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Results BriefsSeptember 21, 2023

Tackling Gender-Based Violence is a Development Imperative

The World Bank

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) represents a critical barrier to development globally. It is the most extreme manifestation of gender inequality and the most prevalent form of violence worldwide, affecting the well-being and productivity of individual survivors, families and communities, often across generations. The World Bank’s support to projects including GBV prevention and response activities have increased tenfold over ten years and are now present in over 97 countries. This experience will feed into a vision for the next decade, as part of the forthcoming Gender Strategy Update.

Watch Event Replay: Ending Gender-Based Violence: A 10-year Retrospective

Download Report: Retrospective on Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response in World Bank Operations


It is estimated that 1 in 3 women have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) in their lifetime by an intimate partner or sexual violence at the hands of a non-partner.  Women also experience sexual harassment in public spaces and at work, early forced child marriage, female genital mutilation, cyberbullying…  In 2014 the World Bank estimated that violence against women costs countries up to 3.7 percent of gross domestic product, more than double the expenditures on education of most countries (Klugman et al. 2014). There is a growing recognition that if we don't address violence against women and girls, we will not be able to achieve our development objectives, and in particular SDG5 on gender equality.

Addressing norms that underlie and justify the use of violence against women and use it as a means to keep women and men unequal is not easy, and there is no silver bullet solution. We know that the only way to address gender-based violence is through simultaneous work across multiple sectors to challenge harmful norms and rectify unequal/deficient institutions.


The World Bank recognizes GBV as a critical development issue that impacts outcomes across all SDGs. To address this scourge, the Bank designs programs that can meaningfully and sustainably prevent and respond to violence.  The World Bank is unique in that we can embed work to address violence against women and girls in each sector in one country, which means that we can saturate a country with transformation coming through different sectors. 

The approach over the next few years will focus on i) consolidating and scaling up promising models in each sector; i) deepening work on prevention by building on effective risk mitigation systems; iii) ensuring dedicated financing for catalytic investments along the project cycle; and iv) cultivating partnerships for more effective action.  


Ten years ago, only 38 operations incorporated GBV prevention or response and these were mostly financed by donor trust funds. Between Fiscal Years 2017 and 2022, 390 operations in 97 countries include GBV prevention and/or response.  These operations exist in every sector, every region, and at every level of country income.  It is challenging to estimate the amount of financing dedicated to GBV prevention and response embedded in each operation. Tracking just four percent of the 390 operations where financing is clearly specified totaled $680 million in investments.

A few such operations are highlighted here:

  • In Uzbekistan, the World Bank worked in partnership with the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and the UN Population Fund, to champion the enactment of landmark legislation as part of reforms to create more inclusive labor markets and incentivize female labor force participation.  A development policy loan supported the subsidiary regulations to enforce the new GBV legislation, namely a law guaranteeing equal opportunity in employment and nondiscrimination in access to public services, employment and electoral candidacy; and a second stipulating GBV as a distinct type of criminal offense, with requirements for the registration, processing, and enforcement of GBV cases.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a $100m GBV Prevention and Response Project aimed to increase participation in GBV prevention programs and to increase utilization of quality, multi-sectoral responses services for survivors of GBV. Working through non-governmental and civil society organizations for service delivery, the project reached 7 million people (including through its prevention and livelihood interventions). Beneficiaries included 42,000 survivors of GBV receiving at least two essential services, mostly delivered at community level.
  • In Ecuador, a Territorial Economic Empowerment for the Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorians and Montubian People and Nationalities Project aims to support livelihoods. Within the project it became evident that economic empowerment could not be achieved without addressing the GBV that existed within the target communities. The WB project team conducted extensive qualitative and participatory research to understand GBV in the indigenous communities and identify solutions.  The GBV prevention program incorporates four levels of activities taking place at the institutional, community, household and authorities/leaders’ levels.  These programs aim to prevent further violence and to stop it before it starts.  Communities experiencing less violence can fully take advantage of economic empowerment opportunities.
  • In Bangladesh, GBV was so severe, and the Government so overwhelmed in providing services to the large refugee population that the World Bank health team alongside the government realized that dedicated resources would be needed to improve access to and utilization of health and GBV responses services among the host and the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar district.

