Any given day could become an opportunity to reflect on our progress towards enhanced gender equality and highlight its intrinsic value as a driver of sustainable development. According to the OECD, if women participated in the economy identically to men, it would add up to 26% to annual global GDP. However, female economic empowerment is not the only obstacle to gender equality. When designing and implementing development projects, there is a need to address other elements of power imbalance that may be present in certain contexts and lead to a severe yet often overlooked risk that project-affected communities are exposed to: sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). If left unchecked, a project may inadvertently exacerbate these risks and deepen already existing gender inequalities.
One of the first steps to prevent SGBV is understanding and identifying these risks and all of the factors that are at play. This includes analyzing the context and cultural elements that may contribute to normalizing SGBV and reinforcing social and legal impunity.
The IDB Group’s environmental and social standards acknowledge that SGBV is a prevalent global problem and emphasize the need to screen projects as early as possible for potential gender-based risks and impacts that may disproportionately affect women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities. Both the IDB’s Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF) as well as IDB Invest’s Sustainability Policy (SP) require clients and executing agencies to identify potential gender-based risks, such as SGBV, and put in place measures to prevent and address them. The IDB Group also has tools and guidelines , such as the Gender Related Assessment Tool and the ESPS 9 Guidelines, to support the adequate screening of gender-related impacts.
These standards require looking into broader contextual risks that can be gender-specific and triggered as part of conflict, fragility, violence, human rights abuses, natural disasters, and climate change, to name a few.
Safe spaces for dialogue
To understand the context in which a project will take place, often the best source of information is the community itself. The ESPF and the SP encourage a participatory approach to identify gender-based risks and associated mitigation measures. But how to create an environment where people can freely share their thoughts without fear of retaliation?
To design a gender-sensitive consultation process, executing agencies and clients must keep in mind the importance of creating safe spaces for women to express their views and concerns, and foster the opportunity to build networks among them. Something to consider and address are the obstacles faced by women that may hinder them from participating in consultations, such as time and mobility constraints due to caring for children or the elderly, safety issues, language barriers, and less experience and self-confidence to speak in public. Executing agencies and clients must, therefore, facilitate measures to ensure women’s meaningful participation and, when necessary, convene separate culturally-appropriate meetings to allow for a more open discussion.
Confidentiality is also a key element of this participatory approach. In many cases, women may fear stigmatization from their own social circles, which have normalized gender inequality. In others, weak governance and corruption may make them particularly vulnerable to retaliation and call for stronger protection measures.
Gender-sensitive consultation processes bring awareness on the importance of targeting SGBV and strengthen and build women’s networks. Women’s civil society organizations and networks play a fundamental role in fostering democracy, raising awareness, promoting collaboration and building resilience.
Grievance channels to address SGBV
To complement its safeguard policies, the IDB Group has a grievance structure in place to receive and address complaints related to environmental and social issues, amongst them SGBV.
First, clients and executing agencies are required by IDBG policies to establish project-related grievance mechanisms. In addition, there are two channels available at the institutional level: the grievance portal (for IDB projects) and the Management-Led Grievance Mechanism (for IDB Invest projects). These channels seek to address the issues jointly with the technical teams and the client/executing agency, while at the same time strengthening their response capacity to prevent future cases. Finally, the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (MICI) manages complaints as an independent oversight office, reporting to the Board of Directors.
Regardless of the channel chosen, a gender-sensitive approach is needed for SGBV, as victims are often discouraged to file a complaint because they might be unsure about the nature of what has happened to them and fear retaliation. Therefore, grievance mechanisms need to minimize the reporting burden on victims and reduce reprisal risk with clear confidentiality principles and safe reporting rules, as well as a victim-centered approach, among other.
Creating awareness and partnerships with key stakeholders
Once the main drivers of gender-related risks are identified, it is important to bring awareness to all actors about these issues. SGBV risks and impacts may also involve third parties, such as associated facilities, subcontractors, or supply chain providers, so communicating a zero tolerance to SGBV and other gender-related risks to all stakeholders is essential. It is crucial to do so without unduly exposing victims that can be subject to retaliation and stigmatization.
Additionally, partnering with local and regional institutions that specialize in emotional and psychological support for SGBV and woman socio-economic empowerment is essential to address these risks from an integral perspective.
In terms of expanding partnerships and strengthening knowledge sharing, the international development community has been increasing its efforts to address sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (SEA/SH) in the aid sector. The IDB Group has joined 11 other multilateral finance institutions in a working group to mitigate these risks. The recently finalized website “Approaches to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment in Development Operations” was created by this working group as a knowledge sharing platform, which will soon be available to all practitioners. It includes SEA/SH guidance and technical notes; risk assessment and stakeholder engagement; survivor-centered operational frameworks, including policies and procurement procedures; grievance response mechanisms; training and capacity building both within institutions and among local stakeholders; among other topics.
SGBV and contextual risk assessment
When analyzing contextual risk in IDBG-financed projects, different factors such as social conflict, governance, retaliation risk and human rights issues must be examined in the broader environment. Adequately identifying and addressing contextual risks also means establishing safe consultation processes, ensuring gender-sensitive grievance mechanisms are in place and accessible, and providing resources like networks and partnerships. Even though these factors are often beyond the control of clients and executing agencies, they may exacerbate the risk of adverse impacts caused by or contributed to by projects and are thus an integral part of a project’s overall risk management.
How to manage contextual risks effectively starts with assessing these risks to identify the best mitigation measures. To sum up, this process could also create and strengthen safe spaces for women, build community networks, bolster democracy and enhance the sustainability outcomes of projects.