ActionAid and Public Services International have published a new report exposing the devasting impact public sector cuts are having on women in low-income countries, who face a triple threat of losing access to services, having fewer opportunities to access decent work and being forced to take on the rising burden of unpaid care work.
- Public sector cuts mean women are disproportionately shouldering the burden of unpaid care and domestic work, which will only get worse with the current cost of living crisis.
- ActionAid and Public Services International accuse the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) of ‘pink washing’ with its new Gender Mainstreaming Strategy and says it fails to get to the heart of gender inequality.
- The report calls for a bigger vision of a feminist, just alternative to the cult of austerity and an agenda that builds economies and societies based on care.
The Care Contradiction: The IMF, Gender and Austerity highlights the ways in which the International Monetary Fund’s policy advice around austerity, and massive cuts to public spending, are exacerbating gender inequality. It also exposes the ways the IMF is failing to recognise and account for women’s disproportionate unpaid care and domestic work and commit to address how IMF policy advice increases this burden.
Recent research found that 85% of the world’s population will be living in the grips of stringent austerity measures by next year. Austerity measures include cutting or freezing the wages and numbers of teachers, health workers and other public sector workers.
The drive to cut public budgets and public sector wage bills has been going on for decades, but has no credible evidence base. It has blocked recruitment of nurses, care workers, doctors and teachers in many countries, even where there are desperate shortages, and it has blocked pay increases even where workers are on very low pay.
This has undermined health and education outcomes, especially in low and middle income countries. It is estimated that globally, there is a shortage of 5.9 million nurses. In Ghana, ActionAid’s research found that on average there is one doctor to every 8,000 people. This is hugely impacting women, depriving them of health care and opportunities for decent work with data showing 90% of nurses globally are women and over 70% of healthcare staff are women.
In September 2022, the Government of Zambia was forced to agree a new loan deal with the IMF, and in just over three years the country is being pushed to move from a 6 per cent deficit to a 3.2 per cent surplus. Despite the aspirations of the Government to invest in education and health. ActionAid Zambia’s Country Director, Nalucha Nganga Ziba said:
““Earlier this year the government made bold commitments to make education free from early childhood through to upper secondary and it has recruited 30,000 new teachers to address serious shortages. But with the squeeze now placed on public sector pay and school enrolments likely to rise dramatically at every level of education, class sizes will rise everywhere, and come 2025 the shortage of teachers will be more acute than ever.
“In summary, this IMF programme fails to pass the burden onto those who are most able to pay. It does not have an equity lens, least of all a gender equity lens.”
The report comes as the IMF and the World Bank meet in Washington DC, USA, for the 2022 Annual Meetings.
The report outlines the failings of the IMF’s Gender Mainstreaming Strategy which was launched in July 2022, and identifies the necessary steps needed to turn the tide for women everywhere. The report calls for the IMF to:
- Recognise the negative impact of public wage bill constraints and austerity more broadly on public services provision and women’s labour force participation.
- Commit to support countries to expand the percentage of GDP spent on wage bills wherever essential services are struggling through staff shortages.
- Assess critically the gendered and inequality impact of its austerity policies.
- Consult consistently with national and regional women’s rights organisations, feminist economists and movements in the Global South.
Roos Saalbrink, Policy Adviser on Economic Justice and Gender-Responsive Public Services and lead author of the report said: “The IMF’s Gender Mainstreaming Strategy is a perfect example of ‘pink washing’. The organisation is completely ignoring how its current policies are exacerbating gender inequality.
“Compensatory actions, like targeting social protection at some women after the damage is done by austerity policies, are not enough when the IMF has the power to prevent the harm being done in the first place.
Saalbrink added, “We need a bigger vision of a feminist, just alternative to the cult of austerity and an agenda that builds economies and societies based on care. This means moving beyond GDP growth to put human rights and care at the centre of economic objectives and indicators. We need a feminist approach to fiscal and tax justice and we need full recognition of the links between unpaid care work and the financing of public services. Fundamentally we need new international institutions that can shape and frame a fairer global economy.”
Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International said: "To win gender justice, we have to reduce unpaid care work, revalue paid care work and end the privatisation of public services. The IMF must stop paying lip service to gender equality and instead make a move towards the rebuilding of the social organisation of care through reclaiming care as a public good and universal human right.”