Gender-smart infrastructure improves gender equality in South Asia

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In lower-income countries, infrastructure is rarely built with the needs of women or girls in mind. This matters because when infrastructure is inadequate, marginalized groups such as women and girls suffer the consequences in the form of lost economic and educational opportunities and risks to their safety and well-being.  Getting infrastructure right can make a difference. In recent years, the World Bank Group's (WBG) Gender Strategy and the South Asia Regional Gender Action Plan have guided our infrastructure engagement in South Asia to better meet the needs of women and girls by improving human endowments, increasing economic opportunities and access to jobs, enhancing women’s voice and representation.

Infrastructure connectivity and design improves health outcomes for women and girls

The World Bank is working to close gender gaps in women’s access to health services. For example in transport, we provided technical assistance and financing to support a program that constructed rural roads in nine Indian states. The program successfully enhanced road connectivity, which improved access to health services. As a result of the program, the number of babies delivered safely in hospitals and clinics instead of at home increased sharply after rural localities were connected to all-weather roads. In a project in Nepal the average travel time to health services for pregnant women was reduced by 18%, and the average travel time to seek immunization services for children was reduced by 21 %. In the energy sector, we have supported the adoption of clean cooking appliances in Bangladesh to reduce indoor pollution and its harmful health effects. Since 2012, the Second Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project has helped to provide access to 2.3 million improved cookstoves across the country. 

Improved connectivity increases economic opportunities for women

We have worked to increase women's access to non-farming jobs and economic opportunities by improving rural roads. Better roads and better transport services mean that girls can ride their bikes to school, and women can work in jobs outside their homes. For example, our support to a State Highway project in Gujarat, India helped increase average monthly earnings of women by 64%. In Nepal, improved transport access from a rural transport program we supported increased economic opportunities for women-headed households. 

Removing constraints to more and better jobs for women also involves providing training in the digital and technological skills required to compete for jobs and access economic opportunities . Our engagement with the Government of Bangladesh has contributed to achieving the Government’s goals to reducing gender gaps in the digital technology sector. The Leveraging ICT project improved employment opportunities for women in the Information Technology (IT) sector, provided opportunities for higher-value jobs and remuneration, and equipped women with digital skills that are highly fungible across other sectors. The project contributed significantly to increasing the percentage of women working in the IT and IT-Enabled Services (ITES) industry, up from 5% to 20%. 

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The right policies and interventions, coupled with gender-smart infrastructure, are key to creating opportunities and empowering women and girls.

Access to clean energy expands opportunities for women and girls

Clean, accessible energy prioritizes benefits for women and girls, for example through the provision of solar home systems in Bangladesh. As Muktilia Bhrumo, a female adopter of solar home systems observed; 
“In the past, my children would burn their hands on the kerosene lamps while I was cooking. Now, I have no such problems. Everything is so clear under the lights (powered by solar energy). The solar home system has enabled us to break out of darkness and live-in light, isn’t it good for us? Now, my elder daughter can study well at school.”

Safe and inclusive transport systems enhance women’s representation

The World Bank is supporting governments to make public transit systems safer for women to enable them to work, study, and engage in community life outside their homes.  We supported the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data on users and non-users of public transportation in 12 urban centers in India, and based on the results supported the construction of women-friendly facilities, including safe bus stops with improved visibility and ramps. Installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on buses and setting up complaint handling systems helped address safety and security concerns. Similar efforts are underway in Karachi, Pakistan where we are adopting infrastructure design features that address the needs of female users, such as separate spaces for women on buses, safe pedestrian crossings, and separate toilets in bus terminals.

Increasing women’s employment in the infrastructure sectors enhances gender equality

The World Bank supports efforts to expand women's access to jobs in infrastructure sectors, which men have typically dominated. For example, World Bank electricity distribution projects in West Bengal and Rajasthan are hiring more women to modernize and digitize electricity operations. Through WePOWER, we are working with partners to support increased participation of women in energy projects and utilities. And projects in India and Nepal have provided construction jobs for women and employment opportunities for female road maintenance workers.

Looking ahead, the World Bank is committed to closing the gender gap in infrastructure. The right policies and interventions, coupled with gender-smart infrastructure, are key to creating opportunities and empowering women and girls.  We will continue working with partners on this crucial agenda in South Asia.


Guangzhe Chen

Vice President for Infrastructure, The World Bank

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