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UN holds Pakistan to account for IMF programme impacts on women

7 April 2020

CEDAW Committee member Hiroko Akizuki discusses impacts of IMF conditionality on women in Pakistan at the 75th session of the CEDAW Committee.

CEDAW Committee member Hiroko Akizuki discusses impacts of IMF conditionality on women in Pakistan at the 75th session of the CEDAW Committee. Photo: UNWeb TV.

In February, a member of the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the independent UN body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the CEDAW Convention, questioned the government of Pakistan about the impacts on women’s rights of the $6 billion IMF loan agreed in July 2019 (see Observer Spring 2019).

The Committee member, Hiroko Akizuki, argued that regressive taxation measures and the rising costs of services resulting from IMF-mandated fiscal consolidation targets, “have had devastating impacts on household costs and have pushed many women back into informal labour and poverty.” The government was asked whether the impacts of the programme had been assessed from a gender perspective and whether measures had been taken to reduce harmful impacts on women’s rights, other than the further targeting of existing social protection programmes (see Observer Spring 2018). In response to the intervention, Bilquis Tahira with Pakistan-based civil society organisation (CSO) Shirakat – Partnership for Development, noted, “It is high time that civil society voices on women’s economic rights are heard; that CSOs are included in IMF programme negotiations and reviews; and the current macroeconomic framework underpinning IMF loans be replaced with a feminist-informed macroeconomic framework.”

In a shadow report submitted to the Committee, Shirakat and civil society partners reported that the latest IMF programme had been termed, “the toughest in Pakistan’s history,” and once again heavily relied on fiscal consolidation measures. It also cautioned that, as is common practice, the fiscal consolidation targets were classed as mandatory ‘performance criteria’ within the IMF programme, while social spending aims were only classed as ‘indicative targets’ (see Observer Summer 2017). As a result, according to the first review under the programme in December 2019, “the government reported that spending on cash transfers, health and education each fell short of their targets, while all performance criteria that cut or froze public sector jobs providing crucial public services were observed.” The shadow report further pointed out that, in its Country Partnership Framework for Pakistan, the World Bank Group stipulated that additional policy loans are dependent on the completion of the IMF programme (see Briefing, The World Bank and Gender Equality: Development Policy Financing), adding additional pressure to fulfill the programme’s conditions.

It is high time that civil society voices on women’s economic rights are heard; that CSOs are included in IMF programme negotiations and reviews; and the current macroeconomic framework underpinning IMF loans be replaced with a feminist-informed macroeconomic framework.Bilquis Tahira, Shirakat – Partnership for Development

The intervention came on the back of a letter sent to IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, in February on behalf of 67 civil society organisations working for gender equality and women’s rights. The letter echoed the assertion of Akizuki, arguing that, “policies still commonly recommended in IMF surveillance and lending programmes, especially fiscal consolidation, regressive taxation and labour flexibilisation, have exacerbated the feminisation of poverty.” It went on to say that, “This has had the effect of pushing women into informal, low-waged work, increased their unpaid care burdens, and negatively impacted on their access to education, health and social protection” (see Observer Winter 2019). The letter called on Georgieva to institutionalise the IMF’s recent recognition that its own policy advice can exacerbate gender inequality and to prioritise gender, inequality and poverty impact assessment work relating to the Fund’s bread-and-butter macroeconomic policy advice (see Briefing, The IMF and Gender Equality: Operationalising Change).