Following the news of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulting a maid in his hotel suite, there’s been some discussion of the culture of sexism within the organization.
It’s important to note the IMF has been criticized for its broader policies for years, especially by organizers in the Global South and advocates for their issues. Last week, Foreign Policy in Focus published a piece titled “The IMF: Violating Women since 1945” on how these policies have an especially harsh impact on women. Here’s an excerpt:
The IMF has earned its villainous reputation in the Global South because in exchange for loans, governments must accept a range of austerity measures known as structural adjustment programs (SAPs). A typical IMF package encourages export promotion over local production for local consumption. It also pushes for lower tariffs and cuts in government programs such as welfare and education. Instead of reducing poverty, the trillion dollars of loans issued by the IMF have deepened poverty, especially for women who make up 70 percent of the world’s poor.
IMF-mandated government cutbacks in social welfare spending have often been achieved by cutting public sector jobs, which disproportionately impact women. Women hold most of the lower-skilled public sector jobs, and they are often the first to be cut. Also, as social programs like caregiving are slashed, women are expected to take on additional domestic responsibilities that further limit their access to education or other jobs.
In exchange for borrowing $5.8 billion from the IMF and World Bank, Tanzania agreed to impose fees for health services, which led to fewer women seeking hospital deliveries or post-natal care and naturally, higher rates of maternal death. In Zambia, the imposition of SAPs led to a significant drop in girls’ enrollment in schools and a spike in “survival or subsistence sex” as a way for young women to continue their educations.
The article goes on to discuss policy impacts in other countries, including linking IMF policies to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can read the full article by Christine Ahn and Kavita Ramdas here.
DSK’s individual actions are despicable. What goes on inside the walls of the IMF is also despicable. And it’s important to remember this organization has been called out for policies that have caused harm for years.