding evaluative evidence for the Bank’s gender strategy

Argentina: Basic Protection Project (PPAR)

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The Basic Protection Project was prepared in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, in the context of increased pressure to expand coverage and accessibility of Argentina’s social protection policies. The social protection system had historically been linked to the formal labor market through contributory schemes (pension benefits, unemployment insurance, family allowances, health and Show MoreThe Basic Protection Project was prepared in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, in the context of increased pressure to expand coverage and accessibility of Argentina’s social protection policies. The social protection system had historically been linked to the formal labor market through contributory schemes (pension benefits, unemployment insurance, family allowances, health and housing insurance coverage). Noncontributory programs—for children, the unemployed, and informal workers—were limited. The project aimed at strengthening and expanding Argentina’s social protection system by supporting expansion of coverage and improving the design of two income transfer programs for the unemployed and families with children. Ratings for this project are as follows: Outcome was moderately satisfactory, Risk to development outcome was low or negligible, Bank performance was satisfactory, and Borrower performance was moderately satisfactory. This assessment offers the following lessons: (i) The choice of indicators is critical for incentives to be effective, especially when a short implementation time is expected; but the definition of some of the DLIs and the information used to determine their targets were not discussed in detail at appraisal. (ii) This PPAR had to clarify the understanding of “effectiveness,” as it was not made explicit in project documents. (iii) Institutional strengthening of the MTESS statistics area was an important additional aspect of the World Bank’s support, given the peculiar context in which this project was implemented.

Niger: Community Action Program and Community-Based Integrated Ecosystem Management Project Phase I and II (PPAR)

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The World Bank has played a key role in helping Niger to further its rural decentralization aims. The World Bank has supported the implementation of the rural code throughout its history. It approved the Natural Resource Management Project (1995–2003) to help Niger jump-start the code implementation and followed it with the Community Action Program (2004–20), a three-phase adjustable program loan Show MoreThe World Bank has played a key role in helping Niger to further its rural decentralization aims. The World Bank has supported the implementation of the rural code throughout its history. It approved the Natural Resource Management Project (1995–2003) to help Niger jump-start the code implementation and followed it with the Community Action Program (2004–20), a three-phase adjustable program loan designed to empower local governments and communities to progressively achieve their collective local development aims in a participatory and sustainable way. This Project Performance Assessment Report assesses the first and second phases of the Community Action Program (CAP-1 and CAP-2). Ratings for the First Phase of the Community Action Program are as follows: Outcome was moderately satisfactory, Overall efficacy was substantial, Bank performance was satisfactory, Borrower performance was satisfactory, and Quality of monitoring and evaluation was modest. Ratings for the Second Phase of the Community Action Program are as follows: Outcome was moderately satisfactory, Overall efficacy was substantial, Bank performance was moderately satisfactory, Borrower performance was satisfactory, and Quality of monitoring and evaluation was substantial. Lessons from both projects include: (i) Land and resource restoration projects should support—and make evident how they are supporting—existing customary flexible tenure arrangements to ensure distributional benefits among resource users and to mitigate conflict risks. (ii) The success of natural resource restoration depends on the extent to which private or communal resource users are compensated over reasonable, short-term time frames for abstaining from using those resources until the long-term public benefits of resource restoration are achieved. (iii) Projects that support land and resource restoration can ensure that women benefit by addressing participation barriers linked to social and cultural norms. (iv) Socioeconomic and anthropological analyses, conducted before project elaboration, can support the gender aspects of production and marketing better.

An Evaluation of the World Bank Group’s Support to Municipal Solid Waste Management, 2010–20 (Approach Paper)

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Municipal solid waste (MSW) has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges for urban areas across the world. This evaluation is the Independent Evaluation Group’s (IEG) first major study of the Bank Group’s support for MSWM. It is timely given the rapidly increasing scale of MSW in most MICs and LICs and considering the spectacle of massive open garbage dumps in cities as diverse as Manila, Show MoreMunicipal solid waste (MSW) has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges for urban areas across the world. This evaluation is the Independent Evaluation Group’s (IEG) first major study of the Bank Group’s support for MSWM. It is timely given the rapidly increasing scale of MSW in most MICs and LICs and considering the spectacle of massive open garbage dumps in cities as diverse as Manila, Lagos, and New Delhi. The evaluation will highlight the linkages of MSWM with other sectors and themes such as water supply and sanitation, environment, climate change, health, jobs, and social protection. This can point to how the Bank Group can better support the development of synergistic policy frameworks and regulations for MSWM in client countries. This has implications for developing systematic collaboration between various sectors within the Bank Group and among client government ministries and for leveraging opportunities for climate finance.

