What are key steps the World Bank must take to make its Gender Strategy more inclusive and effective at closing gender gaps?

As the World Bank moves toward developing its next Gender Strategy, Bank Information Center (BIC) encourages the World Bank to implement each recommendation proposed by the IEG in its mid-term review of the 2016-2023 Gender Strategy. Efforts should focus on SOGIESC inclusion, addressing gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA/H), and disaggregating data by sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics.

In 2016, the World Bank Group released an eight-year gender strategy whose aims are to close gender gaps in Bank projects, strengthen gender-related diagnostics and evidence collection, assist clients with analyzing gender gaps, and partner with the private sector to advance economic opportunities for women. The World Bank Group Gender Strategy Mid-Term Review, published in 2021 by the IEG group, analyzes the Bank’s implementation of the strategy during the first four years and provides four recommendations based on gaps found during the assessment. Moreover, the recommendations are intended to inform the next four years of implementing the current gender strategy, as well as the development of a new strategy to be launched in 2024.

As the Bank looks ahead to developing a new gender strategy, it is imperative that all project-affected groups have the opportunity to provide input into the Gender Strategy. We push for robust civil society engagement within each of these areas, including consultations with organizations focused on gender and SOGIESC from the Global South.

Going further, BIC has identified three areas that must be expanded on in future gender strategies:

1. Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGIESC) in the new strategy. The Bank must not limit work on gender to just women and girls, but instead use an approach that includes sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGIESC). Further, the scope of gender itself should be broadened to also include men and issues faced specifically by men. The Bank Directive “Addressing Risks and Impacts on Disadvantaged or Vulnerable Individuals or Groups,” a key piece of the Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework, specifically references sexual orientation and gender identity as a “disadvantaged or vulnerable individual or group.” This sets the precedent for a more inclusive approach to gender and must be used in the new gender strategy. There are multiple resources the Bank can rely on to assist in SOGIESC inclusion. For example, the Gender Unit should work closely with the Global Advisor on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The Bank has also identified three key areas for improving the inclusion of SOGIESC that covers training and sensitization of staff and clients, data and knowledge generation, and piloting new projects to focus on LGBTQI+ people. In March 2022, BIC, together with a coalition of CSOs and individuals, published the SOGIESC CSO Coalition Policy Brief, which can serve as a roadmap that leads to meaningful inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Bank’s operations. 

2. Address gender-based violence and sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEA/H) in the new strategy. In order to improve the Bank’s ability to prevent and respond to SEA/H in its projects and programs, the Bank should strengthen staff expertise and capacity. Operations staff are responsible for designing measures to prevent and respond to SEA/H in highly variable contexts. However, staff often struggle with doing this because they lack access to resources and technical knowledge. The Bank should increase the influence and availability of focal points who are well-versed in collecting, reading, and using SEA/H-related data to design appropriate measures to prevent SEA/H as well as to respond to instances of SEA/H. The focal points should provide a source of expertise for project staff, inform project design, and consolidate the process of learning lessons from cases of SEA/H in Bank financed projects. 

Most importantly however, the focal points must support Bank teams in monitoring and supervising implementation of Bank financed projects. SEA/H prevention and response measures included in project design are only effective where they are implemented on the ground and this requires both robust supervision along with the Bank sending a clear message to the borrower around the critical importance of SEA/H prevention and response. This message can be sent in a number of ways but among the most critical is for the Bank to categorically refuse to allow project works to begin without the borrower having all relevant prevention and mitigation measures contained in the project documents in place.

3. Collect and disaggregate data based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics in the new strategy. The World Bank has discussed a lack of sex-disaggregated data as being a primary challenge to driving evidence-based gender work. Moreover, this lack of data challenges the project team’s ability to identify and close gender gaps. Data that is disaggregated is usually done only by gender, not by sexual orientation or gender identity thus contributing to further exclusion of SOGIESC. The Bank should increase the collection of country-specific and project-specific disaggregated data as it pertains to sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics as well as explore the best and safest way to collect this data within each specific context. This data can be used to identify quantitative gaps based on these identifiers, which can then be applied when proactively closing them. Finally, The Bank can utilize the Gender Data Portal to help identify and close gender disparities in project design.

The Bank’s Gender Strategy is fundamental to preventing harm and promoting equality and inclusion. But in order to facilitate harm reduction and accomplish the strategy’s goals of using evidence to drive forward equitable outcomes, it is necessary to articulate a keener focus on collecting disaggregated data, including SOGIESC in gender work, and mitigating SEA/H by strengthening staff capacity. 

We look forward to continuing our work with Bank management as we collectively aim to strengthen the Bank’s work around gender-related issues and inform future strategy initiatives in this area.

This update was authored by Naina Sharma, BIC Intern.