Making gender matter in infrastructure PPPs

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What solutions can MDBs offer that equip governments with the motivation, practical tools, and guidelines for making gender a central concern in the project cycle? MDBs can equip governments to make gender central in the infrastructure project cycle | © BigPixel Photo

Multilateral development banks have produced numerous guidelines on women’s inclusion in infrastructure projects as users, planners, employees, and business owners. However, there is relatively sparse guidance on how to accomplish women’s inclusion in the challenging and complex environment of infrastructure public-private partnerships (PPPs). 

While there may be intentions to integrate gender-related considerations in infrastructure PPPs (here’s a successful example in Haiti), translating them into practical measures is difficult. Project preparation for PPPs is already more costly compared to traditional public procurement and incorporating gender-related concerns may incur additional expenses.

These expenses, however, are necessary, otherwise there is no guarantee that women have equal access to infrastructure assets, nor that women can share in the prosperity that their services may bring. Given that women do more household chores and caregiving, for example, their needs for infrastructure are typically different from those of men. Women also have security concerns that should be taken into account in infrastructure planning.

A PPP risk management approach that fails to account for the differentiated needs of women and the risks that infrastructure assets may pose to them could not just lead to the loss of an entire market segment, but also squander opportunities to reduce social inequality.

The challenge is daunting. As outlined in this primer on gender equality in infrastructure PPPs, governments need to adopt measures to ensure that upstream project planning caters to women, which includes steps to strengthen enabling environments, build the capacity of project teams, and procure external firms with gender expertise  —all with cost, time, and political will implications. Gender-related commitments are also likely to increase transaction costs incurred during procurement and contract negotiations.

The challenge doesn’t end there. Even when contractual obligations on gender exist, monitoring their compliance can be organizationally challenging, given the various lines of accountability and the diverse interests of multiple stakeholders such as the government, public representatives, private developers, and subcontractors.

This is a lot to consider. How can MDBs brighten the landscape by offering some solutions that equip governments with the motivation, practical tools, and guidelines for making gender a central concern in the project cycle? How can different actors in the PPP project cycle credibly commit to women’s inclusion? 

These are some of the tricky questions that the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) and the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) seek to address in their collaborative project that aims to create a set of knowledge and advisory products on these issues. As an initial step, we conducted a desk review that identifies gaps in existing literature. While existing literature only broadly discusses the need to include women as stakeholders, our report identifies specific, targeted mechanisms to strengthen the institutional presence, access to information, and agency of women in the project cycle.

The study argues that sustainable mechanisms for women’s inclusion in infrastructure PPPs can be created by:

  1. Institutionalizing strong incentives for women’s inclusion in PPP frameworks by either creating gender sub-units or institutionalizing the role of gender specialists in national PPP units. Other measures include ensuring representation of women’s civil society organizations (CSOs) in PPP steering committees (typically established before procurement) if they exist and recruiting women with a background in activism or community service as gender specialists.
  2. Enhancing transparency by institutionalizing external communications regarding project activities so that women’s CSOs are kept abreast of latest developments and conducting procurement online in forums accessible to the public.
  3. Facilitating coordination of women as users, planners, and builders of infrastructure in the project cycle. This would entail building networks among women in target communities, project teams, PPP units, and private developers.

These points leverage the idea that there is power in numbers and go beyond the conventional recommendation to just hire more women in PPP units and project operations. We realize there is no inherent guarantee that women responsible for planning and implementing infrastructure facilities or services will act on behalf of women who will use them.

Stronger linkages among women in the project cycle could enable greater bottom-up flow of information, potentially allowing (i) women in project management teams to make a greater effort to collect data from women in the target community regarding their needs for infrastructure, and (ii) women in managerial positions with access to power and resources to design facilities and services that serve women better.

These findings were also presented during a knowledge-sharing event Integrating Gender Across the Infrastructure Lifecycle: Gap Analysis Insights organized by GIF and PPIAF.

The knowledge, advice, and practical guidelines of this project will aptly serve governments in the current economic climate. In the wake of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are looking to infrastructure PPPs as an economic stimulus and source of funding to relieve fiscal constraints. It’s more important than ever to use this stimulus investment to enable a sustainable recovery that improves social outcomes and achieves gender equality.


Related Posts

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

Moving gender-lens infrastructure investment from niche to mainstream: What will it take?

Can we better leverage PPPs to open up opportunities for women across sectors?

A new primer to help think about gender equality in infrastructure PPPs

5 ways public-private partnerships can promote gender equality

Examining public-private partnership projects through a gender lens




This blog is managed by the Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees Group of the World Bank. Learn more about our work here.



Maria Waqar

Consultant, Global Infrastructure Facility and the World Bank's Social Sustainability & Inclusion Global Practice

Jade Shu Yu Wong

Infrastructure Finance Specialist, Global Infrastructure Facility

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