Why Gender Action No Longer Engages in PRSPs
Gender Action no longer directly engages in International
Financial Institution-driven Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers
(PRSPs), national strategies written by countries to meet
World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) specifications.
Through over 50 PRSPs produced since their launch in 1999,
it has become crystal clear that they are instruments for
rich countries that dominate the World Bank and IMF to force
poor countries to embrace reforms which reduce government
economic interventions in favor of free-market approaches.
Despite their name and discussion about “poverty reduction,”
PRSP macroeconomic reforms actually benefit elites and transnational
corporations while impoverishing women and men in developing
countries and undermining national sovereignty.
Like many civil society organizations, Gender Action had
great expectations of PRSPs. Through capacity-building workshops,
Gender Action collaborated with developing country citizens’
groups to deconstruct their PRSPs for gender impacts and conduct
advocacy to engender them. Our in-country PRSP collaborations
took place in Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Eritrea,
Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia and Rwanda (Brief
Review of PRSP Collaborations by Country and Publications
pages). We also analyzed many more PRSPs for gendered impacts.
Although PRSPs of countries where Gender Action has worked
tend to be more gender sensitive than those of other countries,
our analysis demonstrates that PRSP documents and implementation
overall neglect to address gender discrimination and promote
women’s rights, especially in their macroeconomic frameworks
that define country budgets (Do
Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers Address Gender Issues? A
Gender Audit of 2002 PRSPs).
PRSP macroeconomic frameworks actually continue two previous
decades of IMF and World Bank driven policy-based lending
that prioritizes ‘macroeconomic stability’ and
economic growth over reducing poverty and gender inequality.
Policy-based loans typically require poor countries to implement
tight macroeconomic and fiscal policies including government
expenditure cutbacks, public sector downsizing, privatization
of state owned enterprises and unilateral trade liberalization
(Economic Reforms and Gender pages).
The most recent incarnation of policy-based loans are called
IMF Poverty Reduction Growth Facilities (PRGFs) and World
Bank Poverty Reduction Support Credits (PRSCs). Their tight
macroeconomic and fiscal policies increase poverty despite
Even if PRSPs were gender sensitive, country-owned, participatory
and did not continue bad macroeconmic policies--which they
do--they lack the clout of loan conditions contained in loan
agreements with IFIs which must be implemented for countries
to continue receiving donor funds. Many of the provisions
in PRSPs are simply ignored because they are unenforceable.
The PRSP process tends to work like this: Governments take
PRSP macroeconomic policies directly from reforms already
mandated in IMF and World Bank policy-based loans to ensure
their PRSPs are approved by the Boards of the Bank and the
Fund. The macroeconomic chapter in the IMF and World Bank-created
guide for countries preparing PRSPs promotes the same reforms
found in policy-based loans that disregard human rights and
gender impacts. Although we advised the authors of the macroeconomics
chapter on how to address gender issues, and gender is supposed
to be a 'cross-cutting' theme integrated thoroughly into PRSPs,
the chapter fails to discuss gender impacts.
Gender Action's analysis has shown that the rigid fiscal
and monetary policies in PRSPs, PRGFs and PRSCs and other
policy-based loans choke social spending, deepening poverty
particularly among women. For example, public health expenditure
cutbacks increase women’s home care for sick family
members and reduce their time available for paid work; public
sector and enterprise restructuring eliminates many jobs and
benefits -- women are often the first to lose jobs and last
to be rehired because they are assumed to be secondary breadwinners
despite increasing numbers of female headed households; and
unreciprocated developing country tariff reductions threaten
the livelihood of farmers, the majority of whom are women
in the poorest countries. The World Bank and IMF fail to recognize
such gendered consequences of PRSPs, PRSCs, and PRGFs that
undermine empowering women and achieving gender equality and
poverty reduction. In fact, the World Bank’s Gender
and Development Operational Policy that promotes gender equality
in its operations specifically exempts its application to
Through Gender Action’s in-country collaborations,
we have witnessed how PRSPs undermine democratic processes
and violate national sovereignty. This is because PRSP approval
usually bypasses local legislative processes and civil society
participation in PRSP consultations—including among
women’s groups and in macroeconomic policymaking—has
usually been cursory or limited to government-selected groups.
PRSP consultations are generally dominated by Finance Ministry
officials, donors, consultants, and country elites, while
women, the poor, ethnic and religious minorities, indigenous
peoples, elected officials, and planning and line ministries
are grossly underrepresented. Yet PRSPs must be approved by
the World Bank and IMF Boards of Directors, a clear violation
of national sovereignty.
Gender Action is stepping up efforts with its civil society
partners to pressure the taxpayer-funded World Bank and IMF
to stop imposing harmful policies on poor countries and people
through PRSPs, PRSCs, PRGFs and other instruments that benefit
transnational corporations and elites, but not the poor. Together
with other citizens’ groups around the world, Gender
Action supports progressive country-determined macroeconomic
policies that encourage redistribution of wealth, increased
social spending and just trade regimes. We support country-
and rights-based approaches to development that PRSPs, PRGFs
and PRSCs undermine.
To learn more about Gender Action’s past in-country
work to engender PRSPs, please see our Brief
Review of PRSP Collaborations by County.