Gender practice fails to live up to commitments

5 October 2007

Since June, US NGO Gender Action has published three papers illustrating the gulf between the IFIs stated commitment to gender equality and the actual gender dimension of their investments. The focus is on post-conflict reconstruction, gender accountability, and HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. All three reach the conclusion that, far from alleviating gender-based discrimination, bank loans exacerbate it.

Published in June, The gender dimensions of post-conflict reconstruction: the World Bank track record finds that only a fraction of World Bank post-conflict reconstruction initiatives focus on the needs of women. It suggests a failure on the part of the Bank to ‘meet its own promised objective to “mainstream gender” into all its investments’. Analysis of Post-Conflict Fund (PCF) grants reveals a decline in grants targeting women as a specific group, from 5.4 per cent of funds in 2002 to 3.8 per cent in 2006. Of the 14 PCF projects examined in detail, 10 (71 per cent) fail to address gender issues. PCF projects continue to have a traditional ‘Women in Development’ approach, overlooking the need to address the underlying causes of women’s poverty, especially the differentiated roles of men and women in a post-conflict environment. It is therefore extremely important, “in the post-conflict environment, that program design pay attention to how gender roles, responsibilities, relations and power affect and are affected by the achievement of mainstream program results”.

Gender justice – a citizen’s guide to gender accountability at the IFIs, published with the Center for International Environmental Law in July, compares IFI accountability mechanisms and gender policies. Accountability mechanisms have tended to focus on claims of environmental damage, but could be useful tools for addressing the gender-related impacts of IFI projects. Mechanisms were evaluated on the basis of the scope of their jurisdiction, and the types of impacts that can and cannot be considered. The analysis revealed that the Asian and African Development Banks have the strongest gender policies. They are followed by the World Bank, whose effectiveness is undermined by the fact that its gender policy does not cover policy-based lending (which often imposes socio-economically harmful reforms such as privatisation of healthcare and water supply, the impact of which falls disproportionately on marginalised groups, like women and children). Overall, gender policies at the IFIs were found to be “weak, poorly resourced, understaffed and lacking incentives for staff to engender their work”.

The third paper, published in September, Mapping multilateral development banks’ reproductive health and HIV/AIDS spending, finds that “despite firm commitments by the MDBs to achieving MDG reproductive health and HIV/AIDS targets”, there has been “a recent decline in World Bank spending and dearth of other MDB support” over the past few years. Average World Bank expenditure on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS was less than 6 per cent of total spending in 2003-06. The report found that the policies and practices of the banks themselves were among the biggest obstacles to fulfilment of their goals. This includes downsizing of the public sector, privatisation of public services, imposition of wage bill ceilings and user fees and the promotion of intellectual property rights, which limit the availability of healthcare among the poorest, a large proportion of which are women.