Listening to women while planning for development: Real life experience from China

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“Women hold up half of the sky,” Chairman Mao said. So when it comes to development, it is important to listen to women – who generally make up half of our beneficiaries – and understand their views, preferences and needs. As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, I’m sharing some of my experience helping to increase gender awareness in World Bank-supported projects in China.

When we designed activities for the Ningbo Sustainable Urbanization Project, we carried out consultations with groups of men and women to make sure the proposed public transport system benefitted both equally. It was interesting to find that most men wanted wider roads with higher speed, while women cared more about the location of bus stops and adequate lighting on the bus.. Thanks to these consultations, we adjusted the locations of bus stops to be closer to the entrance of residential communities and reduce walking distance for bus riders. In response to the light request, we made sure that new buses purchased for the project had sufficient lighting for night use.
Conducting consultation with local women in Qianhuang village, Ningo, China.
While working on this same project, I was in Fenghua County to review proposed activities to upgrade urban space and services, including installing drainage and street lights in an old residential area, and increasing the number of public toilets. We found that with the current number of public toilets, the women’s bathrooms always had long queues in streets frequented by tourists. We made a point to build larger public bathrooms for women, which is already in practice in many parts of the world.

Listening to women and meeting their needs also makes our development projects more sustainable and contributes to gender equality.  When we designed the Poverty Alleviation and Agriculture-based Industry Pilot which supports development of farmer cooperatives, we encouraged the inclusion of women as cooperative members at a rate of at least 30%. In implementing the project, we have found that more than half of cooperative members actively involved in project activities are women, as most of the men work in cities as migrant workers.

This shift is also giving women the opportunity to make decisions at home. As women are playing a more important role in decision making in family businesses and farming, they enjoy a much higher social status and have become more confident.

Through years of practice, I have been convinced that in cases where we need to give monetary compensation to families affected by projects, it is important that female members are at least informed of the compensation amount. Preferably, the female head of the household receives the money and controls its use. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women tend to spend more on children’s education and health. So it makes sense that women have a bigger say on expenditures, which helps reduce the risk of unreasonable spending when it’s a sizable amount compared to the family’s income.

At the end of the day, our development projects are about making our beneficiaries’ lives better and more productive. Listening to women and their needs is part of ensuring everyone impacted by our work has a voice and a seat at the table. I hope that’s increasingly the case for women everywhere.


Aimin Hao

Social Development Specialist

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