Women's Letter to Christine Lagarde!

AUGUST 22, 2011

Dear Managing Director Lagarde,

We, women's rights groups and supporters of women's rights, commend your commitment to foster greater gender equality and end sexual harassment inside the International Monetary Fund (IMF/Fund).

However, we remain deeply concerned about the harmful impacts of IMF loans on the world's two billion people living in poverty, the most vulnerable of whom are women and girls.

As the leader of the IMF, the world's most powerful financial institution, you have an important opportunity to lead urgent IMF reforms that could enhance the livelihoods of the world's poorest women and men. While the G8, and increasingly the G20, wield power over the IMF, the Managing Director can significantly influence Fund policy.

Under IMF programs over several decades, the Fund has required the world's low-income countries to increase their debt, "victimizing ordinary people" (Amar Bhide & Edmund Phelps, Newsweek, July 11, 2011), and downsize public expenditures to the point of pushing women and girls into poverty (Gender Action 2006, Gender Guide to World Bank and IMF Policy-Based Lending).

To improve the livelihoods of poor women and men around the world, we urge the Fund to immediately undertake these specific reforms:

End Low-Income Country Debt
The IMF must cancel all low-income country debt, which is mostly illegitimate debt. Most IMF debt can be considered illegitimate, because it knowingly gave it to oppressive regimes and dictators who violate human rights and exploit the vulnerability of impoverished men, women, boys and girls. Since debt repayment significantly reduces resources for healthcare, education, food, water, sanitation, and other critical social services, it is mostly women who bear the burden of repayment. Under great pressure to remain credit-worthy, governments often prioritize repaying the IMF over social expenditures. The IMF has resources to provide debt cancellation for low-income countries from its excess windfall profits from gold sales and from loan repayments. Ending low-income country debt is especially urgent, as these countries face major shocks such as global financial crises, rising food prices, natural disasters, and the devastating impacts of climate change.

End Austere IMF Conditionalities
It is high time that the Fund discontinued imposing pro-cyclical fiscal and monetary conditionalities in its loan agreements and country policy guidance. Although these conditionalities do not explicitly cap health, education, and other social service expenditures, their net result is to shrink government spending on these basic needs. Such IMF policies have deepened poverty worldwide, especially among women and girls who constitute the majority of the poor. IMF loans that require public expenditure cutbacks have increased women's home-based care for sick family members and reduced their time available for paid work. IMF-required public sector downsizing has also eliminated jobs and benefits, which particularly impacts women who are the first to lose jobs and last to be rehired because they are (usually falsely) assumed to be secondary breadwinners. This tragic pattern increases women's unpaid labor at home, and in subsistence farming and the informal sector. The IMF's failure to recognize this unpaid labor in national accounts further reinforces gender inequality.

As Managing Director, you can lead bold IMF reforms that could improve the livelihoods of millions of poor women and men. Under your watch, these reforms should include:

  • Cancelling debt owed by low-income countries to the IMF
  • Ending IMF conditionalities such as privatizing public enterprises and capping public sector wage bills which in turn reduce the poor's access to health, education, water and jobs.
  • Promoting expansionary macroeconomic frameworks instead of the Fund's past restrictive single-digit inflation policies that deepen poverty among the most vulnerable, especially women and girls.

Although the Fund failed to predict the world's largest financial crisis in almost 80 years, the G20 offered to triple the IMF's budget so that the Fund could "rescue" countries impacted by the crisis. As its Managing Director, you bear a great responsibility to ensure these precious public resources rectify macroeconomic imbalances in a humane way that improves poor men's and women's wellbeing.


Gender Action

34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund
ActionAid International
Brook K. Baker, Professor, Northeastern University
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Center for Partnership Studies
Church World Service
Clearinghouse on Women's Issues
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Digital Sisters
Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria
Feminist Majority Foundation
Gender Matters, UK
Grassroots International
Gray Panthers
Health Alliance International
Health GAP (Global Access Project)
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
Jamaa Resource Initiative, Kenya
Jubilee USA Network
Jubilee UK
Jubilee Scotland
Just Foreign Policy
LUKMEF, Cameroon
Mark Schuller, Assistant Professor, City University of New York
National Council of Women's Organizations
National Capital Area Union Retirees
National Women's Conference Committee
Other Worlds
Soroptimist International, UK
Turning Anger Into Change
United Methodist Womens Division
WIDE, Belgium
WISE Development Ltd, UK
Women's Environment and Development Organization
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, DC
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, US Section
Women Initiative for Peace and Good Governance, Nigeria
Women's Legal Education, Advocacy & Defense Foundation, Inc, Phillipines


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