    “The Project gives women a safe space, a woman friendly space, where they could go in, talk to each other and share in their own languages.  And slowly we also ensured that it is not only them discussing their issues, but they also get some skills in sewing, drawing or other life skills… Midwives would visit and offer contraception… Because it’s only women there it’s easier for them.” -- Bushra Binte Alam, Sr. Health Specialist.

    Building on the government’s existing health structures and working directly with health clinics the Cox’s Bazar Health and Gender Support Project adapted the SASA! program to be delivered by UNFPA, focusing on community centered GBV prevention and sustainably engaging men and boys.  
  • In Jordan, a Development Policy Financing (DPF) project set out to improve female labor force participation which, at 14 percent, is among the lowest in the world and in the Middle East and North Africa region.  A 2018 study estimated that 47 percent of nonworking women in Jordan turned down job opportunities or did not seek work because of concerns about harassment in the transport sector. The DPF supported a law that allowed flexible work arrangements for women, then improvements in women’s safety in the workplace and in transportation, as well as amending labor regulations to reduce gendered labor segmentation.  The Ministry of Transport adopted a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for the service agreements with transport operations to regulate the behavior of passengers and drivers. They also adopted a mobile application that would allow women to report any violence they experienced in public transportation.

    “Amending regulations that prevent women from working at certain times and sectors as well as issuing publicly disclosed codes of conduct to promote a safer environment for women in public transportation and the workplace helps increase awareness.  For people to start to accept that if you do this, or that, this is considered harassment and a female in public transportation or workplace can go and file a complaint, at least this is progress… The issue was that the women were not complaining.  Giving women the right and the tools to complain is an important first step to tackle the problem.”  -- Project team member.
  • In Sao Tome and Principe, a DPF supported the revision of school regulations to allow girls to remain in school if they became pregnant.  A second DPF enacted protective regulations to establish a system for reporting and referral of cases of sexual exploitation and harassment in schools with a survivor-centered, case management approach and institutes a code of conduct for all public-school staff.  A subsequent Investment Project Financing (IPF) Project supports the revision and rollout of curricula on sexual and reproductive health and GBV prevention, specialized training for school leadership and teachers in recognizing and reporting on Global Value Chains and strengthening reporting systems by hiring and training female and male guidance counselors.  

Within the organization, two transport projects supported by the World Bank in which GBV complaints were investigated catalyzed an overhaul in the Bank’s recognition of sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment (SEA/SH) as a core operational issue. From 2019, all investment projects with major civil works were screened for SEA/SH and risk mitigation measures put in place according to the level of risk.  This screening is now being extended to other activities across the Bank. Specialist staff were hired and staff training for task team leaders helped to shift the mindset of staff to consider GBV within operational design and client dialogue.

Increasing awareness of the issue has also led staff to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment, leading to renewed corporate attention to this issue, an Action Plan for Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment, and the recruitment of the first antiharassment coordinator in 2019. 

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank’s lending operations incorporating activities to prevent and/or respond to GBV have increased 10-fold from 38 in 2012 to 390 in 2022.  Between FY21-22 alone, the number of operations including GBV prevention and response activities rose by 80 percent.  A third of World Bank operations now incorporate such activities, up from 9 percent in 2017. 

It is difficult to estimate the amount of financing because most GBV-related activities are within subcomponents without specified budgets in project documents.  Furthermore, many activities take place in DPFs where it is not possible to analyze the share of the loans channeled toward GBV-related actions.  That said, the operations that do have full components on GBV and the stand-alone GBV operations (4 percent) together total $680 million.

World Bank financed initiatives to prevent and/or respond to GBV are now present in over 93 countries.  This is a substantial change from 2012, when World Bank-financed operations with GBV-related activities were concentrated in 21 countries, of which 8 were in Africa.


Partnerships at the global, national, and local levels have been indispensable to the expansion and diversification of World Bank work on GBV.  At the international level, the World Bank has contributed to a shared research agenda and helped lead global dialogue. At the national level, partnerships with UN agencies and national institutions have resulted in action plans and strategies to guide policy reforms and the financing of priority investments. Locally, NGOs have helped the World Bank deliver last mile interventions.

Looking Ahead

The World Bank will continue to systematize prevention and response across all lending operations to ensure development effectiveness. This will involve scaling up promising models, building on effective risk mitigation systems and dedicating finance to catalytic investments.