How a Community-Led Response to Sexual Exploitation in Uganda Led to Systemic World Bank Reform

Date: June 2018
Authors: Elana Berger
Publication type: Accountability Note
Published by: Accountability Research Center, Bank Information Center

How can demands for accountability and redress for harm suffered in a particular case contribute to new institutional measures to prevent future abuse? This note describes how the small Ugandan community of Bigodi, together with local, national, and international allies, mobilized to demand redress for harm done by a World Bank-funded infrastructure project, and in doing so, catalyzed changes at the World Bank aimed at preventing similar abuses in the future.

The Bigodi community’s 2015 request to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, bolstered by international media coverage, led Bank management to respond both to the specific harms and to the underlying policy failures that made them possible. The community called for the World Bank to address cases of sexual exploitation of teenage girls by construction workers employed by a Bank-funded project, the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project (TSDP). This case is significant not only because World Bank funding for the project was cancelled, affected community members received needed support services, and a corrupt government agency was purged, but because the institutional changes made may prevent similar harms across future World Bank projects.

The World Bank promotes a discourse of accountability, and yet obtaining redress when problems result from World Bank projects is difficult. This is often because, rather than treating requests from communities to the Inspection Panel as an opportunity to learn lessons and improve development outcomes, World Bank management generally responds defensively and treats the Panel investigation as an adversarial process in which they seek to prove the requestors wrong. As this case demonstrates, however, when management responds constructively to Panel investigations, genuine reform can take place. For this to happen, pressure from outside the Bank is needed to provide reformers within the Bank with the opportunity to make needed policy changes both at the project level and Bank-wide. The factors that led the Bank to respond constructively with a comprehensive response in the TSDP case included:

– a strong community–NGO partnership which pursued justice for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse

– sustained advocacy from national and international civil society

– high-profile media attention on a topic that caused embarrassment for the Bank

– a strong report from an independent accountability mechanism within the World Bank (the Inspection Panel)

– pressure from the Bank’s Board of Directors, in particular frequent engagement from the US government with all levels of Bank management

– high-level individuals within the Bank, including President Kim, were committed to making policy changes that would reduce the risk of gender-based violence in the future.

This case embodies the potential for specific instances of harm to provide the necessary catalyst for improved accountability structures and system-wide change.

Elana Berger

Elana Berger is the Interim Executive Director at the Bank Information Center (BIC), an international NGO focused on influencing the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions to promote social and economic justice and ecological sustainability. She is a human rights lawyer with significant experience working on human rights at the international level. Prior to coming to BIC, she lived in Thailand working for Burma Partnership where she helped local civil society groups report on human rights violations committed by the Burmese military. Elana received her Juris Doctor from Columbia University School of Law and a holds a B.A. in Political Science and History from the University of Maryland.

Working together to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse: recommendations for World Bank investment projects

July 2017
Geeta Rao Gupta and Katherine Sierra
World Bank

On October 2016, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim established an independent Task Force of external experts to provide guidance on how to strengthen Bank systems, tools and processes to prevent and mitigate against risk of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), as well as other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), in World Bank-supported infrastructure and other area-based investment projects. The Task Force was created in response to findings emerging from an Inspection Panel investigation of the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project, which found evidence of a range of severe impacts related to sexual misconduct, including with minors, exploitation and abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. The resulting impacts reflected a profound abrogation of responsibility by all parties involved, including by the Bank, to protect the safety, dignity and well-being of affected communities. Preventing or mitigating against project-related risk of sexual exploitation and abuse requires interaction and collaboration between five key groups of actors. These include: (i) women and children at risk, as well as other vulnerable populations, in communities where Bank-financed projects take place; (ii) communities that can play a role as dynamic risk management actors in expanding the circle of protection; (iii) contractors and consultants responsible for following contractually mandated social and labor practices that prevent abuse and violence; (iv) government partners at central and local levels who are critical to ensuring that SEA prevention and accountability mechanisms are in place; (v) and finally, the World Bank, which can put in place the policies and systems to prevent such incidents and play a convening role to facilitate partnerships that allow each of these actors, including the World Bank itself, to take on their respective roles and accountabilities to protect women and children from grievous harm.

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Global gender-based violence task force: action plan for implementation

November 2017
World Bank

This Action Plan is derived from a review of every recommendation presented in the Task Force Report, and of these priorities. The Action Plan consolidates and groups the recommendations across key institutional areas which reference the above outlined priorities of the Task Force Report. The primary actions are: develop a methodology for assessing the risk of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA)/ Gender-Based Violence(GBV); develop guidance and training materials to build staff/client capacity to address risks of SEA/GBV; develop an internal Reporting and Response Protocol to guide Bank staff in case of incidence; strengthen operational processes to address SEA/GBV; develop internal and external outreach campaigns; ensure budget is available for TF recommendations; and ensure continuous learning to improve capacity to address SEA/GBV.

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