Gender Justice and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs)
Presented by: Elaine Zuckerman
Colorado State University
April 4, 2011


Thank you Martha for your generous introduction.

Thank you Colorado State U for inviting me and everyone for attending.

I am particularly pleased that CSU asked me to share experiences of my organization, Gender Action, with you.

Gender and the IFIs

Today I will describe the activities of Gender Action, a unique advocacy campaign, which is the only civil society organization in the world dedicated to holding the International Financial Institutions, which I will sometimes call IFIs, accountable for the gender impacts of their investments.

Since the IFIs are the largest public taxpayer-funded international development agencies in the world providing assistance to the world's poorest countries, we all must ensure that our taxes are being spent to truly assist the poor and to keep IFI promises to reduce gender inequalities and empower women.

Today I will discuss to what extent IFI loans and grants help or hinder achieving gender equality and women's rights. BTW, Gender Action always speaks about women's rights but the World Bank and other IFIs avoid using the word "rights" since they lack human rights policies. Gender Action works to get human rights on IFI agendas.

With participants in this audience from widely diverse backgrounds, for those needing background on the IFIs, let me start with:

A Little Background on the International Financial Institutions or IFIs

Among the IFIs, you have heard most about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Other prominent IFIs include the regional development banks such as the AfDB (African Development Bank), ADB (Asian Development Bank), EBRD (European Bank of Reconstruction and Development) and IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). The World Bank and IMF each have close to 190 member countries which they divide into creditor countries like the US, and borrower or debtor countries which are concentrated in Sub-Saharan and North Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The US has by far the largest influence in the IFIs. US shares in the IFIs today compose about 17 %. The US has the largest single country voice in the IFIs and is the only country holding veto power in IFI decision-making. At this early stage of the decline of the US empire, the US still dominates IFI governance.

IFI governance is un-democratic. Unlike the one country-one vote in the UN, the IFIs each have about 20-25 voting voices. Take the World Bank. Although it has 187 member countries, its current Board of Directors has 24 voting members. While the world's largest countries like the US and China has their own chairs on the World Bank Board of Directors, smaller rich developed countries have seats that represent many less developed countries. For example, Canada's World Bank Board member represents not only Canada, but also Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Each of the Board members of developed European countries, for example the Netherlands, represents a multitude of small African and Asian countries. Current World Bank and other IFI Boards, remain colonial in their governance structures. Gender Action is part of a civil society movement to democratize IFI governance.

As for gender roles on IFI Boards on Directors, despite strong gender equality rhetoric, such as the World Bank's, Gender Action's analysis demonstrates that the World Bank and other IFIs do not live up to their rhetoric in their governance and later we will show that IFI investments also do not live up their gender equality rhetoric. As of 2010, only 4 out of 24 World Bank Board members were women = 16%, roughly the same proportion as seats held by women in its largest shareholder's, the U.S.', Congress, a pathetically low percentage of women.

IFIs normally make loans to Least Developed Countries and Emerging Economies. IFI loans have a record of burdening poor countries with debt which significantly reduces poor countries' public funding for health, education and other social needs. Under pressure from civil society, the World Bank, IDB, ADB and AfDB recently started making some grants in addition to their traditional loans. Previously their only grant funding was confined to small technical assistance projects but now they make some project grants. Still, IFIs, which are so-called development banks, are mainly in the business of making loans. If anyone wants to know more about IFI loan arrangements such as interest rates and grace periods, just ask me later.

Why I Established Gender Action

With this background on the IFIs, let me explain why I established Gender Action.

During my career in the IFIs (which you heard about in the introduction?), I was impressed by the vitality of multiplying civil society organizations addressing development issues. In the early 1980s, environmental CSOs established the environmental campaign on the World Bank to try to stop the harmful environmental impacts of World Bank loans. While women's groups also proliferated, I noticed that women's groups hardly focused on the IFIs. When I reviewed World Bank loans while working in the World Bank's gender unit, I saw a disconnect between the Bank's promise to promote women's empowerment and gender equality, and the fact that so many World Bank investments across sectors around the world neglected gender issues and even had harmful impacts on women. This disconnect impassioned me to create Gender Action in early 2002.

