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To Women’s Rights, Financial Institutions Pay Lip Service Only

Kanya D'Almeida*

WASHINGTON, Nov 30 2011 (IPS) - On day seven of “the 16 days of activism to end violence against women” campaign, women’s rights organisations around the world are asking what the biggest international financial institutions (IFIs) are really doing to protect women’s rights, which are under daily assault.

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) most recent statistics, one in three women in the world will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, including pregnant women and young mothers, often repeatedly, by multiple attackers.

Half the battered and assaulted women worldwide are children under 15 years old.

Every day, 6,000 girls endure female genital mutilation (FGM), which means that in any given year two million young women will be subject to a procedure that severely hampers their long-term health.

Though women in the grassroots have long fought these atrocities, multilateral institutions have been slow to put women’s safety on their priority lists.

A simple assessment of the pledges made and projects undertaken by five of the world’s leading IFIs to empower and protect women reveals a pattern of rhetoric falling short of any tangible action to end gender-based violence and inequality.


Limited investments

Though the Inter American Development Bank’s (IDB) 2010 ‘Operational Policy on Gender Equality in Development’ claims to “give priority to direct investment in areas with a significant impact on gender equality and the empowerment of women”, actual investments have been incredibly limited.

Only one IDB investment, worth 164,000 U.S. dollars and made back in 2007 in the Dominican Republic, attempts to tackle violence against women and sexual reproductive health.

According to Gender Action’s primer on gender-based violence and the IFIs, “This (investment) constitutes only 2.6 percent of the IDB’s 6.2-million-U.S.-dollar Gender Mainstreaming budget, and 0.001 percent of the IDB’s total 2007 budget of 8.8 billion U.S. dollars.”

After noting in 2007 that Honduras was the worst HIV-prevalent country in Central America, with nearly 3.2 percent of the population affected, the IDB threw a meagre 300,000 of its 7.1 billion dollar annual budget into microloans to help HIV positive people.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has had a similarly weak track record on gender policy and action.

Despite promising in its 2009-2011 Gender Plan of Action to “support specific activities aimed at the treatment and prevention of gender based violence in fragile states”, the AfDB has currently made only one investment, amounting to 0.5 percent of its 2005 annual budget, in the “Support to Mano-River HIV/AIDS Control” project in Cote D’Ivoire.

Furthermore, the AfDB’s optional staff guide on “gender mainstreaming” investments makes no mention of gender-based violence, or its impact on women’s reproductive health.

The World Bank, armed with an annual arsenal of 58.8 billion dollars for fiscal year 2010, has excellent paper policies, but little to show by way of investments in women’s health and safety.

“Institutionally, the World Bank is a global leader in reproductive health, and we launched a new Reproductive Health Action Plan (RHAP) in 2010,” Merrell Tuck-Primdahl, senior communications officer for development economics at the Bank, told IPS.

“We are currently implementing the five-year plan to help countries improve their reproductive health outcomes,” she said.

The economic perspective

However, Elizabeth Arend, programs coordinator for Gender Action, told IPS, “Our research found that the Bank’s investments in ‘gender and social inclusion’ have actually decreased in recent years, from six percent of the bank’s budget in FY2006 to two percent in FY2010.”

“The Bank has only four active projects in the entire world to address gender-based violence, totalling only 12.5 million dollars, which amounts to just 0.02 percent of the Bank’s FY2010 budget,” she added.

“When the World Bank promotes “women’s health” it seems to refer only to reproductive health, which it is willing to promote as long as it contributes to the Bank’s economic agenda,” Arend said

“In the Bank’s view, reproductive health is not a human right, but is instead a necessity to maximise women’s economic activity. As long as women are healthy, they are better able to be economically productive – this is the motivation behind the Bank’s ‘women’s’ focus,” she added.

Indeed, this attitude is not specific to the World Bank, but is also evident in the investment patterns and gender policies of the European Development Bank (EDB), whose 2008 Gender Action Plan only touches on gender disparities that undermine women’s economic opportunities.

No mention is made of women’s basic human rights, gender-based violence or sexual health, despite the fact that the United Nations Population Fund has found violence against women in “epic proportions” throughout Eastern and Central Europe, particularly in Azerbaijan where a reported 99 percent of women have been subject to some form of physical abuse.

In Asia, where sexual violence is rampant and is a leading cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, development banks have all but failed to make a noteworthy effort to combat GBV.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has made only one gender-specific investment in this past decade, totalling just seven million dollars.

UNICEF reported back in 2008 that women in Papua New Guinea were some of the most vulnerable in the world to sexual violence, yet the ADB’s “Lae Port Development Project” was ominously silent on the issue.

Gender-based violence was also glaringly absent in the ADB’s “Community Action for Preventing HIV/AIDS” projects in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

*This story is the first in a two-part series on women and international financial institutions (IFIs).

 
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