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 their names.

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 policy-based loans.

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.


© 2006 Gender Action, All Rights Reserved

Engendering Country Strategies
Economic reforms and gender

Women's Rights in Peace and Conflict

Tracking IFI Gender Implementation
Women, the Environment and Infrastructure

Stay Connected!

Friend GA on Facebook!
  Follow GA on Twitter!  
  Join GA's Mailing List

Donate to Gender Action

Gender Action is proud to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign
CFC#: 57340