In December 2021, World Bank shareholders came together for the final meeting on the IDA20 replenishment with a critical opportunity to steer global development objectives over the next three years. Early on in the negotiation process, drawing on our COVID-19 Gender and Development Initiative research and analysis, we proposed how IDA20 could contribute to a more inclusive recovery through investments in “care, cash, and data.” Here we review where final IDA20 commitments reflect our recommendations. And for those items IDA20 didn’t deliver on, we offer a path forward.
What is IDA?
As the largest source of concessional loans and grants for the world’s lowest-income countries, the International Development Association (IDA) provides a major envelope for reducing poverty worldwide. IDA provides grants and no- or low-interest loans for projects and programming in 74 low-income countries. Every few years, this pool of funding gets replenished and new priorities are outlined.
The 20th IDA replenishment (IDA20) is the largest financing package to date at $93 billion and covers the period from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2025. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has upended the process as well as the objectives by necessitating funding for recovery efforts above all else.
What did we recommend?
Because IDA finances specific projects (in addition to general budget support to governments), it provides a great opportunity to insert clear objectives in particular areas, including gender equality. As the replenishment meetings kicked off in 2021, we put forward a series of recommendations to ensure that future IDA investments would address the gendered impacts of COVID-19, as well as promote longer-term equality.
At the top of our list of priorities were:
- Care: Increasing and improving investments in care infrastructure to reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work.
- Cash: Expanding and sustaining cash transfers to vulnerable populations, particularly women, as part of a medium-term recovery strategy.
- Data: Building better data systems to monitor the gendered impacts of COVID-19 mitigation and recovery efforts and beyond.
Within each of these areas, we proposed specific and measurable targets to include in IDA20 replenishment commitments.
The IDA20 target on childcare commits to “support at least 15 IDA countries to expand access to quality, affordable childcare, especially for low-income parents.”
This is a meaningful milestone in several ways. The childcare target is the first IDA commitment on care, exceeding our original recommendation to support 10 countries. In previous years, IDA replenishment documents referenced unpaid care work as a key binding constraint to women’s labor force participation, but this is the first time a measurable, concrete goal has been set to address this critical development issue.
Second, as the target falls under the priority area of increasing women’s access to jobs, it reflects the World Bank’s recognition of the link between access to quality, affordable childcare and women’s participation and advancement in paid work. Recent CGD analysis underscores the importance of this link: during the COVID crisis, women of working age, on average, performed an additional 173 hours of childcare, about three times more than men. And our latest synthesis analysis of 21 studies shows that women have faced disproportionate job losses and business closures in part due to increased care burdens.
Third, this target sets a precedent, not only for future IDA replenishments, but for other development institutions, including multilateral development banks and bilateral donor agencies. In a review of eight multilateral development banks’ (MDB) programming from 2000 to 2021, we identified only $2.08 billion dedicated to childcare programming. While this sounds substantial, it is merely a drop in the bucket compared to MDB investments in other sectors: World Bank investments in health for 2021 alone were nearly $4.2 billion.
However, one notable difference between our recommendation and the IDA commitment is the latter’s exclusive focus on childcare rather than on care framed more broadly. In addition to childcare, women also perform most of the care work supporting older people and those living with illnesses and disabilities. (Encouragingly, the World Bank’s Social Protection and Jobs team reflects this holistic understanding of care.) Future IDA cycles can build on this important first step to acknowledge and address gender inequalities in the performance of all care work.
Finally, we also recommended that IDA match external donor financing for care projects and research. Though not explicitly included in IDA20 documents, the World Bank’s Early Learning Partnership will soon match funding of IDA on a 1:1 basis in at least 10 countries, as well as provide small catalytic grants in over 30 countries, build capacity within countries to scale up investments in quality childcare, and contribute to the global evidence base through supporting at least 12 impact evaluations and extensive data from household surveys and situation assessments in at least 15 countries.
We recommended expanding and improving social protection systems, and specifically investing in “cash plus” programs targeting women, but IDA20 documents do not mention this as a standalone priority. Reflected above, the IDA Gender and Development special theme paper has one commitment mentioning social protection, and the Human Capital special theme paper has two commitments mentioning social protection. But these commitments either lump social protection in with other sectoral or thematic priorities such as agriculture, education, or urban development, or do not commit to a gender-responsive approach.
This lack of a commitment is a missed opportunity. When COVID-19 hit, governments around the world dramatically expanded social protection programs to counteract massive job losses and economic shocks. Many programs expanded to include previously ineligible populations or to deliver higher levels of benefits for participants. This expansion was especially important for women, who already had fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of informal employment, in addition to facing disproportionate job losses. But the majority of these reforms were temporary and have long since expired, in spite of persistent economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Through the next IDA replenishment, we recommend a standalone target focused on gender-responsive social protection, ideally one that strives to increase the use of “cash plus” approaches across IDA countries.
Finally, the IDA20 policy commitment on gender data exceeded our recommendation. We recommended IDA20 aim to support 30 countries to improve data collection systems for gender-sensitive, evidence-based policymaking, matching the IDA19 commitment. The IDA20 final report increases its target to 34 countries.
At present, gender data gaps persist across geographies and sectors to varying degrees. Currently only 41 percent of low- and middle-income countries report gender-disaggregated data on informal jobs. In a review of World Bank COVID-19 response projects in low- and middle-income countries, only 52 percent called for disaggregated data or gender-related targets in results frameworks. While this IDA commitment won’t close the gap entirely, it is an important step in the right direction.
Outside of these areas, the IDA20 Gender and Development Special Theme paper also includes important commitments related to women’s access to better jobs, women’s ownership and control over assets, enhancing women’s voice and agency, and governance and fiscal reforms. Examples of these targets include ensuring that “at least 35 percent of IDA20 infrastructure operations (transport, energy, and water) will include actions to create employment opportunities for women in medium and high skilled jobs in these sectors” and supporting “at least 10 IDA countries to strengthen national policy frameworks for prevention of and response to gender-based violence.” These commitments also align with what evidence suggests must be prioritized to contribute to an inclusive recovery from COVID-19, such as addressing disproportionate unemployment and income loss for women and reducing now-increased rates of gender-based violence.
The IDA20 replenishment presented an important opportunity to establish development priorities for the next few years, dedicate funding to these priorities, and set targets to hold the World Bank accountable. We are particularly excited about IDA’s first-ever commitment to invest in childcare infrastructure in 15 countries, but also recognize that this is a first step on what will be a long road to strengthening the global care economy. In future replenishments, IDA commitments should reflect a stronger focus on gender-responsive social protection programs, but the commitments to strengthening care infrastructure and data systems are a good start.