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5 ways public-private partnerships can promote gender equality

Christine Shepherd's picture
Credit: Arne Hoel

From my corner of the World Bank, the development objective of promoting gender equality can seem vague or unrelated to what we do. We can give three cheers for our colleagues who focus on gender issues for successfully developing and releasing  the World Bank’s new Gender Equality, Poverty Reduction and Inclusive Growth Strategy -- and then return to our work of closing the infrastructure financing gap and helping governments prioritize their infrastructure projects.

But are there areas in our own work on public-private partnerships (PPPs) where we can and should evaluate the role gender plays? Based on the quantity of literature my colleagues at the PPP Infrastructure Resource Center (PPIRC) have amassed in version 1.0 of their impact of PPPs on gender inclusion page of their website, the answer is yes.
During the last few months, I have brainstormed with my team at the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility to examine how gender considerations overlap with the technical assistance we facilitate. I have also recently joined the “gender leads” group of the World Bank on behalf of the PPP Group. As I have become more aware of the challenges women face around the world, I see these issues more and more through a PPP lens.  

So in honor of International Women’s Day, which pushes us to “step it up for gender equality,” I’ve identified five areas that point toward ways PPPs can be part of the solution:

1. Identifying gender-specific needs that infrastructure services can meet. Men and women have different preferences, roles, and responsibilities and as a result they have different needs for services.  For example, women generally have a higher need for health facilities, particularly around the time of their pregnancies. Thus a health facility created through a PPP may provide more benefits to female populations. Women interact differently with other sectors, too. For example, their travel patterns in urban areas are marked by shorter trips with several stops along the way. In rural areas, which may offer more limited transport options, women make employment choices based on proximity to their home so they can juggle other responsibilities. In both cases, these and similar transport-related burdens affect the amount of time women have for other activities, like paid work. Using a PPP structure to support transport services that meet women’s needs could alleviate this burden. 

2. Eliminating gender biases from legal frameworks governing PPPs. Across developed and developing country legal systems, gender biases exist – including those that govern PPPs. In its new section on PPPs and gender inclusion, the PPPIRC has gathered many resources that address this particular topic. One example, Guidelines and Checklists for Gender in Public-Private Partnerships in Lao PDR (Draft), illustrates ways in which legal requirements may prevent women from attaining the same benefit as men from services provided through a PPP. These guidelines point to policies like requiring an identity card or other documentation to access a service, or demanding connection charges, registration fees, or other financial commitments to access services. These and similar requirements could potentially prevent women from being able to take advantage of benefits a nation offers the rest of its citizens. 

3. Paying close attention to the stakeholder consultation process. When developing a PPP, consulting with stakeholders is a must to ensure eventual project success. Doing so also provides an opportunity to get the views of male and female potential users of a service or facility, which can impact project design. I’m thinking here of the stakeholder consultations surrounding the planned Cebu Bus Rapid Transit Corridor in the Philippines. PPIAF provided support for a user needs analysis related to this project. A variety of focus groups were held with young men, old men, young women, and old women. Broadly speaking the groups had some universal concerns, though there were some differences. Young females, for instance, prioritized safe driving over getting to their destinations quickly, whereas young men wanted to get to from point A to B as fast as possible. People traveling with children expressed frustration with the current bus systems not stopping long enough for them and their children to board safely. This input provided valuable information to the project planners to consider as they designed a new system.

4. Including a gender-specific affordability analysis. There may be differences in what women and men can or are willing to pay for a service. As part of the process of determining the scope and requirements of a project, the public authority conducts an affordability assessment, which involves looking into end users’ willingness to pay. Ensuring this data is collected in a gender disaggregated way could lead to a stronger analysis and better understanding of the varying needs and concerns of male and female user groups.

5. Embedding gender considerations in the output specifications for the private sector. In contracting out to the private sector as part of a PPP arrangement, the public authority must lay out a clear set of output requirements and service quality standards. This step provides an opportunity to embed gender considerations. One example that drove this home for me is from PPIAF’s work with the Kumasi toilets project. Many of Kumasi, Ghana’s 2 million residents lack access to clean sanitation – estimates show that 60 percent use public toilets every day. For several reasons, including high demand and increased service quality requirements, the Kumasi Metropolitan Authority evaluated different approaches, including PPPs, to bring improvements to its public toilet networks. PPIAF’s support in this instance aimed to assess PPP options to deliver improved access to sanitation through the provision of public toilets, and this  included detailing the output specifications. Minimum design and construction terms dictated that separate toilet blocks are required for males and females, and that disposal units catering to women’s needs are part of the area for females.

These are just five ways that those of us who work with PPPs can move forward, integrating gender concerns into these partnerships to be more responsive to women’s needs.  Can you offer other ways PPPs can be part of the solution? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below.  


Submitted by Maaike van Vliet on

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Submitted by Jennifer Mudge on

Enormous thanks for this. I'm currently doing a review for DFAT (who work in three partnerships that involve the WB: GIF, PPIAF and WASP) on gender equality and women's empowerment in and through infrastructure investment, and this question of how PPPs can address gender is a burning one (including the difference between how they can/could address it, and how they do address it in practice). It seems to me that all actions in the end boil down to meeting the parameters of the IFC standards, which hold sway in both public and private sectors and which start from a do-no-harm orientation, ultimately resulting in quite scant gender analysis and related action in implementation. The final upshot is that the financial case for gender-responsive infrastructure investment - the kind of data that private investors need to calculate risks, trade offs and profits - does not get made at the end of the day.

I am looking to highlight good practice, current thinking and recommendations that I can bring back to the Australian government in this review. If it would be possible to be in touch, I would very much like to learn more about the current thinking on gender in the PPIAF and PPP group to reflect in my review. My email is provided to enable this comment. Thank you.

Submitted by Maggie Mungania on

Hope many countries could learn a thing or two from this article,thanks am quite encouraged.

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