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Do Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) Address Gender?
A Gender Audit of 2002 PRSPs

Elaine Zuckerman1 and Ashley Garrett2

A Gender Action Publication

Posted with permission of Elaine Zuckerman, Gender Action. Copyright Gender Action 2003. Website:
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Since the World Bank and International Monetary Fund introduced PRSPs as a prerequisite for borrowing by its poorest and transition country clients, they have become de facto national plans with budgets. To achieve their poverty reduction targets, PRSPs must address the gender dimensions of poverty including promoting women's rights and commit to other gender responsive interventions. Unengendered PRSPs implicitly reinforce unequal gender patterns that hinder development. This audit of the 13 PRSPs produced during 2002 demonstrates that 3 PRSPs address gender issues commendably if not completely (Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia). Another 8 PRSPs spottily apply an outdated Women in Development approach, defining gender issues as reproductive health, girls' education and a few other issues that vary by country. The remaining two PRSPs almost neglect gender. Only two PRSPs promote women's rights (Malawi, Rwanda). No PRSPs engender structural adjustment measures like trade liberalization and privatisation. Most PRSPs state women are included in their participatory consultations but none break down the numbers of men and women consulted or indicate whether their surveys included gender related questions. Few PRSP data are sex-disaggregated. Rwanda's is the only PRSP that tries to engender expenditures wherever possible. The analysis also found that the majority of Joint Staff Assessments that accompany PRSPs to the Bank and Fund Boards contain superficial gender analyses.

Background: Why PRSPs Must be Engendered

Since the World Bank and International Monetary Fund launched Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in 1999 in response to civil society demands to reduce the unsustainable debt that poor developing countries owed these multilateral financial institutions, development organizations have scrutinized PRSP performance. Multilateral institutions themselves, bilateral aid agencies and civil society organizations (CSOs) have held a magnifying glass to PRSPs to assess the extent to which they reflect participatory consultations and promote HIV-AIDs prevention, disease immunization, trade liberalization, debt reduction, gender equality and many other goals.

The Bank and the Fund introduced PRSPs as a prerequisite for the poorest countries participating in the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative to have their Bank and Fund debts reduced. Subsequently, the Bank and the Fund have introduced PRSPs in non-HIPC low-income developing and transition countries (World Bank 2002). Mandatory PRSPs have come to legitimize Bank and Fund lending in increasing numbers of developing and transition countries.

PRSPs have become de facto Bank and Fund mandated national economic plans directed at reducing poverty. They are supposed to be country-owned, expressing not only government but also broad civil society interests solicited through a participatory process. Many PRSPs are still in draft, many others have yet to be formulated, and existing PRSPs will be reformulated periodically to reflect changing needs.

PRSPs must be engendered because research compellingly correlates greater gender equality with more equal human rights for men and women, and greater poverty reduction and economic growth (World Bank 2001a). Although women's status has improved in most countries over the last half century, gender disparities persist everywhere and remain most acute in the poorest countries. Across and within countries, gender disparities in rights, mortality rates, education, health, political participation, financial assets and other indicators are greatest within poorer income groups. Gender inequalities impose large costs on the well-being and health of the poor, diminishing their productivity and potential to reduce poverty and ensure economic growth. In most societies women have more limited opportunities to enjoy rights, express needs, improve economic conditions and access services than do men (Bamberger et al 2001).

Although women and men share many of the burdens of poverty, they frequently experience poverty differently, have different poverty reduction priorities and are affected differently by development interventions. Usually women and girls bear the brunt of gender inequalities. Identifying and redressing these inequalities tends to have high social, economic and financial returns (Bamberger et al 2001). Nevertheless, as this audit demonstrates, PRSPs have a weak track record on identifying and addressing gender inequalities. Addressing the gender dimensions of poverty and creating gender responsive interventions enhances the likelihood of success of poverty reduction strategy efforts. If PRSPs are not engendered, they implicitly reinforce unequal gender patterns that hinder development. Thus PRSPs must be engendered.

Gender Action, a new non-profit promoting women's rights and gender equality in multilateral financial institution investments, policies and strategies, has made PRSPs a major gender mainstreaming target because PRSPs play a critical role in country eligibility for multilateral and most bilateral investments and because they determine national investment priorities. Deeper sector examples of why PRSPs must mainstream gender are presented in Zuckerman 2002d and a description of tools available to mainstream gender into PRSPs is available in Zuckerman 2001, 2002a and Bamberger et al 2001.

The remainder of this report analyzes the gender track record primarily of all 2002 PRSPs and also of all 2002 Joint Staff Assessments that accompany PRSPs when they are sent to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Boards of Directors. The report ends by drawing conclusions based on this analysis.

  1. Elaine Zuckerman - President and Founder of Gender Action. E-mail:
  2. Ashley Garrett - External Relations and Program Development, International Organization for Migration. E-mail:

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