World Bank Increases Gender Support and Lending in Developing Countries

August 26, 2009

  • Gender issues informed the design of nearly half of Bank lending in 2008
  • Gender coverage for economic sectors rose to 34%, reflecting the Bank's Gender Action Plan commitment to improve gender coverage in those areas
  • More is needed to increase women's economic well-being as their access to earnings will speed up the economic recovery and fight against poverty

August 26, 2009 —Just 8 percent of households in Lao PDR are headed by women, but these families account for 43 percent of the country’s poor.

So a pilot initiative last year to bring electric power to Lao’s poor by subsidizing household connections to the electrical grid provided a welcome boost for women in 20 rural villages. While overall connection rates in the pilot rose from 78 to 95 percent, rates for female-headed households increased from 63 to 90 percent.

This innovative pilot, implemented by Electricité du Laos and funded by the World Bank Group's Gender Action Plan and Australia’s overseas aid program, is an example of the overall increase in World Bank support and lending in fiscal 2008 for gender-related issues in developing countries to improve women’s social and economic conditions.

A new World Bank report, Implementing the Bank’s Gender Mainstreaming Strategy: FY08 Annual Monitoring Report (PDF), reveals gender issues informed the design of 45 percent of all lending operations in fiscal year 2008 –from July 2007 to June 2008-- compared to 35 percent in fiscal 2006.

Projects Increasingly Responsive to Gender Issues

Country Total projects Projects with Gender 2-Year Trend
Africa 230 101 -4%
East Asia & Pacific 107 46 +15%
Europe & Central Asia 204 49 +8%
Latina America & Caribbean 109 60 +27%
Middle East & North Africa 40 19 +16%
South Asia 75 44 +1%

Gender Projects Increase Across Sectors

Gender coverage increased for economic sectors such as agriculture and rural development, economic policy, private sector development and infrastructure from 25 percent to 34 percent. Coverage in social and related sectors such as education, health and social protection jumped from 59 to 79 percent of all lending operations.

Although gender coverage is still higher in the social sectors, the Annual Monitoring Report shows faster growth in the economic sectors (36.1 percent compared to 28.6 percent between FY06 and FY08). That growth comes on the heels of the Bank’s launch of a four-year $60 million Gender Action Plan, which began implementation in January 2007 to improve gender coverage in the economic arena.

“Women in developing countries are increasingly benefiting from World Bank support but we have to do much more to increase their economic well-being, especially at a time of crisis,” says World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “In the long run, ensuring women’s access to earnings will speed up both the economic recovery and the fight against poverty.”

World Bank Vice-President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Otaviano Canuto adds that “in many countries, women have caught up or even overtaken men in educational attainment, and yet women continue to trail men consistently in jobs, access to credit, and the economic sphere in general.

"This is inefficient. We will continue to make every effort to help women improve and increase their role in the economy because it is good for women and for development. It is smart economics.”

Gender Action Plan Begins to Show Results

The Annual Monitoring Report says the Gender Action Plan is beginning to show results both in terms of reaching women on the ground and influencing Bank operations more widely.

As of January 2009, the plan had allocated $29.3 million to initiatives in four main areas: operations; results-based initiatives; research, impact evaluation and statistics; and communications. The report adds that Gender Action Plan grants have been successful in leveraging additional financial resources for work on women’s economic empowerment.

Recent results include:

  • An increase in the percentage or rural projects designed to be responsive to gender issues from 43 percent in 2005 to 59 percent in 2008
  • A rise in the percentage of rural projects including gender-informed monitoring and evaluation from 17 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2008
  • An increase of $48 million (through IFC) to credit lines for women entrepreneurs through five commercial banks in 12 countries

The program is also supporting the Adolescent Girls Initiative, launched in October 2008, that will help adolescent girls and young women aged 16 to 24 in five countries to complete their education, build skills that match market demand, find mentors and jobs.

In January 2009, the World Bank Group formally launched the Private Sector Leader’s Forum, a council of CEOs and presidents of major international companies committed to creating economic opportunities for women.

Challenges Ahead

In the future, the reports says that to fully implement the gender mainstreaming strategy, the World Bank should increase gender analysis in its Economic Sector Work and Country Economic Memorandums, consolidate the gains in the economic sectors, and better address gender issues during project supervision, monitoring and evaluation.

The continuation of the Gender Action Plan, which addresses these challenges, should increase the effectiveness of the Bank’s assistance to client countries to speed up progress in poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the report concludes.