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Key Issues on Gender and Development

Key Issues on Gender and Development page is a quick introduction to gender-related issues in a particular sector. This page contains overview of the issues and a list of relevant questions to consider.

Fragility & Conflict | Governance | Infrastructure | Information and Communication Technologies | Private Sector Development | Transport | Water and Sanitation

Fragility & Conflict

Post conflict programs tend to target women for counseling & men for jobs. However, effective postconflict reconstruction efforts need to go beyond stereotyped methods, and use more integrated approaches.

Gender Issues in Conflict Prevention and Post-Conflict Reconstruction

Eighty percent of the world’s 20 poorest countries have suffered from a major conflict in the past 15 years. In Sub-Saharan Africa, conflicts have taken an increasing toll on development prospects, with almost half of all countries, and one in five Africans, directly or indirectly affected by conflict. As women and men have different needs and play different social and economic roles in restoring war-torn societies, it is particularly important to ensure that post-conflict interventions are inclusive. There is a substantial body of literature on men’s and women’s different experiences of conflict that demonstrate that there are high short- and long-term costs to countries’ development if they fail to address gender-specific needs. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) recognizes the distinction between women’s and men’s needs and calls on all actors involved in negotiating and implementing peace agreements to adopt a gender perspective. This perspective includes paying attention to the special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction. Increasingly, the need to examine notions of “masculinities” is also part of an improved response to post-conflict needs.

Key Issues

Masculinity, males and conflict: Masculinity, males and conflict: 
 Men and boys are often victims of brutal indoctrination during their recruitment to an armed group; this can involve forced killings, drug abuse, and rape. Males commonly lose their traditional male role as providers for the family, may find themselves displaced from their family’s homes, or be unable to find employment. Some find status and power in sexual violence and possession and use of weapons. Post-conflict programs should focus on ways to draw young men into a cohesive society, rather than on punishing and controlling them. The latter only reinforces a cycle of exclusion and punishment and perpetuates violent behavior.

Femininity, females and conflict: Women are not only the victims of conflict; they are often actively involved in the fighting. Women represent between one-tenth to one-third of all combatants in regular or irregular armies (e.g., guerilla movements), and often participate in other active roles, including support functions. Demobilization and reintegration programs (DRPs) for ex-combatants should represent the economic, legal and psychological needs of both female and male excombatants. These needs are usually not met because many women tend not to register for DRPs for fear of being stigmatized for their role in the conflict or for having had illegitimate children resulting from rape. Postwar societies go through changes and adapt, making the issue of reintegration relevant to all members of society, not just to ex-combatants. DRP planners should therefore also analyze the potential side-effects of the DRP on non-combatants and avoid any negative impacts.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and HIV/AIDS: Women and men are both vulnerable to GBV during conflict, albeit in different ways. Women are often victims of heightened sexual abuse and trafficking during conflict, as they are seen as a form of booty by enemy soldiers. Sexual abuse of women from enemy camps is seen as a means of demoralizing the enemy. The gender-based risks of contracting HIV/AIDS or STDs should be an important aspect of post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

Private Sector Development

Private Sector Development (PSD) plays an important role in the World Bank Group’s work. Improving the investment climate and market access provides new income opportunities to both men and women in developing societies. Moreover, markettype mechanisms may empower poor people by improving the quality of basic social services. Yet PSD effectiveness requires an understanding of the different constraints often faced by women and men in this domain. Gender considerations should thus be incorporated into five key PSD areas: disparities in asset ownership; labor market imbalances; access to finance; access to markets; and businessenabling environment.

Disparities in asset ownership: In many countries there are gender disparities in asset ownership. Land is often the most valued asset, and where women are constrained by law or custom in owning land, they are unable to use land as an input into production or as collateral for credit. This is inefficient and may hamper growth. An example of how to address this issue comes from Vietnam, where land title certificates have been reissued with the names of both husbands and wives, giving women landuse rights previously denied to them.

Labor market imbalances: Taboos and prejudices against hiring women are costly to society as a substantial proportion of its productive potential is stifled. Skepticism against female workers may hamper private sector development: as it restricts total labor supply, the price of male labor is pushed up and artificial labor shortages may result. In Lesotho, the World Bank funded a sensitization program aimed at increasing female participation in road construction activities.

