Time’s Up for the World Bank?

Last weekend, tens of thousands of feminist demonstrators rallied in solidarity at women’s marches across the world. The annual march, which was originally a response to Trump’s election, this year comes amidst an entirely different presidential race – for the World Bank President.

Unlike the IMF, the WHO and the OECD, the World Bank has never had a woman in the top job, or a non-American for that matter. It really puts the “men” in gentlemen’s agreement. Strange that an organisation that purports to advance gender equality worldwide has yet to manage it in its own HQ.

Reports that self-proclaimed “advocate for the empowerment of women and girls” Ivanka Trump is involved in the selection process is hardly cause for feminists to pack up our banners. In fact, perhaps mobilising against this could even serve as our next rallying cause. Truly, patriarchy has no gender.

This is not Ivanka’s first collaboration with the Bank. Her Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a financial intermediary facility housed and managed by the Bank, aims to leverage private finance to increase access to finance for women entrepreneurs in small and medium sized enterprises. The programme may “empower” individual women entrepreneurs, so-called “high-growth women”, with access to credit (or perhaps more likely ensnare them in vicious debt traps). But it does little to support the millions of women who work in low-paid wage labour or the informal sector, many experiencing shocking labour rights violations – such as the women that reported abuse in a factory in Indonesia producing clothing for Ivanka’s own fashion brand.

It is no secret that women get paid less than men, do the lion’s share of unpaid care work and are more likely to be in precarious, informal work with less access to collective bargaining, particularly in low and lower-middle income countries. Given the scale of the challenge, I often wish there was an international organisation with the resources and (wo)manpower to provide a robust analysis of such structural inequalities and mainstream responses across its operations? Perhaps it might be the world’s largest development bank consisting of five institutions, with over 10,000 staff across 130 countries, including an enormous, influential research department? Just a thought.

It’s time for the World Bank to be more ambitious in addressing the root causes of gender inequality, not just scratching the surface. Others have said it before but I’ll say it again: we don’t just need a woman World Bank President, we need a feminist.

Of course, the Bank has many programmes that aim to support women all over the world. But the shocking disregard for labour market regulation and the care economy in the 2018 World Development Report, the promotion of private sector investment, including through its aggressive push for PPPs and the lack of mandatory gender safeguards in its infrastructure projects, show that the bulk of its wider policy positions still undermine women’s rights. Never mind the Bank’s narrow view of social protection and underlying commitment to rolling back the state. The last time I checked, investment in social infrastructure, essential public services and care sensitive social protection was considered quite important for achieving  gender equality, but who cares about the SDGs anyway?

In the 75 years of the World Bank’s existence (and counting…), it seems almost untouched by the second and third waves of feminism, including the ground-breaking work of feminist economists and gender and development experts around the world. Perhaps it has a good drainage system.

Globally, women make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, do two and a half times more unpaid care work and millions of women face violence and harassment at work and home. Despite this, women’s rights activists around the world are facing a sharp backlash to silence their voices, including at the Bank’s own 2018 Annual Meetings in Indonesia.

With the SDG deadline of 2030 fast-approaching, the Bank can no longer justify operating as a “human rights-free zone”. It must take a rights-based, feminist approach to development and commit to meaningful dialogue with critical women’s rights organisations (that are not dependent on its funding). Good intentions aside, time’s up for the Bank’s market-based, lean-in lip service to gender equality. It’s time for a feminist World Bank President.

1 thought on “Time’s Up for the World Bank?

  1. Comment peut-on parler des droits de l’homme, de la réalisation des ODD d’ici 2030, alors que la grande source de financement est hors de portée , impose sa manière de voir et gère les pouvoirs économiques, , financiers et dénature le social, surtout dans les pays du Sud

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