Friday, March 09, 2007

Critique of World Bank's Gender Action Plan 2007-10

The New `Smarties' of the World Bank: Competitive women

"Forget China, India and the internet: economic growth is driven by
women". Under this quote from "The Economist", the World Bank presents
its new gender action plan for the fiscal year 2007-10 and thereby
anticipates the key objective of its women and gender policy: growth.
The political message for women is: we will improve market
opportunities so that you, women, can compete efficiently. A critique
by Christa Wichterich.

Smartly entitles the World Bank its gender action plan: "Gender
Equality as Smart Economics". In doing so, the Bank continues to
follow its central lines of argumentation and its 30 years old
motivation: In 1975, the Bank aimed at integrating women as
"under-utilised human resources…into development" in order to promote
productivity, efficiency and growth and consequently, reduce poverty.
In 2006, the Bank wants to support the "economic empowerment" of women
„in order to promote shared growth and accelerate the implementation
of MDG 3". In 1975, the mantra was "integration", today it is
"competitiveness" of women. According to the Bank, the gap between
women's capability – as it is now phrased in the jargon of Nobel Price
Winner Amartya Sen – and their economic opportunities is inefficient.
By closing this gap through women's labour force participation and
earnings, poverty is expected to be reduced and growth fastened. "The
business case for expanding women's economic opportunities is becoming
increasingly evident", in other words: women's economic empowerment
pays off. "This is nothing more than smart economics" explains the Bank.

The language and the reference concepts of the WB might have changed,
but the relationship between purpose and means in the WB's
women/gender policy did not. And this despite of three decades of
intensive women's rights struggles at multilateral and national level,
last but not least struggles for economic and social rights.
Regardless of this, the women's rights/human's rights paradigm is not
used by the WB as normative framework, it is not even mentioned in the
action plan.

30 years ago as well as today, the Bank's crucial concern was and is a
market-conform economisation of the women's question. At that time as
it is today, the main aim of increasing "investments in women" was to
use female labour force and female human resources for markets in
order for them to function "smarter", meaning avoiding market failure
and distortion of competition. According to the Bank, "market failure"
that hinders efficiency and growth occurs when "resources are not
allocated where returns are highest."

For these reasons, the gender action plan focuses on women's proper
allocation and empowerment in four markets: land, labour, product and
financial markets. To implement this, the Bank developed a two pronged
strategy: on the policy level, the Bank wants to address market access
barriers and discrimination against women, thereby "making markets
work for women". On the agency level, the Bank wants to support
business activities, integrate women's initiatives and increase the
"compatibility between women's productive and reproductive role" in
order to "empower women to compete in markets".

For years the WB has mainly focused on the development of women's
human capital and the utilisation of their social capital. Now the
focus lies on removing discriminatory factors through legislative
regulations, especially with regard to property titles, titles of
inheritance, land rights as well as on improving competitive
opportunities to access markets. Market access and participation are
the key words concepts, not concepts of livelihood-, income-, food or
social security or implementation of human/women's rights.

As necessary and important it is to promote gender equality in the
market, as one-dimensional is the rationale of the World Bank's action
plan in defining women's roles in the neoliberal market model as
independent actors, namely as entrepreneurs, as landowners, as
costumers of financial services or as flexible part-time workers. In
contrast, concrete economic activities of women as farmers,
small-scale traders, service providers or export workers vanish behind
these functions as market agents. Self-help groups and informal work
shall be pulled deeper into the business system.

Also the complex causes of poverty which keep women – in addition to
their unpaid work – in marginalized, low paid, precarious and insecure
jobs are not mentioned. Even so the action plan places the economic
empowerment of women in the framework of achieving the MDGs, it does
not refer to women-specific poverty or the so-called feminisation of
poverty. Therefore the question remains, how the planned removal of
market barriers and distortions, e.g. the planned reduction of "time
and monetary costs of formalization of enterprises" could be
instrumental in reducing the poverty of 100 millions women small-scale

In order to achieve a smart gender-equal economy the Bank plans
activities in three areas in selected countries (20 low-income
countries, 10 middle-income countries and 3 fragile states):

1) Development of "analytical knowledge" and gathering of
gender-disaggregated date and statistics aiming at avoiding market
failures – according to the claim to be a "knowledge bank".
2) Engendering of World Bank Group operations and economic and
sector work according to the claim of gender mainstreaming.
3) Implementation of result-based initiatives according to the
claim of "aid effectiveness".

The plan is neatly set up as a log frame from the programme cradle to
the grave with manifold "commitments" of the WB and quantitative
indicators. It will be monitored and evaluated by the WB´s own quality
control system. In this framework, it is planned for example to
engender investment climate assessments and to carry out gender and
growth assessments. But which concrete political conclusions would be
drawn from such impact assessments, is not said. Are for example,
cheap, compliant, female workers "smarties" for the investment
climate? Are hard-working remittance-paying female migrants, who work
underpaid as household keepers or nurses, "smarties" for the economic
growth of the sending and receiving countries?

It is not to be expected that the Bank's action plan would critically
analyse market strategies, business interests or trade rules that
produce continuously and systematically social inequalities and
divisions among people. However, this silence about discriminatory
economic structures which inform market mechanisms results in a big
question mark: how does the Bank plan to improve the market
opportunities for women significantly without changing the structures
that again and again push subsistence farmers, street vendors, care
workers, local industries, informal workers, household economies as
well as migrants in marginal and precarious positions and poverty.

What impresses most when reading the action plan is the
one-dimensional thinking which places markets central and not human
beings or the economic rights and potentials of women. Distortion of
competition to the disadvantage of women shall be removed, in order
for women to compete on a levelled playing-field. However, elements of
reciprocity, social obligation or moral economy that are of great
importance in the economic context for women, are systematically
ignored. This one-dimensionality and blindness to economic
alternatives makes the Bank's concept of gender equality in global
markets a smart version of the dogma of competition and growth with
the market-totalitarian message underlying: There is no alternative!
courtesy-JIVIKA- yahoo group


Blogger Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

8:41 AM  

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