Access to financial services: Designing financial institutions in ways that account for genderspecific constraints – whether by substituting for traditional forms of collateral or by delivering financial services closer to homes, markets and workplaces – can increase access to savings and credit and affect the relative viability and competitiveness of femalerun enterprises. In parts of West Africa, “mobile bankers” bring financial services to clients, eliminating the need to travel in order to save and borrow.

Access to markets:
Women’s seclusion from the public arena, higher time poverty, and lack of mobility limit their access to markets in various ways. For instance, women usually have less information about prices, rules and rights to basic services. In Uganda, this type of inefficiency has been tackled by Ideas for Earning Money, a CDRom that teaches women new business skills and best business practices.

Businessenabling environment:
Women often benefit more than men from businessenabling environment reforms, as their businesses tend to have more problems with customs, courts, business registration, tax rates and tax administration. To address this issue, the Gender and Growth Assessment tool was developed to help countries identify key investment climate constraints for women and provide a roadmap of needed reforms, which local organizations can work on implementing following assessment completion. The tool was a World Bank Group effort led by IFC Gender Entrepreneurship Markets (GEM) in Uganda, and has been replicated in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.  The issue of women’s access to networks cuts across all key areas. As social norms may discourage women from mixing freely with men, participation in womenonly business associations can help women make connections, share information, identify business opportunities, generate crossreferrals, and act as support for entrepreneurs who might otherwise feel isolated.  Business organizations can also lobby for a more businessfriendly environment for women in general. In Afghanistan, an important task for the new Ministry of Women’s Affairs was to set up the Afghan Women’s Business Council, with support from UNIFEM.

Key Issues
  • How do women’s and men’s access to assets differ? Are there gender differences in ownership of bank accounts, access to credit and land, and in property laws?
  • What is the female labor force participation rate in a country? How does men’s and women’s participation differ in scale, sector of operation, and earnings? Are there gender differences in the proportion of individuals employed in the informal sector?
  • Are sex disaggregated PSD statistics available at the national level?

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

Women and men have different needs and constraints when accessing and using ICT. In many societies, women’s and men’s access to and use of technology are rooted in behavioral, cultural, and religious traditions:
  • Cultural and social attitudes are often unfavorable to women’s participation in the fields of science and technology, which limits their opportunities in the area of ICT.
  • Women are often financially dependent on men or do not have control over economic resources, which makes accessing ICT services more difficult.
  • Allocation of resources for education and training often favors boys and men.
  • In some societies, women’s seclusion from the public arena makes access to community telecenters difficult.

Unless explicit measures are taken to address the constraints women face, advances in ICT may increase gender disparities and their potential impact will be reduced.

Gender-responsive ICT can make technologies, from telephones to computers, available to more people and offer ways for both women and men to access information and markets, and participate in new income generating activities. When ICT policies and programs recognize the different constraints women and men face, ICT will contribute to reducing women’s burden of labor in time consuming tasks, provide income generating activities, and provide an important source of employment in both ICT and other fields.

Key Issues
  • Are there gender differences in access to ICT?
  • How does the use of ICT affect men and women differently? How can ICT be used to reduce gender inequalities?
  • Are both men and women included in ICT decision making? Are gender issues considered when setting national ICT priorities?


The current approach to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth stresses the need for communities to be able to influence the public institutions that affect their well-being. Good governance is central to this approach: public institutions must be efficient, transparent, and accountable; and the processes of governance must be inclusive and participatory so that all citizens have opportunities to demand accountability from their governments.

Why Gender Issues are Relevant to Good Governance 

Gender equality is an important goal in itself and a means for achieving development. Development policies and institutions must ensure that all segments of society - both women and men - have a voice in decision making, either directly, or through institutions that legitimately represent their interests and needs. Yet, persistent and pervasive gender disparities in opportunities, rights vis-à-vis the state and public institutions, and voice, particularly limit women’s ability to participate as full citizens in social, economic, and political life. The exclusion of women from full participation constrains the ability of public sector policies and institutions to manage economic and social resources effectively. Such gender-based exclusion compromises the prospects for high-quality service delivery.

