The logical next step toward gender equality: Generating evidence on what works

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College students in Vietnam. © World Bank

As in much of the rest of the developing world, developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) have made progress in closing many gender disparities, particularly in areas such as education and health outcomes. Even on the gender gaps that still remain significant, more is now known about why these have remained “sticky” despite rapid economic progress. 

Ensuring that women and girls are on a level playing field with men and boys is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It is right because gender equality is a core objective of development. And it is smart because gender equality can spur development. It has been estimated, for instance, that labor productivity in developing East Asia and Pacific could be 7-18% higher if women had equal access to productive resources and worked in the same sectors and types of jobs as men.

It is not surprising, therefore, that gender equality is now an important goal for governments and their development partners. For instance, gender issues are included in over half of the Sustainable Development Goals. And in 2015, the World Bank Group launched its new gender strategy, with a focus on ensuring equitable access to jobs and control over resources, enhancing women’s voice and agency and closing remaining gender gaps in health and education.

Despite this consensus on the importance of gender equality for development, much less is known about what works in reducing gender gaps, particularly in the economic sphere. How should governments design policies and programs to target priority gender gaps and to reduce these over time? This question is as important and pressing in the developing countries of East Asia and Pacific as it is elsewhere.

Building a strong evidence base about what works to promote gender equality in different country and institutional settings is, therefore, the logical next step. In particular, understanding how policies and programs can bring about change in gender outcomes is critical. Such an understanding will enable governments and their partners to design better programs, to improve the targeting of initiatives and to consider innovative approaches to increasing women’s opportunities.

The recently-launched East Asia and Pacific Gender Innovation Lab (EAPGIL) aims to help in this regard. The Lab seeks to enable project teams and policymakers in developing EAP countries to better integrate an evidence-based gender perspective into programs and policies.  Specifically, it aims to generate evidence on what works in reducing gender disparities and in promoting the uptake of effective interventions on the parts of governments.

I am happy to announce that the Lab is now accepting proposals to do impact evaluations of projects through an open, competitive call for expressions of interest. This first call for expressions of interest will focus on policies and programs that seek to expand women’s economic opportunities in a subset of developing EAP countries. This theme aligns with the World Bank Group’s twin goals of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity and is one of the cornerstones of our new gender strategy. Projects that aim to raise the productivity of female farmers or entrepreneurs, develop women’s skills, or enable women to better balance their domestic and market roles are particularly of interest.  

Project teams and policy makers in East Asia may apply to receive funding and technical support for a rigorous impact evaluation of their projects. These impact evaluations will enable them to learn how their initiatives are translating into results. EAPGIL will work with the project teams to design and implement impact evaluations that address crucial policy questions to help policy makers make decisions based on evidence of what works.

I hope teams working in eligible countries will take advantage of this opportunity to better understand how their work is making a difference in people’s lives by making development policies and programs more effective in reducing gender gaps.  Rather than stop at identifying the problems, let’s shift our focus to finding effective solutions.

Projects from the following countries are eligible for this call for expressions of interest: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam. Find out more about the application process here.


Sudhir Shetty

Chief Economist, East Asia and Pacific Region, The World Bank

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