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China Integrates Women’s Voices in Development

August 1, 2011

To give women a bigger voice in remote parts of China, some simple but quite clever changes were introduced in the way village meetings were run so that more women would participate.


World Bank Group

  • Bank projects in China take into account needs specific to women, including better access to health services and agricultural training.
  • Empowering women in China is increasingly important as men leave farms to seek work in cities and women’s roles change.
  • Giving priority to gender issues not only helps reduce gender inequality but enhances development results.

Mrs. Ma lives on the outskirts of Wuhan, one of the major cities in China. Like most women in her village, she does chores around the house and grows vegetables. She rarely gets involved in community activities – if there is a village meeting or gathering, her husband goes by himself.

So, she was surprised when researchers supporting the preparation of a World Bank-financed urban transport project asked her to speak about her concerns on the resettlement that would occur as part of the project and to share her ideas. She told researchers she thought the project should “make good use of compensation money” and that “women should have equal rights to men in the resettlement process.”

Mrs. Ma’s input led to a report on women’s role and voice in resettlement and compensation that will guide the design and implementation of the Wuhan project.  “Women’s different demands need to be met and their voices need to be heard,” said World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist Zhefu Liu, who initiated the study. 

The project is one of many examples of how Bank-financed projects have “mainstreamed” gender concerns, taking women’s voices into account and tailoring activities to meet their needs. In China, women’s status has improved significantly over the past decades, since the establishment of the gender equality policy of 1949. However, in the wake of nation’s rapidly changing economic, social and political conditions, sustained efforts are required to ensure that men and women are able to benefit equally from development gains.  

Promoting gender equality and empowering women have taken on new urgency as China looks to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

"Taking into consideration gender issues, where it makes practical sense, not only helps to reduce gender inequality but also enhances general development results,” said Ede Ijjasz, Bank China and Mongolia sustainable development sector manager.  “This is the basis of the World Bank's Gender Action Plan .”


" Skills translate into a stable source of income. As women brought more economic benefits to the family, their status in the family has much improved. "

Tang Wanxiang

Director of Women’s Association in Menglian County, Yunnan Province, China

Special Needs

Women’s economic and development priorities are sometimes assumed to be the same as those of other poor groups, say Bank experts.  But women face different obstacles to be able to benefit equally from development and poverty reduction interventions.

For example, women and men’s transport needs vary, a study by the Taiyuan Urban Transport Project found. Based on consultations with women, the project made adjustments in its design to build more secondary roads, improve pavements and install more stable benches.

In rural China, getting access to health services is not easy for women, due to limited local resources and gender-related biases. To eliminate these barriers, the Rural Health Project helped health authorities develop local plans, including assigning regular visits by female township doctors, or setting up special clinics or female-specific visiting times at village health centers.

In remote, rural areas, women don’t often have a chance to leave their villages, and because large numbers of men are leaving these areas to seek employment in cities, the women are left to take a leading role in agricultural activities. Yet, acquiring knowledge and skills on agriculture and livelihoods is extremely challenging.

"In the past, even though we recognized the need to receive skill training, there were no resources,” said Tang Wanxiang, the director of Women’s Association in Menglian County, in Southwestern China’s Yunnan Province.

Addressing this issue, the Poor Rural Communities Development Project brought experts in to train women in crop planting, livestock feeding, and other farm skills. “Skills translate into a stable source of income. As women brought more economic benefits to the family, their status in the family has much improved,” Tang said.  

"Women’s workload has increased tremendously. However, women's participation in, training, and their access to credit, other assets and resources are still limited,” said Alan Piazza, a Bank senior economist who leads the project. “Therefore, developing an effective poverty reduction strategy requires a detailed and up-to-date understanding of rural women's workload and access to all sorts of resources.”



About World Development Report 2012: On Gender Equality

The World Development Report 2012, Gender Equality and Development , will be released at the World Bank- IMF Annual Meetings in late September 2011. The report will focus on the evolution of gender equality across the world in the context of the development process.

For key dimensions of gender equality, including women's and men's endowments of human and physical capital, their access to economic opportunities and their ability to shape their lives, the report will show that although many women around the world still continue to struggle with gender-based disadvantages, much has changed for the better and at a much more rapid pace than ever before.

But the report will also show that progress for women and girls needs to be:

Expanded to reach groups of deeply disadvantaged women and girls for whom gender inequalities are compounded by factors such as poverty, ethnicity and remoteness.

Protected because progress is fragile and systemic shocks, such as droughts or economic downturns, may lead to reversals of gains even where progress has been rapid.

Deepened in areas where differences between men and women remain entrenched even as countries get richer.

Read a blog post on the report by World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin.