World Bank steps up gender programmes in Africa

To mark International Women’s Day, the World Bank’s Africa region has launched two evidence based initiatives to step up its commitment to improve gender programs in Africa.

First is the Africa Gender Action Plan, a five year blueprint for the Bank’s gender informed activities.   Next is the Gender Innovation Lab, which will bring scientific solutions through rigorous impact evaluation that will transform how the World Bank will identify development solutions for some of its poorest clients.  Combined, the World Bank Africa Gender Action Plan and Gender Innovation Lab will link scientific evidence to guide gender-related lending operations in Africa.

“In the past decade, African countries have made some considerable strides when it comes to gender equality,” says Makhar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa.  “Today, we have moved from an intuitive understanding of gender programs to add the Gender Innovation Lab that will fill the knowledge gap by providing more qualitative and quantitative evidence than ever about what works and what doesn’t in terms of gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa,” concludes Diop.

On behalf of the World Bank, Diop said the new Gender Innovation Lab will provide development solutions to countries as it works to keep the momentum toward achieving gender equality in Africa.

The World Bank’s Africa Gender Action Plan, the institution’s regional strategy for addressing gender inequality, will advance development for both men and women using the latest technological tools that provide evidence on the effectiveness of gender programs through its funding and operations.

The Gender Innovation Lab, the first at the World Bank, brings science to improve delivery of its programs. The Lab already has over 20 impact evaluations under way, and they are providing clear evidence of what works.  This week, The Gender Innovation Lab received financial support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) in the amount of USD18 million.

The World Bank said partnering with DFID and the government of Rwanda, a Lab impact evaluation showed how land title registration resulted in women increasing investments in land, at twice the level as men. Working with BRAC and researchers at the London School of Economics, another Lab impact evaluation showed that a program that provided life skills and vocational training through adolescent girls’ clubs resulted in 30% lower fertility, a 30% increase in the likelihood of girls working, and a 75% lower chance that they had been forced to have sex again their will. These are powerful lessons that show not only what works, but the payoffs to making these kinds of investments.

Shifts in global influence from large emerging economies and the private sector are challenging the traditional development paradigm, experts note.  Experts also explain that global private sector firms are seeking to modernize their business models to match profits with responsibility through their supply chains, suggesting a post-2015 world will need to include new voices to the development debate.

For sub-Saharan Africa, The Bank notes that gender must be mainstreamed into all future development programs. However, it must also be a global priority.

The World Bank says it is committing to funding more gender-related projects, to monitoring results more closely, and to making sure that more and more projects consider gender in their design, even if they do not have an explicit gender focus.

In fiscal year 2012 alone, just over USD29 billion, or 83% of the World Bank's overall lending and grants, were allocated to gender-informed operations in education, health, access to land, financial and agricultural services, jobs, and infrastructure.  Part of the reason for this is that, together with its partners, the World Bank made gender a Special Theme of the International Development Association (IDA), which provides close to USD50 billion in credits and grants to the poorest countries between 2011 and 2014—many of which are in Africa.

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