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Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Infrastructure Projects: Asia and Pacific Regional Meeting

November 10-11, 2008, ADB Headquarters, Manila, Philippines
 

 

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For Better Results in Infrastructure, Listen to Men and Women

Being an indigenous woman in Peru means you are likely to be part of the 20 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. Indigenous women reside for the most part in remote rural areas with no access to education, employment, or to the markets where they could sell the produce from their agricultural work, leaving them very little opportunity to earn an income and lift themselves and their children out of poverty.

These are the women who benefited from Peru’s Rural Roads Project. The project team, composed of staff from the Government of Peru, the Inter -American Development Bank and the World Bank, adopted a number of gender-sensitive measures to rehabilitate 14,750 km of rural roads from 1995 to 2007. The team consulted local women’s groups that informed them women tend to use informal means of transportation. Following their recommendations, the team changed the design to include non-motorized transport tracks. The project also required that 10 percent of the community-based microenterprises created to maintain the roads be owned or managed by women.

 

As a result of the project, women ended up owning 24 percent of the road maintenance micro-enterprises; in addition, 67 percent of women reported feeling safer traveling, 77 percent of them traveled more frequently and 43 percent saw an increase in their income. An impact evaluation study showed that the program improved girls’ access to schools and women’s access to social services: for instance, girls’ enrollment in primary schools increased by 6.7 percent. The project not only improved women’s mobility but also their access to the voting booth: more women voted in municipal elections.

 

Peru’s Rural Roads Project was one of the examples shared at the “Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Infrastructure Projects” workshop held at the Asian Development Bank in Manila on November 10-11. The workshop, sponsored by the Multilateral Development Banks’ (MDBs) Working Group on Gender, brought together staff and participants from client countries in South and East Asia. Project teams from governments and MDBs together learned about the relevance of mainstreaming gender in infrastructure operations. Representatives from the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank were in attendance.

 

A project in Liaoning Province, China, provided another example of successful gender mainstreaming efforts. Recent public consultations on the design of a World-Bank funded urban transport project in this province revealed that women were not comfortable voicing their preferences in mixed groups. Consulted in separate, single-sex focus groups, the women brought up the importance of  safety in project design, and the need to address security and convenience issues such as lack of street lights, poorly designed bus services and schedules, and unsafe crossing signs. Shomik Mehndiratta, a senior World Bank transport specialist working on the project, pointed out that consulting women separately had yielded significant project benefits with low incremental costs. “Signs, toilets, benches and trees make a big difference and cost little,” argued Shomik.

Participants learned from the above mentioned project experiences as well as from work in Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Nepal, the Philippines, Timor Leste, and the Middle East, that it is important for project effectiveness to listen to both men and women in infrastructure projects. Besides ensuring the availability of toilets, separate dormitories, day care centers and even benches for women in the work place, infrastructure projects also need to ensure women’s privacy, especially in evacuation centers, easily accessible water systems, well-lit roads, and safe transport.

The workshop devoted a session to discussing progress on gender mainstreaming within the MDBs’ portfolios, during which Maddalena Pezzoti, Head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IABD) Gender and Diversity Unit, pointed out a fact common to the MDBs:  significant advances had been made in mainstreaming gender in social sectors operations at the IADB but mainstreaming progress had been slow in economic growth and infrastructure projects.

Presenters at the workshop also urged project teams to learn from impact evaluations, as the evidence base on successful mechanisms to ensure gender equality in project design and outcomes is still limited. Mayra Buvinic, Director of Gender and Development at the World Bank, drew attention to the need for solid impact evaluations by reviewing issues, such as selection effects and confounding factors, which can result in erroneous attributions of outcomes in infrastructure operations.  For instance, the often quoted benefit of time savings to women from water infrastructure may be confounded by the fact that households’ choice of water supply often depends on the value of women’s time in home and market production.

 

 “It’s not rocket science,” concluded Jie Tang, Senior World Bank Energy Specialist and task manager of the Lao PDR Rural Electrification project which was redesigned to provide interest-free credit to female-headed households to allow them to connect to the electricity grid. “While addressing gender issues requires a slightly different focus and approach, it is a smart and easy way to make a project more effective and its impact much more inclusive.”


Peru Rural Roads Project Team was composed by staff from the Government of Peru, the Inter -American Development Bank and the World Bank.

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