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Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Infrastructure Projects: LAC Professionals meet in Lima, Peru

February 2, 2010



“Mainstreaming the gender dimension in infrastructure projects is an opportunity to implement gender equality in our society and to provide women with greater control over socio-economic resources”.

With this powerful statement, Mrs. Nidia Vilchez, Peru’s Minister of Gender and Social Development, opened a workshop on Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Infrastructure Projects which took place in Lima, Peru, on December 3rd and 4th, 2009. 


Her words resonated with the 100 or so professionals from 19 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean who participated in the workshop co-organized by the World Bank’s Gender and Development Unit and LCR Region, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank. This was the second workshop sponsored by the Multilateral Development Banks’ Gender Working Group. The Peru workshop focused on four key sectors: energy, irrigation, transport, water and sanitation. During the workshop, participants learned from successful projects from LCR and other regions.


As explained by Mayra Buvinic, Director of PREM Gender “For the World Bank, this training activity supports the vision developed in the Gender Action Plan, that gender equality means that women must have equal access to the labor, financial, product, and land markets”.


Participants went on a one-day field visit which enabled them to witness first-hand the merits of integrating gender equality in the PRONASAR- rural water supply and sanitation program, and the PSI Sierra irrigation project, where women have assumed a leadership role in water user associations. They also saw the potential opportunities in the Huycoloro landfill and Santa Rosa Hydroelectric power plant.  As one participant commented “What Peru has done in PRONASAR, we should all do in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Lessons From Peru

 “Being an indigenous woman in Peru means you are likely to be part of the 20 percent of the population living in extreme poverty,” said Lizy Dasso. Indigenous women reside for the most part in remote rural areas with no access to education, employment, or to the markets where they could sell the produce from their agricultural work, leaving them very little opportunity to earn an income and lift themselves and their children out of poverty.


These are the women who benefited from Peru’s Rural Roads Project financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.  In this case, mainstreaming gender meant that both women and men were consulted on their transport needs, enabling the designers to include non-motorized transport tracks on the 14,750km of rural roads that were rehabilitated during the project.


It also meant that women were systematically given the opportunity to participate in the management and ownership of road maintenance micro-enterprises. Other benefits for women included increased travel security, mobility, income, and school enrollment for girls.


Lessons From Asia

The Bhutan Solar Warriors Project, financed by the Asian Development Bank, highlighted the potential capability of poor women to become ‘solar engineers’. With adequate training at India’s Rural Engineering Institute, 35 Bhutanese women acquired competencies that enabled them to install and service solar systems in their respective villages, at the same time empowering them with unique knowledge. 

Government Commitment is Key: Lessons From Brazil

This message was forcefully illustrated by Janine Mello in her presentation of Brazil’s Accelerated Growth Program. The number of female heads of households has increased significantly over the past decade to reach more than one third of all households, and the rate of unemployment amongst women is almost double that of men. To address this, the Brazilian government has developed the ‘Next Step Program”, for women to enter better paying jobs in infrastructure sectors and civil works.


As one woman commented; “At the beginning, I thought this was a program for men; as there was a specific course for women, I registered, in spite of fears to be accepted by men on the construction sites”. Brazil now has the first female dynamite operator, and companies are obligated to reduce gender gaps in employment, at all levels. As a result, two large hydropower projects in San Antonio and Jirau, in the State of Rondonia, respectively employ 12 and 20 percent women.


NGOs and Private Companies In Guatemala, the Solar Foundation has empowered women to lead the design of the Rio Naranjo Watershed sustainability program. “Thanks to the targeted training program, more than 40 percent of participants in water management associations are now women” commented Mara Rivera, who serves on the Board of the Solar Foundation..


In Brazil, COELBA, a private electricity distribution company whose client base includes 60 perecent poor people, has capitalized on women’s business talents to implement its energy efficiency program. Households can both economize energy and pay their bills at affordable levels.


On a larger scale, the experience in the mining sector of Papua and New Guinea, underlines the power of private companies to reach out to women in mining communities to avoid intra-household conflicts, and to ensure that they directly benefit from mining activities. In this context, sensitivity to local cultures and traditions is important.


Social Issues

The workshop panel on social issues was designed to highlight efforts to successfully address gender equality in issues frequently associated witn infrastructure projects.  The Sierra Leone Bumbuna Hydroelectric Power Project exemplified a successful gender-sensitive resettlement program; the ADB-Financed Baolong Highway in China illustrated how to address HIV/AIDS and STI, and the Cartagena (Colombia) Urban Transport Program stressed how to respond to the needs of people with disabilities.


Next Steps & Challenges

A strong message from workshop participants was that day-to-day obstacles still exist, especially the challenge to convince decision makers of the importance of mainstreaming gender equality in infrastructure projects as a matter of development effectiveness.


The World Bank and its partner Regional Development Banks are all scaling up infrastructure lending, in particular in the context of the economic crisis as was stressed by Michel Kerf, Sector Manager for Sustainable Development in the Lima Regional Office.  This represents a significant opportunity to mainstream gender equality. 


Methods to address gender equality in various sectors already exist, but must be systematically used. However, participants also requested that the Banks coordinate efforts to deepen their monitoring and impact evaluation work, to showcase evidence of the development gains from gender equality.


In the words of Virginia Borra, former Health Minister of Peru:

Today, women are active in fields previously reserved to men. Today women drive trucks, engage in many productive activities… we must achieve universal gender equality”.