Gender Action research demonstrates that, since founding, the IFIs have spent trillions of dollars in development investments that sometimes contribute to tragic gender impacts among poor "beneficiaries". Despite repeated IFI commitments to gender equality, IFI investments in projects ranging from HIV/AIDS to oil pipelines too often neglect to consider gender roles leading to harmful impacts. These are not empty claims. My talk today will describe examples of harmful gender impacts of IFI investments.

During the rest of my presentation, I will share information on some specific Gender Action projects, showing how Gender Action exposes and tries to improve the gender impacts of IFI investments, especially on women.

I will discuss Gender Action's advocacy programs in:

  1. Haiti
  2. Around debt issues
  3. Climate change issues
  4. RH & HIV
  5. Holding IFI investments accountable for causing gender discrimination
Finally, I will end my talk with closing remarks on advocacy tools, hoping to inspire you to use them. During my talk I will refer to various Gender Action publications which I might hold up. You can find them all on Gender Action's website,

After presenting I would love to answer your questions and hear your ideas.

I. Haiti: Monitoring and Holding Massive IFI Spending Accountable on Gender Impacts

In the 15 months since Haiti's devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, Gender Action has been closely monitoring and doing advocacy on IFI operations in Haiti. Already, since the earthquake, IFIs have approved a whopping 70 loans and grants to Haiti totaling over a $1/2 billion. Gender Action's analysis shows that many of these IFI loans and grants have ignored women and girls on all levels, from inclusion in project preparation and planning to harmful impacts during and after implementation.

Gender Action research shows that over the past 20 years, more than USD$5 billion in condition-laden donor aid from three International Financial Institutions (IFIs) -- the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) flowed into Haiti. This massive aid benefited rich contractors, investors, and Haiti's tiny elite, but harmed poor women and men, by utterly failing to provide poor men and women with basic needs such as clean drinking water. The earthquake provided these contractors and investors a huge opportunity to profit from devastated Haiti. Think of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine where vulture donors and corporations take advantage of natural disasters like Katrina and wars like Iraq, to make a fortune, while living conditions of poor men and women worsens. Haiti is such a case.

Gender Action has been analyzing IFI loans and grants in Haiti for gender, especially to see the extent to which they address the heartbreaking gender based violence covered by the press.

Here are examples of what Gender Action is doing to get IFIs to be more gender sensitive in Haiti:

First example on GA advocacy in Haiti:

Letter to President Obama on Haiti
Last July, I sent a Letter to President Obama that asked the U.S. Administration to: (a) take immediate steps to ensure that U.S.-supported IFI assistance for Haiti addresses rampant rape and other gender-based violence; and (b) ensure that IFIs make grants, rather than debt-incurring loans, to end debt's financial drain on Haiti's already devastated economy. Soon thereafter, IFIs cancelled most of Haiti's debt. We believe that this letter, along with strong advocacy by many groups such as the Jubilee debt coalition to which Gender Action belongs, helped to advance Haiti's IFI debt cancellation.

Second example on GA advocacy in Haiti:

In late 2010, Gender Action published a report examining key IFI rural and agriculture grants to Haiti, called World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB): Haiti Post-Earthquake Track Record on Gender, Agriculture and Rural Development. Our report reveals that the majority of some 50 World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) post-earthquake grants approved through mid-October 2010 neither focused on agriculture and rural development, nor on gender roles. We recommended that the World Bank and IDB promote: a greater focus on Haiti's poor population since 70% of Haitians are farmers; with a majority of them women. Second, we recommended an end to World Bank and IDB rural sector privatization that benefits transnational corporations but undermines small-scale farmers' livelihoods and social welfare; third, we recommended greater women's participation in more gender-sensitive World Bank and IDB projects in Haiti; and lastly we proposed increased World Bank and IDB project transparency, especially in disseminating gender assessments.