Bangladesh Country Program Evaluation (Approach Paper)

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The Country Program Evaluation (CPE) for Bangladesh aims to assess the development effectiveness of the World Bank Group’s engagement with Bangladesh during the last 10 years (fiscal year [FY]11–20). The CPE will review the extent to which the Bank Group contributed to Bangladesh’s development outcomes. In so doing, it will assess the extent to which Bank Group support was aligned with the Bank Show MoreThe Country Program Evaluation (CPE) for Bangladesh aims to assess the development effectiveness of the World Bank Group’s engagement with Bangladesh during the last 10 years (fiscal year [FY]11–20). The CPE will review the extent to which the Bank Group contributed to Bangladesh’s development outcomes. In so doing, it will assess the extent to which Bank Group support was aligned with the Bank Group’s corporate twin goals—ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity—and with International Development Association (IDA) priorities. It also will assess how that support adapted over the evaluation period to changing circumstances and priorities. It will cover two country engagement cycles as defined in the Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for FY11–15 and the Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for FY16–21.

Mid-Term Review of the World Bank Group’s Gender Strategy (FY16–23) (Approach Paper)

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The World Bank Group’s gender strategy for fiscal year (FY)16–23 presents gender equality as integral to smart development policy (World Bank Group 2015). Successful implementation of the strategy will contribute to the Bank Group achievement of the twin goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. The strategy focuses on four objectives: human endowments, jobs, asset control/ownership, and voice Show MoreThe World Bank Group’s gender strategy for fiscal year (FY)16–23 presents gender equality as integral to smart development policy (World Bank Group 2015). Successful implementation of the strategy will contribute to the Bank Group achievement of the twin goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. The strategy focuses on four objectives: human endowments, jobs, asset control/ownership, and voice/agency and sets new targets, establishes a new methodology for measuring progress, and outlines opportunities to make the Bank Group more transformational in its work.

Bangladesh: Strengthening Public Expenditure Management Program - Strengthening Auditor General’s Office (PPAR)

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This is a Project Performance Assessment Report (PPAR) by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) of the World Bank’s project on Bangladesh: Strengthening Auditor General’s Office. The project was selected as part of a pilot initiative by IEG to improve the relevance of the instrument. The PPAR draws lessons from the World Bank’s experience in the context of a challenging public financial Show MoreThis is a Project Performance Assessment Report (PPAR) by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) of the World Bank’s project on Bangladesh: Strengthening Auditor General’s Office. The project was selected as part of a pilot initiative by IEG to improve the relevance of the instrument. The PPAR draws lessons from the World Bank’s experience in the context of a challenging public financial management, governance, and political economy environment. The original project development objectives were to (i) strengthen the institutional arrangements of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (OCAG), (ii) enhance the quality and scope of audits, and (iii) enhance the institutional capacity of the Financial Management Academy (FIMA). Reflecting government reluctance to enact the underlying legal changes required by the operation, the project development objectives were revised in 2014 to (i) strengthen the quality, scope, and follow-up of audits; and (ii) create a cadre of internationally accredited professionals in OCAG. Ratings for the Strengthening Public Expenditure Management Program - Strengthening Auditor General’s Office project are as follows: Outcome was moderately satisfactory, Risk to development outcome was substantial, Bank performance was moderately unsatisfactory, and Borrower performance was moderately unsatisfactory. Lesson from the project include: (1) Inadequate assessment of political economy risks to key reforms contributed to unrealistically ambitious project design and targets, leading to shortcomings in implementation. (ii) The project sought to implement a politically sensitive policy reform through the use of technical assistance. The objective could have been more effectively pursued through a different instrument, possibly a development policy operation. (iii) The ability for a pilot to effectively demonstrate the potential of a new way of doing business requires commitment to a systematic assessment of the pilot experience and the dissemination of lessons learned.