What’s missing from the World Bank’s Draft Gender Strategy? Transparency

Published: February 13, 2024


The World Bank is expected to launch its Gender Strategy 2024-2030: Accelerate Gender Equality for a Sustainable, Resilient and Inclusive Future in early 2024. Despite accountability being core to the draft strategy, there is very little focus on transparency. This is symptomatic of gaps generally in the Bank’s disclosure policies and practices which we believe needs to be addressed in the final Strategy. Fostering greater accountability not only requires a multi-pronged approach but also will be impossible to deliver without greater transparency. We pose five questions to help readers understand the current disclosure limitations in the Bank’s programmatic support for gender equality and why addressing this shortfall both in the forthcoming Gender Strategy and the accompanying implementation plan is essential.

Publish What You Fund participated in the World Bank’s consultation on its draft Gender Strategy including providing a written submission of evidence and recommendations in November 2023 which we discussed with the Bank’s gender team.

Focus on accountability

One of the three main ‘shifts’ the Bank highlights in its draft strategy is the need to foster greater internal accountability for gender outcomes. At a high level, the Bank’s gender team envisages moving from the 2016-2023 strategy focus to ‘introduce gender tag/flag with accountability in project design’[1] to an additional focus on ‘complementing the gender tag/flag with a mechanism to strengthen internal accountability for gender results in project implementation’ and ‘enhancing gender outcome orientation in-country engagements as One World Bank’ in the new draft strategy.

We pose five questions to highlight some of the gaps in what the Bank currently publicly discloses about its efforts to advance gender equality. We hope the final Gender Strategy and accompanying implementation plan will take up these questions and provide details on how the Bank plans to address the current gaps in disclosure.

1. How much does the World Bank spend on gender equality annually?

The Bank only partially answers this. The World Bank reported its gender equality funding commitments for FY 2023, under the combined themes of ‘Human Development and Gender Equality’, in its annual reports as USD$14,146 million and USD$12,066 million for the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) respectively. The Bank does not publicly disclose the gender-specific volume of funding as a stand-alone figure which means we cannot identify gender-specific funding amounts.

We recognise that there are numerous ways in which the Bank works to advance gender equality through technical assistance or policy support that cannot and would not be appropriate to capture in funding amounts. However, this doesn’t negate the challenge of not reporting at a programmatic level what the Bank contributes to gender equality.

2. How can I identify which World Bank-funded projects support gender equality?

You can’t. The World Bank discloses the total percentage of projects that are gender-integrated at a portfolio level through the use of its tag/flag approach. The gender tag (IDA and IBRD) and the flag (International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)) are the World Bank Group’s in-house system for ranking projects, programmes and activities which can contribute to closing gender gaps. The Bank claims that in FY 2023 more than 90% of IDA and IBRD investments were gender tagged,[2] while IFC has quadrupled its share of gender-flagged investments and doubled its gender advisory services for the same period.[3]

The Bank does not publicly disclose the gender tag/flag at the project, programme or activity level. As such there is also no way to filter and search for gender tagged projects within the World Bank’s Project and Operations data, using the gender tag/flag.

The Bank sometimes indicates where the ‘gender theme’[4] has been applied on project pages as an indication of the level of gender intentionality for a given project. However, the application of the ‘gender theme’ is a separate process from the application of the gender tag.  It is not the equivalent of the gender tag/flag and may be used in conjunction with other themes. While useful for identifying cross-cutting thematic priorities, theme codes are not indicative of funding volume.

3. Where can I find the location of World Bank gender equality projects and investments?

You can’t. Given that the World Bank does not disclose which projects have been assigned the gender tag/flag at the project, programme or activity level, we cannot comprehensively map where gender equality projects are located.

4. Can I see a sector breakdown for World Bank gender equality projects and investments?

No. Similarly to location, without comprehensive disclosure of the gender tagging at a project level we cannot confidently identify how the Bank supports gender equality across sectors.

5. What is the impact of World Bank projects on closing gender gaps?

It’s difficult to find consistent publication of results information, including gender-specific objectives (ex-ante data), or how it performs against these objectives (ex-post) at a project level. The World Bank performs comparatively well in its disclosure of results information in our DFI Transparency Index and Aid Transparency Index. Despite this, when it comes to gender projects, it is less clear from the information available how projects are benefitting women, so much as counting them. This makes accountability and learning a much larger challenge.[5]

It’s time to address gaps in the transparency of the Bank’s gender support.

We welcome the World Bank’s focus on accountability in the draft gender strategy but urge the Bank to recognise the central role of transparency in delivering this objective. The Bank’s efforts to move towards a results-orientated approach which pays greater attention to implementation and results is welcome.

Fundamental to achieving this shift to accountability is ensuring that the Bank gets the basics right – including disclosing basic project information, such as which projects, activities or programmes qualify as gender tagged/flagged and why. These investments should be identifiable in the Bank’s projects and operations data. Such investment level disclosure would provide greater insight into how the Bank supports gender equality with information on location, sector, instrument or funding type, objectives, and importantly ex-ante and ex-post data.

Our recent submission to the World Bank’s consultation process for the Gender Strategy outlines detailed recommendations on how the Bank should improve its disclosure practices in its final Gender Strategy and the implementation plan that will follow. Without these changes, the World Bank is falling behind other funders in its disclosure of gender funding.

[1] The World Bank’s Gender Tag or Flag is the Bank’s internal system for ranking all projects according to whether they address gender equality. The World Bank has not published a guidance note or methodology for how it applies the Gender Tag or Flag approach.

[2] World Bank gender Strategy 2024-2030,: Consultation Draft, 2023, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender/brief/gender-strategy-update-2024-30-accelerating-equality-and-empowerment-for-all

[3] World Bank gender Strategy 2024-2030,: Consultation Draft, 2023, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender/brief/gender-strategy-update-2024-30-accelerating-equality-and-empowerment-for-all

[4] World Bank’s gender theme definition can be viewed in it’s Theme Taxonomy and Definitions document, 2016, NewThemeTaxonomyanddefinitionsrevisedJuly012016.pdf (worldbank.org)

[5] The World Bank hosts the Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE) which is a multi-donor umbrella facility established to generate knowledge and evidence on transformative solutions for advancing gender equality. The UFEG encapsulates the Bank’s efforts to generate evidence on what works to advance gender equality to influence policy and programme design. The Bank has also produced thematic briefs and retrospective reports of their evidence reviews which can be viewed on their website.