Key Issues

There are several key aspects of public sector good governance, but a few of them in particular have specific gender-relevant considerations worth examining:

  • Citizenship: To what extent do policies and practices support women and men to realize their duties, rights, and access to services as citizens?
  • Legislation and enforcement: How do legal and judicial systems improve the socio-economic and legal status of women and men? How effectively do the legal and justice sectors address women’s and men’s status and protection under the law?
  • Public expenditures: To what extent do public expenditures reflect governments’ explicit gender equality goals and target the delivery of high-quality services to all citizens?
  • Structures and processes of governance: How can women’s participation in political decision- making processes be realized? Do the structures and processes for representation at central and decentralized levels focus on including interest groups which have previously been excluded? Do they include women in critical numbers in key institutions, e.g., parliaments and local governments?
  • Delivery of services: What priority is given to participatory and transparent decision making? What policies can enhance institutional accountability and responsiveness to women’s specific needs for services in key sectors?


The infrastructure sector is often assumed to be gender neutral, with women and men benefiting equally from projects. Females and males, however, have different roles, responsibilities and constraints, which result in gender-based differentials in demand for and use of infrastructure facilities and services. The development effectiveness and sustainability of the infrastructure sector could increase significantly by addressing gender differences in demand and utilization. This involves incorporating a gender perspective in selecting and designing infrastructure interventions, assessing safeguards issues, and conducting monitoring and evaluation.

SELECTION OF INFRASTRUCTURE INTERVENTIONS. Recognizing gender asymmetries in demand affects selection of infrastructure activities to be undertaken in a country:

  • Selection of interventions across infrastructure sectors. Lack of access to certain types of infrastructure services (e.g., water, sanitation, fuel and transport) negatively affects women more than men and can act as a drain on economic growth in a community. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by lack of access to infrastructure services since they bear a larger share of the responsibility and time for household maintenance and care activities. Infrastructure investments within a country, particularly those in transport, energy and water sectors, must be prioritized because of their potential to reduce the opportunity costs to girls and the time and energy costs to women of their household roles.
  • Selection of interventions within infrastructure sectors. Which interventions are to be selected? Is there a demand for a feeder road or a trunk road (connecting village to main town)? Should water connections be provided in village centers or in homes? The answer depends on who is asked. Calculating the potential benefits of a project requires measuring gender differences in demand. For example, women have larger transport burdens than men and are typically the main users and providers of household water and cooking fuel. Thus demand assessment techniques must measure gender disparities in demand.

SAFEGUARDS. For certain infrastructure sectors such as mining or power generation, gender-relevant considerations might be of critical importance in the context of safeguard issues, such as environmental impacts of increased soil erosion, degradation of water quality, contamination of drinking water systems, and so on. These environmental effects can disproportionately affect women by increasing their workloads and reducing their ability to protect their families’ health and wellbeing. The most effective approach to safeguarding the environment would therefore be one that recognizes gender differences in roles and responsibilities.

MONITORING AND EVALUATION. Recognizing gender asymmetries affects the design of monitoring and evaluation of projects. Ignoring this fact might understate or overstate the impact of a project. Effective monitoring requires developing indicators for each stage of project cycle: design, implementation, outputs, impact, and for assessing changes in social and economic characteristics of the communities affected by the project. A few examples of gender-sensitive indicators are: use of gender-disaggregated data in project planning and monitoring, men’s and women’s groups levels of engagement in project processes, promotion of men’s and women’s initiatives by the project facilitator, increase in the number of women using intermediate means of transport or using the time saved by improved access to water for other developmental purposes, and improved access to markets for women traders.

Key Issues
  • What are the gender differences in demand for energy, water, sanitation, transport, and ICT? What are the main economic, time, and cultural constraints to access to infrastructure?
  • When setting infrastructure priorities, do policies reflect women’s and men’s different constraints and needs?
  • Are both women and men being trained as managers and operators of community infrastructure facilities? Do women and men differ in their willingness to pay (WTP) for infrastructure services? How does this affect service delivery?
  • Are projects being designed to fully incorporate an understanding of their gender-related impacts?


