International financial institutions

Left ArrowAdvocacy opportunities with Financing for Development Purple Dot International financial institutions: National-level advocacyRight Arrow


International financial institutions

In Section VI, we discuss the role of international financial institutions and their impact on women’s human rights, especially IMF, World Bank, and the regional development banks. We also include some feminist critiques of the work and methodology of these institutions. However, a gender perspective in these institutions is quite recent.

In this section, we examine some pressure points and advocacy opportunities within IFIs and national governments that can be used to promote gender equality and women’s human rights. We focus particularly on the IMF and World Bank and their relationship with national governments, including how they influence national-level policy-making and economic decisions.

Covered in our previous discussions is also the fact that macroeconomic policy-making often happens behind closed doors, with little information made publicly available. For precisely this reason, the important first steps are: advocating for and monitoring the availability of information and data relating to IFI policies and their impact on national-level policy-making, and strengthening general public awareness around this. Using critical feminist analysis, it would be helpful to regularly examine the websites of the IFIs, and examine the available information (as well as the information that is not available).1The IMF’s specific webpage on your country, or its COVID-specific Info Hub, could be helpful places to look into. The Article IV Reports Scanner, developed by the Bretton Woods Project and hosted by the IMF Monitor Website, is another tool that can be helpful for information gathering.

Another pressure point is using monitoring on the effects of macroeconomic policies enforced by IFIs on structural adjustment programmes, or the projects IFIs are supporting within the country. Advocacy at the national level towards national decision makers can be one of the avenues for advocacy, while advocacy towards IFIs is a second avenue that can be employed. For example, where an infrastructure or other large-scale project financed by an IFI could lead to violations of women’s human rights upon implementation, the IFI may have internal review or other processes to address the issue. Forming national, regional, and/or international alliances with different civil society movements (e.g. environment, workers’ rights, right to water movements, etc.) can help advocacy both at the national and at the IFIs level.2The #CancelTheDebt campaign is a recent example of alliance building among different movements advocating on the macroeconomic policies of IFIs. It was initiated by Avaaz, CAFOD, Oxfam, Global Justice Now, and Jubilee Debt Campaign. The campaign was calling for the cancelling of all external debts of the developing and underdeveloped countries for 2020, to allow these countries to rather focus on COVID-19 response and recuperations. The call was made ahead of the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting, which was held on 15 April 2020, where such a decision could be given by the states and the IFIs. On 1 May 2020, the IMF and World Bank started a debt suspension programme for countries which were eligible for International Development Association (IDA) financing, and which had requested this suspension. The IMF and World Bank have also called on private creditors to participate in the initiative.

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Another methodology is advocacy directly with IFIs to increase the gender perspective in their rules of procedures. IFIs, especially the IMF and the World Bank, are global norm-setters in economic policy-making; they produce information and influence the narrative on international development and finance throughout the world. Furthermore, IFIs have power over the decisions of debts of the countries they lend money to. This means IFIs have significant influence over macroeconomic policies at the national level, which then makes this approach potentially very effective.

In 2011, Bretton Woods Project and Gender Action undertook a global campaign to include women’s rights as a core value in the World Bank 2012 World Development Report (WDR). As a result, the 2012 WDR came out with women’s rights included as a core value. It was “the first time that the World Bank, the world’s largest and most influential development institution, has devoted its flagship publication to gender.”3Bedford, K. (8 February 2012). Gender WDR: Limits, gaps, and fudges. Bretton Woods Project.

More recently, women’s human rights and gender equality discussions find more space within the institution, including the gender strategy and gender action plans of the World Bank.4Floor Knoote. (2019). Maintaining a Role for Women’s Organisations in International Development Finance: A guide on how to effectively engage with international financial institutions in the MENA region on gender equality and civil space. Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation. However, an instrumentalist approach to women’s rights which includes women in further neoliberal policies, was not totally transformed into a rights-based approach. For example, the inclusion of women in the workforce is seen as an important step, primarily for the economy, but also for gender equality. Yet the proposed measures for this increase actually disregard women’s care burden, and do not propose services that should be provided by the state to have a more balanced division of care labour between the state and the individuals.

Another example is workers’ rights: without strong, institutionalised rights for workers, adding more women to the work force only increases the number of people working in poor conditions and without access to decent wages. For these reasons and many more, advocacy towards the institution by civil society organisations continues.5Zuckerman, E. (December 2018). A Guide to Women’s Rights and Environmental Justice Advocacy on International Financial Institutions. Both ENDS and Gender Action.6Some civil society and women’s rights organisations that work substantively on the intersections of gender equality and macroeconomic policies include: Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development; LATINDADD – Red Latinoamericana por Justicia Económica y Social; AFRODAD – African Forum and Network on Debt and Development; FEMNET – The African Women’s Development and Communication Network; APWLD – Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Gender and Development Network. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to serve as a starting point for further research.

On the other hand, the IMF started to ponder the gendered implications of its work only in 2013, and put out a ‘gender guidance’ for its country-level officials in 2018. Paragraph 26 of the guidance mandates that “Country teams should also think about the impact of other macroeconomic policies on gender”.7International Monetary Fund. (June 2018). How to Operationalize Gender Issues in Country Work. This mandate is an important entry point into advocacy with the IMF at the country level.8Bretton Woods Project. (2019). Keeping the IMF accountable on women’s rights and gender equality at the national level [Chart]. Bretton Woods Project.

There are also accountability mechanisms within IFIs. People whose rights have been violated by IFI policies, programmes, or projects they have financed, can take their complaints to these mechanisms. Possible outcomes include project cancellations, modifications, compensations, as well as no action. The World Bank Inspection Panel is the first accountability mechanism initiated by the World Bank in 1993, as a response to the protests in India against the Bank’s funding of the Narmada Dam.

Different IFIs have established different independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) over the years.9For example, in 1999 the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) (the private sector arms of the World Bank Group) formed the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). Moreover, regional IFIs also have IAMs. A good comparative table for different IFIs and how they can be utilised for advocacy can be accessed at:$file/informationmatrix-accountabilitymechanisms_14october2016.pdf Information about how to access these mechanisms can be limited and concerns have been raised about their independence from the IFI machinery itself.10For more information, please refer to the Accountability Council’s Accountability Mechanisms: Benefits and Best Practices for International Financial Institutions. Nonetheless, they may provide pressure points for strengthening accountability for the impact of IFIs on gender equality and can be used in combination with other advocacy strategies.11For example, in 2019, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman under World Bank released a ‘Guidance Note on Gender Inclusive Dispute Resolution’. These kinds of policy documents can provide strategic entry points for advocacy with international financial institutions.


Left ArrowAdvocacy opportunities with Financing for Development Purple Dot International financial institutions: National-level advocacyRight Arrow





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