In June 2018, Bank Information Center published the report "How a Community-Led Response to Sexual Exploitation in Uganda Led to Systemic World Bank Reform" in partnership with the Accountability Research Center. This report discusses the World Bank reforms achieved through work on the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project. The project, funded by the World Bank, had significant negative impacts on the surrounding community including a large number of cases of sexual exploitation of children, resulting in teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and girls dropping out of school in the area where the road was constructed. This case is significant not only because World Bank funding for the project was cancelled, affected community members received needed support services and a corrupt government agency was purged, but because the institutional changes made may prevent similar harms across future World Bank projects.
How can demands for accountability and redress for harm suffered in a particular case contribute to new institutional measures to prevent future abuse? This note describes how the small Ugandan community of Bigodi, together with local, national, and international allies, mobilized to demand redress for harm done by a World Bank-funded infrastructure project, and in doing so, catalyzed changes at the World Bank aimed at preventing similar abuses in the future.
The factors that led the Bank to respond constructively with a comprehensive response in the TSDP case included:
- a strong community–NGO partnership which pursued justice for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse
- sustained advocacy from national and international civil society
- high-profile media attention on a topic that caused embarrassment for the Bank
- a strong report from an independent accountability mechanism within the World Bank (the Inspection Panel)
- pressure from the Bank’s Board of Directors, in particular frequent engagement from the US government with all levels of Bank management
- high-level individuals within the Bank, including President Kim, were committed to making policy changes that would reduce the risk of gender-based violence in the future.
This case embodies the potential for specific instances of harm to provide the necessary catalyst for improved accountability structures and system-wide change.