The socio-economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown back women’s rights gains by several decades, while a new wave of IMF-supported austerity policies threatens to push women further into the role of crisis shock absorbers. Against this backdrop, the IMF is developing its first-ever gender mainstreaming strategy with the ambition to integrate a gender lens across core operations in lending, surveillance and technical assistance.
In March 2022, a group of 16 civil society and women’s rights organisations, together with an additional 30 signatories submitted a joint statement in response to the IMF’s concept note of this strategy, formulating a set of key policy asks grounded in a commitment to critically assess the gendered impact of the Fund’s conventional fiscal, monetary, and labour market policy advice.
The statement highlights that while the ambitions of the strategy are encouraging and clearly reflect several past civil society demands – such as operationalisation of gender in surveillance, development of more complex and accurate economic models, better collaboration with outside experts, and a commitment not to exacerbate gender inequality – critical gaps remain in terms of translating these commitments into clear targets, operational guidance, and meaningful action steps. In particular, a stronger focus should be put on analysing how Fund-endorsed standard macroeconomic policies continue to undermine women’s rights, and putting robust practices in place to prevent and mitigate such impacts.
The statement was co-drafted by representatives from:
- Action Aid International
- Bretton Woods Project
- CARE International
- Center for Economic and Social Rights
- Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales
- Christian Aid
- Gender Action
- Global Alliance for Tax Justice
- IWRAW Asia Pacific
- The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
- Oxfam International
- Third World Network
- Women’s Major Group.
The group formulates 3 key asks for the Gender Strategy:
1. Articulate a clear vision of the IMF’s work on gender equality rooted in a macro-economic paradigm shift and commitment to do no harm
While the IMF has previously acknowledged adverse gender impacts of macroeconomic policies, policy action to tackle this issue has been insufficient thus far. The Fund’s narrow, instrumentalist approach focused on women’s labour force participation and growth fails to recognize that many of the IMF’s conventional macroeconomic policy frameworks, recommendations and assessments have adverse effects and implications for women’s economic and social rights, livelihoods, and well-being.
The strategy must lay out a clear, comprehensive, overarching vision with long-term objectives for HOW and WHEN the Fund should engage on gender (or not).
- The IMF Gender Strategy should lay out an institutional framework to meaningfully integrate a gender equality analysis across its core mandate. This should focus on reformulating fiscal, monetary and structural policy content toward upholding gender equality and women’s economic and social rights at the outset.
- This commitment to “do no harm” needs to be translated into concrete operational guidance, safeguards, and recourse mechanisms that are systematically applied. The first step must be inward-looking gender impact assessments of the Fund’s bread and butter macro work, and accountability for the results, including a commitment to pursuing alternative policies where negative impacts are likely (e.g. austerity).
- This vision should commit to include all dimensions of gender equality and other intersecting discriminations, especially unpaid care work, time poverty, and decent work, in developing the Fund’s impact modelling work.
- This vision should also spell out a framework for how the IMF’s gender work should relate to that of other institutions beyond the World Bank, and how collaborations can be leveraged to inform the IMF’s approach.
- The IMF should reconsider its approach to the public sector and economic value, such as re-valuing the role of investment in social infrastructure and social care, advancing the economic accounting of unpaid (care) work, and getting serious about alternative policies to austerity.
2. Commit resources
The authors remain gravely concerned about the lack of staff capacity at the Fund to conduct meaningful gender analysis at scale, including the lack of expertise on feminist macroeconomics. There has been little to no commitment in the IMF’s regular operational budget to fund rigorous gender research and expand staff capacity for feminist economists and specialists in gender equality and macroeconomic policies. The Board urgently needs to make the appropriate resources available to enable the IMF to:
- Hire the requisite staff with feminist macro-economic expertise
- Conduct training across the organisation, and invest in the change management needed to align incentives to conduct regular operations differently
- Fund relevant research and development of new models
- Conduct a Gender Responsive Budgeting exercise of the Fund’s own budget
3. Invest in meaningful external engagement to build knowledge on gender and macro-economics
The Fund’s engagement with civil society remains unsystematic and often superficial. Consultation often involves limited engagement with women’s rights organisations from the Global South, lacking meaningful participation of diverse women in the policy decisions that impact their lives. The IMF should:
- Adopt a clear policy of systematic, timely, and transparent engagement and consultation with civil society, including gender justice organisations, across its operations and their life cycles.
- Include a mechanism for independent accountability that goes beyond consultation and that is responsive to community complaints.
- Appoint a specific gender CSO liaison.
Expert bodies and international organisations
Alliances and more formal partnerships should be established between the IMF and agencies such as UN Women, the ILO, CEDAW, UNICEF, UNFPA, etc., special procedure mandate holders of the UN Human Rights Council, who have in recent years scaled up their work on the relationship between macroeconomic policies and human rights. These should take the form of publicly available Memoranda of Understanding that detail shared objectives and spell out the delineation of mandates.
Lastly, the Fund’s engagement with and knowledge of feminist economists and their work should be expanded. Publications on gender in relation to tax and fiscal policy, debt, as well as social, labour, and monetary policy, drawing out how women are impacted differentially by seemingly gender-neutral macro-economic policy decisions, are widely available. Given the IMF is coming “late to the game” by its own admission, getting up to speed on the significant body of work produced by feminist economists over the past four decades should be a priority.