Are women a minority if they count for at least half of your infrastructure PPP demand?

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A black female engineer holds a tablet and walkie talkie while checking the progress of an infrastructure project in Haiti A black female engineer holds a tablet and walkie talkie while checking the progress of an infrastructure project in Haiti

How can women possibly be considered a minority group? Yes—by and large, women do not share the same power, privilege, and opportunities as men—yet, defining half of the world population as a minority always seemed strange to me. We can see this play out in infrastructure finance, for instance. I began exploring the impact of private sector involvement in infrastructure on gender disparities in the course of developing a series of papers and as I delved deeper into this research, I found the idea of treating women's needs as secondary even more perplexing.

Considering potential demand and use of any infrastructure project, including the ones developed using a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement, is vital for the overall project bankability and revenue. Therefore, treating the preferences of half of a project demand as something of a second order by most stakeholders including financial investors and project sponsors – sounds as illogical as calling women a minority.  

To understand such a contradictory practice in the field of PPPs, the Public-Private Infrastructure Facility (PPIAF) and the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) interviewed 18 private investors and lenders with solid experience in financing infrastructure projects in developing economies. We wanted to understand how they perceive gender inequality in the projects in which they invested, and the importance of gender considerations in investment decisions. 

Some of the findings were predictable since infrastructure had always been perceived as gender-neutral and apolitical. Most of the respondents have never taken into consideration the need for (i) understanding how infrastructure can perpetuate, exacerbate, or alleviate gender inequality in society, (ii) collecting data on how women’s inclusion in infrastructure can improve the financial performance of investments, and (iii) the creation of standards on criteria to screen interventions that could reduce gender gaps in a given project.

Despite the current practice, the truth is that depending on how infrastructure is planned, it can be deeply exclusionary if masculine sensibilities and preferences solely determine the design.  Some investors are starting to realize and address this. Interviews also revealed that active investors and funds recognize the need to explicitly consider gender in the project appraisal and screening stages. Currently, these financial institutions do this by assessing risks around gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and exploitation in the communities where the project will occur. Although this is somewhat limited, it is a start and provides a glimpse of the powerful role private investors can play in incentivizing gender equality measures.

We developed three case studies analyzing projects in Haiti, Türkiye, and Vietnam, with project sizes varying from $500k to $2.5 million in the energy sector. All projects selected have incorporated gender measures at different stages of the project cycle to close gender gaps. Lessons learned from these cases include: 

  1. Unfortunately, integration of gender equality measures into infrastructure PPPs is still in its infancy; 
  2. Projects tend to incorporate gender-related measures only when they were required by lenders and investors  – which once again reaffirms the power and responsibility of such stakeholders; 
  3. Governments can also influence the project through its design and procurement requirements; 
  4.  Importantly, including gender considerations in the projects did not make it more expensive nor reduce the private appetite for it. 

Although this is a nascent space in infrastructure, the evidence is robust enough to make stakeholders stop treating women as a minority and consider them for what they are: at least half of infrastructure project demand.  To help us get this right, PPIAF and GIF are now working on a PPP Gender Toolkit that will provide practical guidance on how to close gender gaps at all stages of the project cycle. The toolkit is an essential resource that will help infrastructure projects reach their potential and fully serve the communities for which they are created.  

Stay tuned for this transformative tool!


Related Posts

Making gender matter in infrastructure PPPs 

Haiti: A bright light for practical gender considerations in infrastructure PPPs 


Luciana Guimaraes Drummond e Silva

Infrastructure Specialist, Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) / Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees (IPG) Group, World Bank

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