How the Women of the World Bank Are Aiming to Combat Gender Inequality Commentary
Photo courtesy of the author.
How the Women of the World Bank Are Aiming to Combat Gender Inequality
Edited by: JURIST Staff

As the World Bank advances the WBG Gender Strategy 2024-30 for global development, innovative engagement on gender equality is becoming urgent. At this critical juncture, recent stocktaking reports underscore the Bank’s commitment to gender parity and external collaboration, driving transformative change in closing gender gaps.

Building on the important progress made by the World Bank, and taking into account lessons learned over the last 10 years of promoting women’s empowerment, many of us women lawyers at the Bank have been reflecting on both the say and the stake we have in developing the gender equality roadmap. As we add our voices to the Bank-wide efforts to advance gender equality, we cannot help but think of the continuous challenges that women in legal and integrity professions continue to face in our client countries, and how we can propel our convening power at the Bank to amplify women’s voices in the legal profession to change the narrative around their participation and agency.

To that end, we organized a first-of-its-kind gender stream on women’s empowerment at the World Bank’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA), held earlier this summer in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Our main inspiration as senior women lawyers working within the World Bank was to bring the benefits of gender diversity in legal integrity professions to the forefront, raise awareness about the challenges faced by women in these professions across countries, and identify actions that drive women’s inclusion and best practices for capitalizing on gender-specific assets, networking, and optimizing relationships in support of women’s empowerment. In line with the Bank’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we secured the Bank’s full backing to this women’s convening, thus accomplishing a dual effect of advocating for the integrity agenda on the global stage, and for the women legal professionals across Africa and other participating countries to reaffirm their commitment to building transparency and accountability through enhancing their sense of professional empowerment through the power of coalitions.

The Forum united remarkable women legal professionals from Abidjan to Rabat, to bridge the gap between dialogue and action to further strengthen collective efforts against corruption and reaffirm commitment to contributing to transparency and accountability around the world. But the Forum also added tremendous value by strengthening networks of women lawyers and legal professionals from Africa and beyond, using an intergenerational approach. The Forum cultivated connections between women legal professional leaders and youth advocates from Africa and globally from the legal, judicial, civil society, and policy circles -in one stance- to define current linkages between corruption and gender issues, and explore possible synergies between the ongoing efforts in their respective countries to strengthen integrity and tackle corruption, on the one hand; and promote women’s empowerment and role in the legal and integrity profession, on the other. The Forum focused on the importance of coalition building with the participation of global coalitions, such as the UN’s Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (GlobeE), Transparency International, and Accountability Lab, recognizing that advancing gender equality requires a multi-sectoral approach that acknowledges law as a catalyst for change but, equally important is the adequate representation of women in the profession for an equitable administration of justice, as a building block for any rule of law system. Discrimination against women lawyers limits gender equity more broadly, and investing in women lawyers and legal professionals, generally, is a key step in countering this reality and pushing gender equality forward. That is why, the women at the forum have chosen to launch the Africa Women Integrity Network to sustain and deepen the momentum that they have created, explore ways to exchange on mentorship and training to bolster the next generation of women lawyers across Africa and remain connected with peers from across the globe to continue highlighting good practices and successful women in this field as role models.

Women in Law Collective Action: What’s Next?

Mentorship and role models are proven to have a positive effect in inspiring women to embark on or progress in legal careers. Such role models are embodied in women lawyers across the African continent who are proving that assertion by using the law to create a better world anchored on the rule of law, good governance, and anti-corruption. However, despite their impact, women in the legal profession and more so in the integrity and anti-corruption sphere continue to face multiple challenges, including being harassed, dismissed, ignored, or ridiculed because of persisting gender biases, patriarchal power relations, and behaviors, as well as legal discriminatory structures and practices. These are women who work with conviction, courage, and compassion and in the Forum, some of these trailblazing women leaders shared their inspiring parcours: From Malawi’s first women Anti-Corruption Bureaus Director-General, magistrate Martha Chizuma, who has persistently demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption while defying gender roles in the country, to Francine Aka-Anghui, the President of the Women Lawyers Association/Association des Femmes Juristes de Côte d’Ivoire who exudes leadership and courage in action to advance transparency and good governance and expand the network of women lawyers to pave the way for the younger generation of women lawyers in Côte d’Ivoire to be equitably represented in the legal sphere. For North Africa, Tunisia’s Judge Monia Ammar, and Maître Fatima Zohra Boukaissi two pioneering Maghreb names in advancing the administration of justice while challenging gender stereotypes against women inside and outside the courtroom stand as role models to me in terms of boldness and leadership. These women African role models paved the way for women like myself to enter the legal profession and to dream, boldly, about how we could use and shape the law to create a more equal world. These courageous women are a reminder to the new generation of women legal professionals to persevere in the face of restrictive social gender norms, stagnant mindsets, discriminatory legal structures, and practices that usually discourage African women from thriving in the legal sphere.

In the Forum, women discussed opportunities to concert efforts and take action on overcoming such challenges, with topics including the forthcoming launch of the Africa Women Integrity Network, which arose from the ICHA forum. Participants  highlighted the need for more focused consideration of women as essential to anticorruption efforts given the growing recognition of gender as an important factor in both gauging the impact of and endeavoring to address corruption.

There was also a general consensus on the benefits of gender diversity in the fight against corruption. Everybody has a role to play, and a more inclusive and level playing field is essential to ensure that women feel empowered to bring their ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the table, especially given the intersecting challenges they face in addition to being a woman — such as race, ethnicity, and age.

Through the Forum, the participants increased their  awareness of common gender biases that put women at a disadvantage across countries and how to counter them, through the power of networking and national, regional, and global networks in support of women’s empowerment, with an emphasis on the younger generation of women in the profession.

Here, one pressing point that emerged from the working sessions  is for women to believe in their strengths as a pre-requisite to recover from the imposter syndrome they encounter in this male dominated profession. There was also emphasis  on  the relevance of  allyship across genders in the workplace so that women and men are involved, concertedly,  in the discussion and fight for equitable opportunities. Maître Boukaissi, stressed the importance of women to women legal empowerment in the profession and cited the example of the North Africa Adala Network in providing an enabling environment for women legal professionals to gain access to continuing legal education and mentorship tailored to their contextual specificities by other women who understand their regions and cultural contexts. This program serves myriad benefits, including fostering expertise sharing among women legal professionals across generations, and opening up new opportunities to women who might otherwise struggle to find them.

Dr. Leila Hanafi, Moroccan-American lawyer,  senior staff member at the World Bank Group and Chair of the World Bank Group Women for Development Alliance and adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School’s International and Comparative Law Program.

Suggested citation: Leila Hanafi, How the Women of the World Bank Are Aiming to Combat Global Gender Inequality, JURIST – Professional Commentary, August 10, 2023,

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