world bank against women

jones/bhandari djones at
Fri Sep 15 20:24:18 MDT 1995

Many people here also participate on the progressive economists' line.  I
apologize to them for resending this post; perhaps others will find it
important.  rb



                           Michel Chossudovsky

                          Professor of Economics
                           University of Ottawa

The World Bank has become the defender of Women's Rights urging
national governments to "invest more in women in order to reduce
gender inequality and boost economic development". Two World Bank
reports were presented at the United Nations Fourth Conference on
Women in Beijing entitled "Toward Gender Equality: The Role of
Public Policy" and "Advanced Gender Equality: From Concept to
Action:"[T]he Bank is to promote gender equality as a matter of
social justice and enhance women's participation in economic
development."(World Bank, The Gender Issue as Key to Development,
Washington,HCO,95/01 p. 1).

Through its Women In Development Programme (WID) adopted throughout
the developing World, the WB dictates the ground rules on gender
policy. A "market oriented" approach to gender is prescribed, a
monetary value is attached to gender equality: women's programmes
are to be framed in relation to the "opportunity cost" and
"efficiency" of women rights. While recognising the possibility of
"market failure" (and consequently the need for State
intervention), the WB contends that "free markets" broadly support
the "empowerment of women" and the achievement of gender equality:
" It is critical that governments take the lead where markets fail
to capture the full benefits to society of investment in women...
Investments in women are vital in achieving economic efficiency and

The WB acts as a custodian, it determines the concepts,
methodological categories and data base used to analyse gender
issues. The "donor community" controls the institutional framework
(at the country level) including the Women s Bureau and the
Ministry of Women's Affairs. Because the WB constitutes the main
source of funding, national women's organisations associated with
the seat of political power, will often endorse the World Bank
gender perspective. The main objective of the latter is to
demobilise the Women's movement while narrowly supporting the
interests of international creditors.

Under the trusteeship of the International Financial Institutions,
the "empowerment of women" is to be achieved through the usual
macro-economic recipes: devaluation, budget austerity, the
application of user fees in health and education, the phasing out
of State supported credit, trade liberalisation, the deregulation
of grain markets, the elimination of minimum wage legislation, and
so on. In other words, donor support to Women's programmes (via WID
funded projects) is conditional upon the prior derogation of
women's rights through "satisfactory compliance" with IMF-WB
conditionalities. For instance, the implementation of token credit
schemes earmarked for rural women under the World Bank's micro-
level credit programmes invariably requires the prior deregulation
of financial institutions, dramatic hikes in interest rates and the
phasing out the rural credit cooperatives. The same applies to the
"anti-poverty programmes". The latter are conditional upon the
prior adoption of macro-economic measures which generate mass
poverty. The "anti-poverty programmes" implemented under the
"social safety net" are geared towards so-called "vulnerable
groups": "disadvantaged women, indigenous women, female heads of
households, refugees and migrant women and women with
disabilities". The structural causes of poverty and the role of
macro-economic reform are denied.

Another area of WB intervention has been the implementation of
scholarships and/or subsidies to girls ("Letting Girls Learn") to
finance the costs of primary and secondary school tuition including
books and school materials. WB support in this area however is
conditional upon the prior laying off of teachers, a major
curtailment of the educational budget and the adoption of double-
shift and multigrade teaching. The WB Education Sector loan
agreements specifically require the Ministry of Education to lay
off teachers and increase the student-teacher ratio. The
implementation of "book rental fees" and tuition fees also under WB
guidance has been conducive to a dramatic decline in both female
and male school enrolment. The World Bank focus is to implement
cost effective "targeted programmes" for girls while at the same
time prescribing the withdrawal of the State from the financing of
primary education.

Cost recovery and the application of user fees in health (also
under WB supervision) also derogate women's rights to Reproductive
Health. The structural adjustment programmes have been conducive to
the phasing out of maternal-child health programmes (MCH). The
evidence confirms a resurgence of maternal and infant mortality. In
Sub-Saharan Africa, the tendency is towards the "de-
professionalisation" of health services, ultimately leading to the
collapse of primary health care. The Village Health Volunteers
(VHV) and traditional healers have replaced the Community Health
Nurses. The savings to the Treasury are applied to servicing the
country's external debt. According to the World Bank, "informal
health care" is not only "cost effective", it is more "democratic"
because it "empowers" local communities in the running of village-
based health centres. Ironically, the de-professionalisation of
primary health care has also led to the concurrent breakdown of
data collection on mortality and morbidity. In many countries,
illiterate Village Health Volunteers are now responsible for the
collection of health data with the consequent effect (and
convenience) of lowering the rates of infant mortality recorded by
governments and international organisations.

The United Nations' system tacitly upholds the IMF-World Bank
agenda including its perspective on gender. No overall critique of
the neo-liberal policy framework was put forth in Beijing in the
Platform for Action (PA). The latter is largely concerned with a
statement of broad principles. As in Copenhagen at the 1995 Social
Summit, many of the bracketed items in the official document (which
addressed some of the more critical issues) have been eliminated.
As in previous conferences, the UN organisers maintained a
structure of "physical apartheid" between the "official" Conference
and the NGO Forum. The organisations of civil society, namely
women's organisations from around the World were held at arms
length from the official process.

The World Bank perspective on gender is contained in various
sections of the Platform for Action. The latter proposed the
creation of "an enabling environment that allows women to build and
maintain sustainable livelihoods" calling for the review of "the
impact of structural adjustment programmes on social development by
means of gender-sensitive social impact assessments and other
relevant methods, in order to develop policies to reduce their
negative effects and improve their positive impact, ensuring that
women do not bear a disproportionate burden of transition costs;
complement adjustment lending with enhanced, targeted social
development lending." (para. 61). The foregoing in fact describes
the practice of WB lending activity. The PA tacitly provides
legitimacy to the WB agenda, the overall validity of the structural
adjustment programme is not questioned.

Moreover, the Platform for Action views "violence against women"
and "the exclusion of women from institutions of power and
governance" as the main causes of gender inequality requiring "a
radical transformation of the relationship between men and women
(para. 19). The focus of social conflict is distorted: under the WB
gender framework, the social status of women largely hinges upon
the relationship of men and women (as individuals) within the

The WB framework portrays a "free" market society composed of
individuals of both sexes. In this context, women are identified as
belonging to a separate social category distinct from men (as if
men and women belonged to different social classes). In other
words, the confrontation between men and women (ie. as individuals)
is viewed as the main source of social conflict. The concentration
of power and corporate wealth has no bearing on the analysis of
gender. Modernity and "the empowerment of women" through the market
process are the means to achieving gender equality. The system of
global trade and finance is never in doubt, the role of global
institutions (including the World Trade Organization and the
Bretton Woods institutions) is not a matter for serious debate. Yet
this global economic system (based on "cheap labour" and the
private accumulation of wealth) ultimately constitutes one of the
main barriers to the achievement of gender equality. In turn, the
neo-liberal gender perspective (under the trusteeship of the
"donors") is largely intent upon creating divisions within national
societies and demobilising the struggle of women and men against
the macro-economic model.

The author can be contacted by fax: 1-613-7892050, E-Mail:
chosso at

    Michel Chossudovsky

    Department of Economics,
    University of Ottawa,
    Ottawa, K1N6N5

    fax: 1-613-7892051

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list