The Gujarat Rural Roads Project is one of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)’s first stand-alone projects in India, with a stated objective “to improve the road transport connectivity by providing all weather rural roads to about 4,000 villages in all the 33 districts of the state of Gujarat.” The project “is expected to provide all-weather road access, economic benefits and social services to the rural population, among them the poor and vulnerable (16.6 percent of the state’s population is below the poverty line and 46% of the state’s population is female).” Financing was approved for the project in July 2017, and the project was scheduled to begin implementation on August 1, 2017 and be completed by June 30, 2019.
In July 2019, the New Delhi-based Programme on Women’s Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) published a detailed study of the gender impacts of the project. PWESCR found that adverse impacts on women were not addressed, and that women were unable to take full advantage of the improved connectivity, access, economic benefits, and social services that were the anticipated benefits of the project.
PWESCR’s research demonstrates significant gaps in the implementation of the AIIB’s Environmental and Social Framework, which AIIB should have identified during its pre-approval review of the project and during monitoring of the project’s implementation. Yet AIIB’s November 2018 Project Implementation Monitoring Report states that the project is “in compliance” with AIIB’s safeguards.
There are four main ways in which the project fell short of meeting AIIB’s ESF, both in practice and, in many instances, in due diligence documents: ensuring inclusion of women in consultations, information disclosure, and grievance redress; addressing impacts on women working on project implementation; assessing and mitigating other project impacts on women; and addressing barriers women faced in accessing project benefits.
The findings from the field research and analysis of project documents demonstrate that AIIB must significantly scale up its efforts to address gender issues. AIIB must improve consideration of gender in the early stages of project design; strengthen implementation of the ESF—particularly the gender-specific aspects of the ESF—through both publishing guidance and enhancing staff capacity to provide technical advice and support on gender issues; and improve capacity to conduct overall project E&S due diligence and monitoring.