The Whirled Bank Group



World Bank loans and International Monetary Fund-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) have stripped many women of what meager health and education benefits were once available to them. Women's formal sector unemployment has increased due to IMF-induced recessions, privatizations, and government cutbacks. In Central Asia, for example, women have been the targets of dramatic job losses as state-owned companies are sold to the private sector. Women's unemployment averages 70% in Armenia, Russia, Bulgaria and Croatia, and tops 80% in the Ukraine, according to a recently released report from the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). Sweatshops, whose workers are predominantly women, have proliferated, specifically supported by IMF policies encouraging exports and free trade zones.


Food production and other activities that provide income and sustenance to households have been undermined. In Africa, incentives that switch land and labor to export crop production have forced women to reduce time tending farm plots that are the basis of food security, and then spend more time as unpaid laborers. The proportion of female-maintained households continues to grow as men become unemployed or are pushed out of their traditional income- generating roles.

On a continent where women farmers are responsible for the majority of food production, policies designed to shift resources into export-crop production contributed to decreases in per capita food production in the 1980s of close to 2% a year. Food imports during that time increased dramatically. In Kenya, women report planting tobacco right up to their door, yet not having enough money from its sale to buy food, and in Uganda, government incentives to produce beans for export left women farmers with no food crops for their families. A woman farmer in Zaire, referring to a scheme to switch land used for food into export-crop production spoke to the wider reality of rural women across the continent when she observed, "If you have to buy food, you will never have enough."


For women in Asia, export-led growth has taken on a different dimension. Not only do women dominate as workers in export industries, but they themselves have become the important exports. In Indonesia, for example, women migrants to the Middle East increased from 8,000 in 1979 to over 100,000 now. In the Philippines, women composed more than 60% of the 675,000 documented overseas workers in 1994.

The majority of women migrants are service workers — domestic helpers, entertainers and related work — subject to harsh living and working conditions and vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence. Mortality rates of Filipino migrants — measured conservatively by the number of migrants whose bodies are flown back to the Philippines on commercial carriers (a newly lucrative business, according to the airlines) — are far above the national average. In addition, they suffer ills common to all migrant workers: separation from their children and families, racial discrimination, cultural shock and social isolation in host countries and social and economic reintegration problems upon return. Of the 2800 Filipino maids that work in the U.S., 2000 of them are employed by staff at the World Bank and the IMF.

The above information has been adapted from: "Bailouts for Bankers, Burdens for Women" by Lisa McGowan.


The World Bank has recently paid a tremendous amount of lip-service to helping poor women based on the knowledge that women invest their earnings in 'social capital' - food, education, and health care for their families - more reliably than men. In 1995, the Bank and its partners launched the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP) with a US$200 million budget for the program. To date, only US$30 million of this amount has materialized as new financing. Despite this small sum of money this program represents a clear departure from the traditional large infrastructure and structural adjustment loans the Bank is known for.

But CGAP does not make direct loans to poor borrowers. Rather, this program seeks to provide grant money to selected microcredit programs, improve donor coordination, and promote 'best practices' for practitioners. The Sustainable Energy and Economy Network says that CGAP is a flawed project for these reasons:

First, the program is being used by the Bank to leverage policy reforms which "mirror the macro level measures imposed by the Bank under Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), including privatisation, deregulation, and legal reforms, all of which benefit commercial bankers, not borrowers."

Second, the program's "overall strategy for facilitating microcredit, eligibility criteria for funding, and expenditures to date indicate that well below 50 percent of the program's budget may actually reach poor women."

Third, the microlending 'best practices' being promoted under CGAP are market-friendly, not women-friendly.

Fourth, poor women and small grassroots groups are excluded from CGAP's decision-making process. And finally, in the report's view, CGAP's structure "ultimately shields the World Bank from accountability to women."

For more information see


Copyright © 2003 The Whirled Bank Group, All Rights Reserved. Terms and Conditions

Toxic Waste Mining Logging Highways Fossil Fuels Dams