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POLITICS: Women’s Groups Seek Gender Equity at U.N. Summit

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2009 (IPS) - An international coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), mostly comprised of women’s groups, is calling for a “gender equitable” response to the global financial crisis, which is to be debated at a U.N. summit of world leaders next week.

“The United Nations, not the international financial institutions (IFIs), must lead this process,” Gigi Francisco, general coordinator of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), told IPS.

She said the IFIs – particularly the Washington-based World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) – are “behaving as though it is business as usual in their response to the worsening global crisis.”

The proposals spelled out in a four-page declaration include micro-financing for women who have lost their jobs due to the crisis; greater access to government lending programmes; elimination of the gender wage gap; creation of indicators for both paid and unpaid work in national income accounts and labour force statistics; and gender-based budgeting on fiscal stimulus packages.

The declaration also calls for the establishment of a U.N. Global Economic Coordination Council that is “transparent, accountable, and with full and equal representation to developing countries, and the involvement of women’s rights and civil society organisations.”

Francisco said the old prescriptions of social safety nets and so called “modernised” conditionalities continue to be peddled by the IFIs.

“What we need are new policies and arrangements to radically restructure the global financial, economic and development architecture,” she added.

Contrary to the prevailing argument by Western nations, she argued, the United Nations is the appropriate forum to discuss these issues.

The Western countries, including the United States and the 27-member European Union, have indicated they will not be represented by heads of state or heads of government at next week’s summit, thereby downgrading the significance of the meeting, scheduled for Jun. 24-26.

They have also expressed the view that IFIs, not the United Nations, should be dealing with the global financial crisis.

Ernest Corea, a former Sri Lankan ambassador based in Washington DC, told IPS that one over-arching reason, however, is that these nations can be outvoted at the 192-nation General Assembly, where over two-thirds of the members are from developing countries.

He said they also fear the General Assembly can adopt resolutions inimical to their interests on the basis of “one country, one vote”.

But at the World Bank and the IMF, the weighted voting system, based on the strength of financial contributions and share holdings, makes it difficult for them to be outvoted, so that Western interests and Western donors will always prevail, Corea explained.

At a press conference by several civil society organisations last April, Joe Marie Griesgraber of the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition said the IMF could not be designated as an economic “security council” as it was now run by its major shareholders.

Before the IMF could get new, major responsibilities, there should be changes in the organisation, including its hiring practices.

She said most people at the IMF began work after graduation and remained there during their entire career.

“The IMF’s policy towards poor countries had been consistent, resulting in recession and contracting economies,” Griesgraber said.

She said emerging economies such as Poland and Mexico could get better deals while rich nations could ignore the IMF.

“After all, the IMF was a United Nations agency, under a treaty between the U.N. and the IMF,” she added.

Meanwhile, the international coalition – which includes the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Global Policy Forum, Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), Arab NGO Network for Development, Feminist Task Force – Global Call to Action Against Poverty and DAWN – calls for a re-positioning of the U.N.’s leadership role in a new global development and financial architecture that fully integrates gender equality and women’s rights.

The recent G20 decision to replenish IMF resources is deeply flawed as it perpetuates failed neoliberal economic policies, reinforces structural inequalities, and will increase developing country indebtedness, the coalition’s declaration said.

The members of the G20 are finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Britain and the United States. The European Union is also a member, and is represented by the rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank.

“We need an alternative, more inclusive process, not one lodged in IFIs that have created the crisis but in the United Nations, which today is the only platform for genuine global dialogue and governance on global public goods; where women’s rights and human rights are enshrined; and where each country large or small has a voice at the table.”

It is only through a more inclusive approach that the search for solutions can move beyond double standards, the perpetuation of moral hazard, the inequitable distribution of resources, and disproportionate burdens on the most vulnerable, the declaration added.

“We recognize that the financial and economic crisis represents a critical political opportunity to make significant structural changes in the global development macro-economic and financial architecture that reflect rights-based and equitable principles,” it declared.

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