WIDE+ Critical reflections and key recommendations for the World Bank Group’s new Gender Equality strategy

Patricia Muñoz Cabrera and Gea Meijers

The present article is a summarized version of WIDE+ critical reflections and key recommendations to the World Bank Group (WBG)new strategy on Gender Equality. These recommendations were submitted during a recent consultation process (Brussels, June 8). WIDE+ believes that the framework of the WBG’s proposed policy does not take stock of women’s human rights and relocates gender equality as instrumental to neo-liberal economic growth.

Below are the main highlights of WIDE+’s recommendations :

To read the full version: WIDE_WBGstrategy_2015

Recommendations to Strategy

14 years after their previous strategy on gender mainstreaming, the WBG has decided to develop a new Gender Equality (GE) Strategy. [1]Even though in its Concept Note the WBG states its intention to do more and better, the general strategy restates the premise put forward in the WB 2012 Global Development Report, namely that promoting gender equality is a matter of smart development and smart economics. WIDE+ believes that this kind of reasoning renders gender equality instrumental to macro-economic growth.

From a conceptual viewpoint, the new strategy outlined in the Concept Note presents important flaws, some of which are listed below:

Lost in Translation? Human rights are a taboo for the WBG

The Concept Note carefully avoids any reference to human rights or human rights conventions. During the Consultation in Brussels, questions or proposals to debate human rights met with silence from WBG staff.

WIDE+ advises the WBG to further develop its goals around Gender Equality and poverty eradication by linking them to human rights treaties. It should pay special attention to the forms of violence stemming from trade and investment policies and projects funded by the IFC. In recipient countries, decades of misguided policies and external conditionalities imposed through structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) have been disenfranchising to a great majority of women. As extant research demonstrates, in many cases, misguided investment choices by the IFC have exacerbated already existing forms of violence against women and men, girls and boys, leading to social conflict and forced migration. Honduras and Guatemala are but only two cases in point that demonstrate the need to engage the IFC in a serious commitment not to harm women’s human rights through their financial operations.[2]

Address the unpaid care burden for women

While the Concept Note mentions women’s unpaid care burden, it is not a key aspect in the Concept Note. Promoting women’s participation into paid work is. The WBG strategy should do more to address the unbalanced care burden if it wants to achieve a better balance of paid work between men and women. To a large extent, development initiatives by the WB have focused on promoting gender equality in the domain of paid work, and supporting women as entrepreneurs, while overlooking the importance of unpaid care work, a majority of which is provided by women. Mukherjee et al (2012:3) have proposed a transformative framework of social protection that is holistic, gender-responsive and coherent with a human-rights approach. More than a programmatic approach, the transformative social protection model that these scholars propose entails changes to the regulatory framework to protect socially vulnerable groups against discrimination and abuse, such as women and girls affected by the HIV epidemic.

Furthermore, WIDE+ believes that the new WB Gender Strategy would greatly enhance its analytical and operational potential by including the issue of women’s and men’s roles in care economies. This important dimension requires more analysis and indicators that can assess progress towards gender equity in the distribution of care work, and towards the transformation of norms and ideas of masculinities that prevent men from assuming equal roles in care responsibilities.

Rethink WBG’s economic framework policies, programmes and field operations

The WBG should engage in an in-depth analysis of the interrelation between the macro-economic policies it promotes and the gender equality strategy that it is currently developing.

More concretely, WIDE+ calls upon the WBG to critically rethink the neo-liberal macro-economic assumptions underpinning its gender equality strategy, its policies and programmes. Research shows that 20 years after the Beijing Declaration, promotion of the growth-driven economic model has not increased women’s participation in the labour market substantially, nor has this model reduced the unequal unpaid care burden between men and women, or decreased the gender wage gap (UN Women, 2015). Moreover, access to good quality health services, food security, clean water and sanitation is still a very big problem for many poor women and men worldwide.

Women’s organisations worldwide have been identifying and implementing alternatives to the current dominant growth-driven model. Their situated knowledges and theoretical insights have debunked the idea that neo-liberal macroeconomic growth is a driver of equitable, gender just, and sustainable development on the ground. They demonstrate that integrated or holistic approaches that interconnect macro policies to the micro or local level can more effectively take stock of the impact of development aid on individuals and communities (WIDE 2011). WIDE+ believes that this is the kind of knowledge required to bring about sustainable improvements to women’s lives and livelihoods. For this reason, we believe that the WBG should incorporate the views of women’s rights associations, grassroots women, feminist scholars, local communities and social movements when it is reflecting on its economic policies.

What the WBG should do to become a truly Gender-just Bank:  

WIDE+ believes that if the WBG really wants to achieve Gender Equality, the following recommendations should be incorporated in their financial policies and field operations:

The WBG should:

  1. Include Human Rights Frameworks in all their policies, programmes, field operations. b. Incorporate an intersectional approach in their gender equality strategy. c. Include the do no harm principle in diagnostic tools, in policies and in particular, in WB/IFC operations on the ground. d. Promote Decent Work, rather than more and better growth-driven jobs. e. Promote Caring Economies: Gender-Responsive Social Protection is key to Gender Equality. f. Finally, the World Bank should critically rethink its economic policies, programmes and field operations.



Muñoz Cabrera, P. (Forthcoming 2015). Igualdad sin Derechos humanos? Un análisis crítico del enfoque de género del Banco Mundial en Latinoamérica. In Mujeres de Latinoamérica. El Presente en veintidós letras, Eds. Dra M., Dra L., Hasanbegovic C. EUDEM-Editorial de la Universidad Nacional del Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Mukherjee et al (2012:3). Anticipatory Social Protection: claiming dignity and rights, Commonwealth Secretariat.

UN Women (2015). Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights

WIDE (2011) Economic Alternatives for Gender and social Justice: voices and visions from Latin America.

World Bank (2012). The 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development.

World Bank Group Concept Note (2015). World Bank Group, Promoting Gender Equality to Reduce Poverty and Boost Shared Prosperity.

[1] The WorldBank Group include the WorldBank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and a couple of other organizations.

[2] cf. Human Rights Watch 2013; Munoz Cabrera forthcoming 2015.

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