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Development banks should do more to deliver on gender equality

By Elaine Zuckerman | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-09 07:37


A new report released by Gender Action, an NGO working for gender equality, cosponsored by NGO Forum on the ADB, Oxfam and Recourse-Unmet Gender Promises: Making IFI Projects and Policies Deliver on Genderequal Rights-says public multilateral development banks, also called international financial institutions (IFIs), that finance development projects in developing countries must more aggressively promote gender equality and environmental safety.

Ranking 12 IFIs' gender policies and gender-sensitivity in their environmental and social frameworks (ESFs), their environmental and social standards for borrowers' projects, the report says many older IFIs need to strengthen and strictly implement their gender policies while the younger ones should create such policies from scratch-and nearly all the IFIs ought to improve the gender-sensitivity-in their environmental and social frameworks.

To do so, lessons can be learned from one exceptionally strong IFI gender policy and one exceptionally gender-sensitive environmental and social framework. The gender policy of the Inter-American Development Bank, the leading IFI in the Latin America and Caribbean region, provides a model for other IFIs because it promotes both gender-equal rights and women's economic empowerment goals (when most policies just promote women's empowerment to increase economic growth without upholding gender-equal rights); mandates do-no-harm safeguards to prevent gender-related harm (which other IFIs' gender policies don't); incentivizes project staff to address gender issues by assessing how much they do so in their career evaluations; and requires continuous collection of gender-disaggregated data in project monitoring and evaluation.

Meanwhile, the environmental and social framework of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provides a gender-sensitive model by requiring all project-related environmental and social risk assessments to identify risky gender issues (which no other IFI does); and prohibits making project decisions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity while requiring that projects prevent and mitigate sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse, gender-based violence, bullying and intimidation.

The IADB's gender policy and EBRD's environmental and social frameworks provide valuable lessons for the two youngest IFIs: the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai-based New Development Bank (also called the BRICS New Development Bank). The two new IFIs have not yet worked out their gender policies. And their environmental and social frameworks could strengthen their gender-sensitivity.

The report also emphasizes the need for all IFIs to better implement their gender policies and environmental and social frameworks by learning from case studies around the world, which show the harmful effects of typical IFI projects on women and the environment.

And although the report concludes that strong gender policies and gender-sensitive environmental and social frameworks are prerequisites for IFI investments that benefit all genders, their existence alone cannot make them effective. They can be effective only if carefully implemented.

To avoid such harm and ensure projects deliver benefits, the report recommends that the IFIs:

Adopt and implement robust mandatory gender policies and gender-sensitive environmental and social frameworks, and address interrelated gender, environment and climate impacts;

Acknowledge the primary role women play in agriculture and forestry, protecting the environment and managing natural resources, biodiversity and diverse ecosystems, and recognize that adverse project-related climate impacts undermine women's livelihoods and health;

Disclose full project information and hold gender inclusive consultations, because IFI consultations often fail to disclose potential project risks or are held too late for affected people to accept or refuse projects;

Ensure that gender equal rights complement the women's empowerment agenda of the IFIs, especially because many IFIs neglect gender equal rights and only promote the case for women's employment;

Recognize and reward women for unpaid and underpaid care work, and distribute women's unpaid care work across genders;

And collect gender-disaggregated monitoring and evaluation data, because very few international financial institutions collect baseline and subsequent gender-disaggregated project data needed to identify and apply lessons to strengthen gender justice.

By using these recommendations to draft and implement strong gender policies and gender-sensitive environmental and social frameworks, the IFIs might contribute to creating a more gender-equal and healthier planet.

The author is president of Gender Action, an NGO advocating gender equality.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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