Ugly face of IMF austerity measures in developing countries
How IMF policies are driving more women and girls into poverty
By Dalitso Kuphanga
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a global organization that provides financial assistance to countries facing economic crises. However, this assistance often comes with conditions that require countries to implement austerity measures, such as reducing public spending and increasing taxes. These measures can have a significant impact on economic growth and development in African countries, as well as on the lives of women and girls.
Austerity measures are policies that aim to reduce government spending, increase taxes, and limit public debt. The IMF often requires countries to implement these measures as a condition for receiving financial assistance. However, these measures can have a significant impact on social welfare, particularly for vulnerable populations such as women and girls.
In many African countries, women and girls are disproportionately affected by austerity measures. This is because they often rely on social welfare programs that are subject to cuts under austerity measures.
For example, a study by the World Health Organization found that austerity measures in sub-Saharan Africa led to reduced funding for maternal and child health programs, which disproportionately affected women and girls.
Additionally, austerity measures often result in job losses and reduced access to education and training programs. This can have a significant impact on women's economic opportunities, as they often have fewer employment opportunities and less access to education and training than men. As a result, women may experience a decline in their economic status and struggle to support themselves and their families.
IMF relief packages can also have negative impacts on women and girls in African countries. These packages often come with conditions that prioritize debt repayment over social welfare programs, which can have a significant impact on women's access to healthcare, education, and other essential services. For example, a study by the International Centre for Research on Women found that IMF policies in Tanzania resulted in reduced funding for healthcare services, which disproportionately affected women and girls.
Additionally, IMF policies can have a negative impact on women's access to land and other resources. For example, IMF-supported land reform policies in Africa have been criticized for disproportionately benefiting men and undermining women's access to land. This can have a significant impact on women's economic opportunities, as they often rely on land for subsistence agriculture and other livelihood activities.
It is, however, encouraging to note that in response to dominant patriarchal economic policies prescribed by the IMF, ActionAid has been championing a robust campaign for a feminist well-being economy. The campaign makes a strong call on governments under the yoke of IMF policy prescription to abandon austerity measures and, instead, invest more resources in the care economy and other gender-responsive public sectors
The campaign has been leveraging on the power of people living in poverty and affected by IMF policies to build alliances and challenge the policies of the IMF. The ball is now firmly in IMF’s court to consider the gendered impacts of its policies and to prioritize social welfare and gender equality in its relief packages and policy recommendations.
One would also wish IMF borrowed a leaf from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which in 2005 introduced Aid for trade. Aid for trade refers to the provision of assistance or support to developing countries to help them build their trade capacity and integrate into the global economy. These are better funding mechanisms whose main aim is to promote economic growth, poverty reduction, and sustainable development by addressing the supply-side constraints that limit the ability of developing countries to participate in global trade
Moreover, through its Tax Justice campaign, ActionAid has been calling on governments, especially those in the global south, to pursue fair taxation as potential avenues to increase domestic resource mobilisation to progressively invest in public spending.
Otherwise, the IMF prescribed austerity measures are a death sentence to developing countries including Malawi. Austerity measures result in reduced access to social welfare programs and job losses, which disproportionately affect women and girls. Similarly, IMF policies can have a negative impact on women's access to healthcare, education, and land, which can further exacerbate gender inequality.
Note: Dalitso Kuphanga is a programme manager at ActionAid Malawi