Third example on GA advocacy in Haiti:

Gender Action published and disseminated the Haiti Gender Shadow Report. Gender Action was lead editor of the Haiti Gender Shadow Report (GSR), jointly prepared by many women's rights activists comprising the Haiti Equality Collective. The GSR provides the crucial gender content that is missing from the Haitian government's World Bank-led Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), which is the operative blueprint guiding implementation of Haiti's post-earthquake recovery plans. The GSR demonstrates how a post-disaster strategy that ignores the gendered effects of disaster will inevitably fail to benefit the majority of its population, and that sustainable recovery is not possible without the inclusion of women and women's perspectives. Despite its wide scope of sectors and themes, the PDNA fails to address the unique post-disaster vulnerabilities of women, who continue to suffer disproportionately in the earthquake's aftermath. The PDNA, written in the name of the Haitian government by the World Bank and other external donors, never mentions the word gender, not even once. It mentions women three or four times in passing but does not at all address women's or gender issues. Following a parallel outline to the PDNA, the GSR provides the gender dimensions of: governance and accountability, environment and disaster risk reduction, social sectors, infrastructure, and the economy. The GSR offers stakeholders a series of recommendations to achieve gender inclusion to round out redevelopment efforts, and urges that women's post-disaster vulnerabilities are integrated into infrastructure reconstruction, environmental strategies and national economic planning.

Fourth example on GA advocacy in Haiti: Haiti Advocacy Week last week!

Last week Gender Action and a coalition we are active in called the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) invited about 20 Haitian civil society activists to DC. Gender Action and our partners accompanied our Haitian guests to meetings at World Bank, IDB, Congress and the State Department, where Haitian activists could voice their complaints and make requests. For example, I accompanied the leaders of Haiti's only LGBT organization and members of Haitians Living with HIV to Congressional meetings where they requested that US assistance for Haiti address their needs. Similarly I accompanied Haitian activists to meetings at the IFIs and State where our Haitian partners sought support to end the rampant rapes and gender-based violence plaguing Haiti.

II.Debt Cancellation

As Gender Action's Haiti advocacy work exemplifies, Gender Action fights for debt cancellation for poor countries like Haiti burdened by illegitimate debt owed IFIs which prevents countries from spending on essential services like education, health and water.

Women and girls are the largest losers. For our IFI debt cancellation advocacy, Gender Action partners with scores of groups belonging to the Jubilee Debt Network. Through continuous partnership advocacy, we have achieved debt cancellation or partial relief for some 40 of the world's poorest countries.

Each year our advocacy results in the IFIs adding a few countries to this list. For example, in 2009, we achieved debt cancellation for Burundi, Haiti and the Central African Republic. In 2010, Afghanistan, the two Congos, and Liberia received debt cancellation and Haiti received some additional debt cancellation but it still has some IMF debt. To achieve additional debt cancellation for more poor countries, in late 2009, the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation (HR 4405) was introduced in the US Congress. This bi-partisan bill aims to expand critical debt cancellation to 22 additional impoverished countries left out of previous debt relief deals and calls for an end to harmful economic conditions and an audit of past odious and illegitimate debt.

Besides canceling financial debt, we are also working to achieve reparations for rich country climate debt owed poor countries. Mentioning climate debt is a perfect segue to discussing Gender Action's project on:

III.Gender and Climate Change:

Last year, the World Bank approved a nearly $4 B loan to South Africa for a new coal mine, one of the largest coal mines in the world. As usual, despite World Bank promises that the coal mine would reduce poverty, actually poor people will be displaced from their homes. Farmers, who are mostly women, are losing their farms and sources of livelihood. The new coal mine will also harm the environment and people's health. Just before the Bank approved the coal mine, South African women living near the proposed mine visited Washington DC to protest to the World Bank that their families and communities will be harmed. The World Bank also has several other new coal mines in its project pipeline. In fact, the Bank keeps financing dirty coal and dirty oil pipelines. In response, Gender Action has been exposing the harmful gender impacts of these World Bank fossil fuel generating projects.

For example, based on fieldwork with local partners, a couple of years ago Gender Action exposed how a BP-led consortium including major financing from the World Bank and EBRD, invested in oil pipelines in Central Asia and Russia. Because the IFIs neglected their own gender policies committing them to identify and address negative gender impacts of their investments, Gender Action exposed that the pipelines became conduits for trafficking in women, and dramatically increased prostitution, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, stillbirths and other ills that did not exist before the pipelines. If you wish to learn more details, please check out our publication Boom Time Blues (hold up), available on Gender Action's publication page.