Because women and men in developing countries have different transport needs and priorities, they are frequently affected differently by transport interventions. For example, Rural Transport Projects that build roads for motorized transport often do not benefit rural women, who mainly work and travel on foot in and around the village. Moreover, the construction of roads may have an indirect effect on women as the increased mobility of their male counterparts could lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In fact, international evidence shows that the transport sector is a major vector for this pandemic (Social analysis in transport projects, 2006). Urban Transport Systems, which are designed to transport people to and from employment centers, may also respond inadequately to the needs of women, who must combine income generation with household activities, such as taking children to school and visiting the market.

The failure of the transport sector in meeting women’s needs and priorities affects women negatively in several ways. Because of lack of access to adequate transport, women enjoy less mobility than men; their access to markets and employment is circumscribed. Women’s safety suffers when their needs are not taken into account in transport project design, for instance due to the absence of street lighting. Women’s health is also negatively affected by the lack of adequate transport. Every minute a woman dies in child birth, but many of these deaths (and the disability caused by obstructed labor) could be avoided with timely access to transport (Gender and transport resource guide, 2006).

Furthermore, poor women, who balance productive, social, and reproductive roles, often have higher demands on their time than poor men. Gender-responsive infrastructure interventions can free up women’s time by lowering their transaction costs. This, in turn, increases girls’ school enrollment and facilitates women’s participation in income-generation and decision-making activities. Evidence from Pakistan shows that an all-weather motorable road may increase girls’ primary school enrollment by 50 percent and female literacy by 75 percent (Dalil Essakali, 2005).

Addressing transport-related gender inequalities is smart economics. It benefits society as a whole. Reducing women’s time costs and increasing their mobility and safety increases women’s productivity which makes society as a whole more productive. Gender-responsive transport services can thus serve as a powerful vehicle to achieving several of the MDGs. They help empower women, improve health, provide education opportunities and ultimately reduce poverty.

Key Issues
  • What are the gender differences in demand for transport?
  • When setting transport priorities, do policies reflect men’s and women’s different constraints and needs?
  • Is transport project design and implementation based on consultations with women as well as men?
  • What transport projects benefit women as well as men the most?

 Water and Sanitation

Women and men generally have very different roles in water supply and sanitation (WSS) activities. These differences are particularly evident in rural areas. Often women are the main users, providers, and managers of water in rural households. Women are also the guardians of household hygiene. Men are usually more concerned with water for irrigation or for livestock. Hence women tend to benefit most when access to water, and the quality and quantity of water improves. Improvements in WSS infrastructure are likely to shorten women’s and girls’ time spent carrying heavy containers to collect water, thereby freeing up their time for incomegenerating activities and school attendance, respectively. Given their longestablished, active role in WSS, women generally know about current water sources, their quality and reliability, any restrictions to their use, and how to improve hygiene behaviors. Yet for many years, efforts to improve WSS services had a tendency to overlook women’s central role in water and sanitation. While women were often more direct users of water – especially in the household – men traditionally had a greater role than women in public decisionmaking. It is essential to fully involve both women and men in demanddriven WSS programs, where communities decide what type of systems they want and are willing to help finance. Having both men and women involved makes sense for two reasons:

First, evidence shows that women’s participation is highly correlated with WSS project effectiveness. Second, the benefits from incorporating gender aspects into the WSS sector will not only accrue to women,but also to men. Improvements in WSS infrastructure will help increase women’s human capital, reduce their time constraints, allow for new incomegenerating activities, and improve community health. This will in turn increase the productivity of society as a whole, thereby creating new income. Hence, improving WSS services makes economic sense for men as well as for women.

Key Issues
  • Who is voicing community preferences on the selection of WSS technologies, facility sites, arrangements for financing and management of water services?
  • Are both men and women discussing water and sanitation problems and possible solutions?
  • Do extension teams have men and women on them? Do they target men and women’s groups separately for consultation, if local cultures differ significantly between women and men?
  • Are both women and men being trained as managers of community facilities?


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