03.07.2023

The impacts of IFIs on feminist movements in the global south/MENA

This article sheds light on the neoliberal interventions led by IFIs and their relevance to feminist activism and action in the MENA region.

This article proposes the framing of strategies and actions against the neoliberal interventions of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in the Global South to be of main concern and of priority to feminists in the MENA region. Through an analysis of the measures and policies imposed by these institutions, and of their discourse on gender equality, the article highlights how the interventions of these institutions undermine and hinder feminist work and agendas. This ultimately hampers the pursuit of social and economic justice and the ability to envision feminist alternatives and realities. The article concludes by proposing feminist strategies and actions of solidarity and advocacy to combat the neoliberal interventions of IFIs.

The neoliberal agenda of the IFIs

The mission and vision statements promoted by the IMF and the World Bank revolve around supporting governments in ensuring sustainable economic growth, with a focus on “boosting the prosperity of poor people” and “increasing the incomes of the poorest 40%”. However, this notion of economic growth is grounded in the principles of the free market and primarily serves the interest of private and corporate institutions operating in “developing countries.”  The reforms imposed by the IMF and the World Bank often prioritize privatization at the expense of social protection and the overall well-being of groups and communities. Within the framework of neoliberal privatization, the burden of reforms falls on the shoulders of individuals deemed lacking in skills and capacities to access the formal labor market and compete effectively. As a result, proposed solutions tend to revolve around investing in individual skills that can be exploited for the economic growth of the market.

Within the same framework, the discourse used by these institutions regarding gender equality narrowly analyzes the economic and financial impacts of gender inequality. It emphasizes the economic value of achieving gender equality, often measured in terms of GDP and economic growth. Countries that exhibit high levels of gender inequality are perceived as compromising their economic potential, and the suggested solutions to their economic challenges often involve further privatization and increased market competition.
Consequently, the discourse on gender equality and the projects developed by IFIs under this umbrella tend to view women, particularly the most marginalized, through a neoliberal lens.

Proposed solutions for addressing gender inequality therefore often revolve around promoting women's access to the market, developing their skills and capacities so they are better qualified for formal labor, and "empowering" them to become more “independent”. Within this framework, the market as well as profit take precedence, and investing in individuals and addressing social issues aligns with good economics.

Finally, the interventions of IFIs promote  the notion that "developing countries" are characterized by high levels of gender inequality. This premise is used to justify the continued interventions of IFIs in these countries, positioning themselves as the saviors of women and experts in addressing gender inequality. Gender equality becomes a topic that is exploited by IFIs, and subsequently by governments, to advance and promote their neoliberal agendas.

Feminist strategies in the face of IFI interventions

IFIs have significantly influenced women's movements by promoting neoliberal feminist discourses and projects at  national levels.

This cooptation of feminism and its mobilization in the interests of IFIs, undermine and diminish the longstanding achievements of feminists in their pursuit of equal access to rights and resources. It also impedes the progress made by feminists towards dismantling the economic and social structures that perpetuate the oppression of women, marginalized groups, and communities.

Feminists worldwide have already conducted analyses of the impacts of structural adjustment policies on marginalized groups and communities. They have shed light on the specific ways in which these policies have affected the lives of individuals and communities. Furthermore, feminists have examined the role of IFIs in promoting a neoliberal form of feminism and coopting feminist agendas.

Feminist strategies and actions for combating this cooptation and resisting the interventions of IFIs in the Global South needs to involve ongoing analyses and the highlighting of the various forms of feminism's cooptation within the discourses and actions of the World Bank and the IMF. These strategies also encompass framing such interventions and cooptation within the context of existing power structures between the Global North and the Global South.

It is equally crucial to shed light on the interests of governments in the Global South in imposing austerity measures, implementing development projects imposed by IFIs, and benefiting from the structural adjustment policies.

By critically examining and exposing these dynamics, feminists would be able to  challenge the cooptation of feminism by the interventions of IFIs, and advocate for alternative approaches that prioritize the rights and needs of individuals and communities, and for a redistribution of power and resources.

Organizing, building transnational alliances, and fostering solidarity among feminists and other progressive actors across the MENA region and the Global South are crucial in resisting the cooptation of feminism by international institutions. These efforts are also essential in opposing the interventions of IFIs that hinder progress towards gender and social justice. Feminists and progressive actors in the region must collaborate to develop cross-border strategies and actions that strive for the establishment of more equitable socio-economic alternatives. These alternatives should prioritize moving away from exploitation and the accumulation of profits by private institutions, which often come at the expense of individuals and communities.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Gender and Feminism Office

+961 1 202491
+961 1 338986
feminism.mena(at)fes.de

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