IMF Ukraine programme’s impact on women’s rights criticised at Human Rights Council

14 September

Ukrainian feminists march for women’s rights - New Vision

In May the Geneva-based Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) submitted a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council addressing the impacts of IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

http://imf.org
macro-economic reform programmes on women’s rights in Ukraine. The statement outlined various ways in which the recent IMF-demanded Ukrainian economic reforms (see Observer Spring 2015 and Winter 2016), have “violated women’s economic and social rights and contributed to the feminisation of poverty and deepening of gender inequalities”. WILPF pin-pointed three specific IMF policy conditions, fuel subsidy cuts, cuts to the public sector and tax policies, as having significant gendered impacts.

While the IMF has repeatedly argued that fuel subsidies “are a costly approach to protecting the poor due to substantial benefit leakage to higher income groups”, WILPF’s statement pointed out that cutting fuel subsidies without adequately considering impacts on the poor and women can have disastrous consequences for these vulnerable groups. Since the implementation of the loan programme in Ukraine, the state statistics committee reported that energy consumption decreased by 30 per cent, which WILPF asserts has significantly diminished living standards across the country. As women make up the majority of the poor and unemployed in Ukraine and rural women face particularly harsh living conditions, these fuel subsidy cuts can disproportionately hurt women.

In terms of women’s participation in the labour force, the statement noted that the IMF programme entailed overall plans of a 20 per cent reduction in the civil service workforce, including 12,000 social workers in 2014 and 25,000 healthcare professionals in 2015. The statement stressed that these policies directly disadvantage women in particular as “women comprise more than 75 per cent of the civil service, predominately in [more vulnerable,] non-managerial positions”. In addition to the loss in employment opportunities, unpaid elderly, health and child care burdens shift disproportionally to women, straining their time and access to the labour market (see Bretton Woods Project briefing October 2016). The sharp decline in state spending since 2013 has caused the numbers of hospital beds to be reduced, schools to be closed and childcare assistance to be cut.

“until the IMF fully recognises how its policy recommendations often disproportionately hurt women and changes its orthodox approach, it will continue to undermine gender equality and women’s rights”
MADELEINE REES, WILPF

Under the IMF programme Ukraine reduced tax rates for large corporations, while increasing tax on consumption, labour and medium and small businesses. The statement argued that women are disproportionately impacted by these changes because “there are more women among small entrepreneurs as compared with men (53% in 2011, according to the World Bank) and, due to a number of constraints, female-headed enterprises are less profitable regardless of the sector of economic activity.” The IMF’s encouragement of corporate tax competition in a so-called ‘race to the bottom’ has been the subject of ongoing civil society concern, as expressed in a recent Oxfam paper.


Macroeconomic reform programmes at Human Rights Council

The obligation of states to respect, protect and fulfil economic and social rights in the context of macroeconomic reform programmes under IMF guidance has only recently become the subject of discussion in UN human rights spaces. So far the Human Rights Council, the UN’s principal intergovernmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world, has largely overlooked such programmes in its regular triannual sessions. Notable exceptions have been the recent work of some special procedure mandate holders, such as the upcoming report of the independent expert on international order on human rights impacts of the economic policies of the IMF and World Bank World Bank
WB
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

http://worldbank.org
. The independent expert on foreign debt is also in the process of producing guidance on human rights impact assessments of economic reform programmes, which is still open for consultation.

WILPF’s recommendations echo calls by these and previous special procedure mandate holders to design macro-economic reform programmes from a human rights perspective and to address their negative impacts on women and the marginalised. Madeleine Rees of WILPF commented that “until the IMF fully recognises how its policy recommendations often disproportionately hurt women and changes its orthodox approach, it will continue to undermine gender equality and women’s rights”.


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