Today Gender Action is also researching similar tragic outcomes of two other World Bank-financed pipelines, the Chad-Cameroon and West African gas and oil pipelines. We are partnering with local groups in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo to improve the social, especially gender, impacts around these pipeline sites. We plan to produce a report of the gender impacts of these pipelines this fall.

Ironically, while the World Bank massively increases its investments in dirty greenhouse gas emitting projects, at the same time the World Bank is the manager of multiplying climate investment funds created by the US and other rich countries. The World Bank manages the Climate Investment Funds from which all MDBs can access funding. To raise literacy and do advocacy on the gender impacts of these developments, Gender Action produced several advocacy items including: (1) Doubling the Damage: World Bank Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) Undermine Climate and Gender Justice, a paper which explores the linkages between climate change, gender justice and the International Financial Institutions. We also produced two briefing papers in our Gender Action Link series on Gender, International Finance and Climate Change and on Gender, International Finance and Extractive Industries. These documents form the basis for our advocacy urging CIFs to address gender issues and monitoring CIF implementation for gender sensitivity in the future. Gender Action is also conducting advocacy to get women civil society representatives onto the CIF governance bodies which now have indigenous people's representatives but no women's representatives.

Also, of interest for climate change and for Haiti, in 2008, Gender Action reported our analysis of World Bank-managed post-Tsunami projects in our 2008 report called "Empty Promises: Gender Scorecard of World Bank-managed Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Indonesia". (hold up) We found that none of these post-Tsunami projects include gender equality goals in project objectives, despite considerable scope for and World Bank promises to do so. This is of interest for Haiti because rich countries appointed the World Bank to be the Haiti Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) fiscal agent, modeled on the Indonesian tsunami MDTF. Rich governments have committed $10 billion to Haiti's MDTF, upholding the Asian Tsunami MDTF as the model for the Haiti MDTF. When I visited the State Department accompanying Haitian activists this week, State once again upheld the Tsunami donor trust fund model which Gender Action has shown hardly addressed gender issues.

IV.Mapping IFI Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS Spending

Three years ago, Gender Action prepared an introductory report-titled Mapping Multilateral Development Banks' Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS Spending-examining the quantity and quality of all IFI spending for reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. Mapping demonstrated a decline in World Bank funding for reproductive health and HIV/AIDS in recent years and very little spending by the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank on RH and H/A. Despite the IFIs' strong commitments to achieving the reproductive health and HIV/AIDS MDGs, we found that IFI RH and H/A investments hardly addressed and basically ignored gender considerations. Mapping mapped unmet IFI funding commitments to reproductive health and HIV/AIDS, and demonstrated neglect of gender concerns and how harmful IFI loan conditionalities such as restricting public spending undermine governments' ability to address these public health imperatives. For example, Mapping reported that a Ghana health sector loan promoted universal fees for anti-retroviral drugs which priced anti-retrovirals too high for poor people to be able to access.

Gender Action is now more deeply monitoring World Bank and African Development Bank Spending on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa in the hope of improving IFI spending in these areas. Gender Action has a three year 2010-12 project , which includes tracking the quantity and quality of IFI spending on RH and H/A in Africa, doing a gender analysis of this spending, through a desk study, and also conducting capacity building with local partners in two countries, one Anglophone and one francophone. Our Ugandan partner is now interviewing so-called World Bank and AfDB beneficiaries to learn the real Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS impacts of these banks' investments in Uganda. We will soon begin similar work in west Africa.

The last Gender Action project I am sharing with you today is called:

V.Redressing IFI-Caused Gender Discrimination:

Let me explain. As a result of civil society advocacy, IFIs have semi-independent "accountability mechanisms" providing communities harmed by IFI investments a possible means to seek compensation or prevent damage from IFI investments. Accountability mechanisms are staffed by independent panels of judges. Past complaints taken to IFI accountability mechanisms raised concerns about harmful environmental impacts but not gender discrimination issues. Gender Action, with our partner, the Center for International Environmental Law, established the legal basis for taking gender discrimination cases to IFI accountability mechanisms. (hold up Gender Justice) We have worked very hard to persuade the accountability mechanisms to consider gender discrimination cases. The time has come. IFI accountability mechanism judges are willing to consider gender discrimination cases now for the first time in history. Gender Action is doing capacity building with women's groups internationally to spread the news and partnering with women's groups to take the first gender discrimination case to an IFI accountability mechanism. In the last year, we provided capacity building for groups in five Latin American countries, four West African countries and one East African country on taking gender discrimination claims to IFI accountability mechanisms, with a special focus on the reproductive health and HIV/AIDS impacts of IFI investments. We are actively encouraging partners to identify and take gender discrimination cases to the accountability mechanisms. This is a very exciting prospect. To enable this prospect, last year Gender Action launched an advocacy publication called, "Speaking up for Gender: A Step-by-Step Guide to Holding IFIs Accountable". (hold up) Speaking up is a user-friendly, valuable Guide for southerners needing information, tips and guidelines for submitting a gender discrimination complaint to an IFI accountability mechanism.

Now that I have described some key Gender Action projects, I would like to end my talk by sharing some Gender Action advocacy tools which I hope will inspire your future involvement in gender advocacy on the taxpayer-supported IFIs.

First, I will mention coalitions:

To accomplish our project work, since there is strength in numbers, Gender Action works actively in a variety of coalitions. A few examples include:

  • Jubilee Debt Cancellation Campaign that has about 80 member organizations
  • National Council of Women's Organizations that has about 300 member organizations and where I chair the Global Women's Task Force
  • Haiti Advocacy Working Group which has over 30 member organizations

Second, I would like to recommend some Gender Action gender analysis tools:

First, Gender Action's "Gender Toolkit for IFI-Watchers" (hold up): Gender Action prepared this toolkit primarily for our increasing numbers of IFI watcher partners. But many other organizations also report using the Toolkit to integrate gender into their outputs. In other words, you can use the toolkit to address analyze gender issues across sectors and organizations. The Toolkit provides accessible, practical information on conducting different kinds of gender analyses (i.e. policy, project, budget, impact, etc.), finding gender-disaggregated data, and understanding key gender and development (GAD) concepts and terminology. The toolkit includes our Gender Action Links which I will discuss very soon. It is a living, evolving online Toolkit that we continuously improve and expand. Gender Action has hosted several workshops around the World Bank-Fund spring and fall meetings to share updated versions of the Toolkit with civil society project partners and all other IFI-watchers wishing to engender their work. Please use our user-friendly toolkit: called the Gender Toolkit for International Finance Watchers to analyze gender issues in your projects. All sections contain electronic hyperlinks to a vast array of available gender resources. Just click on an underlined word to be directed to the specific tool you need! Oxfam Novib said that this is the best existing gender toolkit in the world.

Second, I just mentioned our Gender Action Links which you can also find inside the Toolkit and on Gender Action's website as freestanding tools: Out of the Toolkit came a series of 'Gender Action Links,' short freestanding publications containing key information and resources linking gender and different IFI-watcher topics. Gender Action has already produced links on Gender, IFIs and Climate Change; Gender, IFIs and Extractive Industries; Gender & Commercial Banks; Gender; IFIs & Debt; Gender, the IFIs, and Indigenous Peoples; Gender, IFIs and Transparency; Gender, IFIs and Accontability; Gender, IFIs and RH and HIV. And we keep expanding our Gender Action Links!

Third, I recommend using Annex 3 of Gender Action's Gender Guide to World Bank and IMF Policy-Based Loans. Annex presents a sector by sector checklist of gender questions to ask in order to complete a gender analysis of poverty issues; macroeconomic issues, agriculture, forestry, industry, tourism, transportation, EIs, and many other sectors.

To end my presentation, I hope that some of you might be inspired to hold the taxpayer-funded IFIs accountable for the gender and other social and environmental impacts of IFI investments.

To access Gender Action resources, visit our website I will leave hard copies of the publications I brought at the university but it will be easiest for you to access them online. Also I brought a few dozen Gender Action brochures for you.

Sign up on our website for Gender Action's listserv to receive announcement of Gender Action's advocacy initiatives.

Thanks so much for listening.

Time for questions and discussion!

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