Following the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund with sexual assault charges pending, news has begun to focus on his successor. At this point, it appears that the most likely candidate is French Finance Minister Christine LaGuard.
The news of the first female director of the IMF could not come at a better time – after the horrible rape charges became public, women inside the IMF began to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment perpetrated by the upper-level men in the office. Power dynamics within the office allowed a “culture of sexism” to be perpetuated within the office, according to some of the employees, and recently described as such in a New York Times article. “Women avoided wearing skirts for fear of attracting unwanted attention,” it said. Gender discrimination in hiring and advancement has also been exposed, with IMF responding to the charge of its male-dominated workplace with a promise that the organization will increase the number of women in senior roles by 10% over the next three years. So with this in mind, having a woman in charge sounds like a welcome change, as far as benefiting the IMF’s female employees, reducing the culture of sexism within the organization, and saving the reputation of the IMF as a horribly sexist workplace.
But does placing a woman in charge really mean there will change? Perhaps within the hostile environment of the IMF, women will benefit from this shift in power. But have we looked at the way the IMF has treated women throughout the world, in which a systematic violation of human rights has been allowed to perpetuate and flourish without much attention from Western media or public, hardly a fraction of that given by the current news regarding DSK’s sexual assault charge (not that it shouldn’t receive attention, it absolutely should, minus the victim-blaming that has, not surprising, appeared in some commentary and news coverage).
Last week, Foreign Policy in Focus published a piece titled “The IMF: Violating Women Since 1945” explaining how the IMF’s policies in the Global South have particularly affected and violated the human rights of women since its inception. The article explains that the IMF has historically cut programs to welfare and education in these countries, has mandated governments to cut public sector jobs and limit local production of goods. In this way, the IMF has only deepened poverty in those countries, affecting women significantly. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor, hold most of the lower-skilled public sector jobs, and are disproportionately affected by a slashing of social programs as the primary care-givers of their families.
Of course, the IMF systematically perpetuates this violence against ALL people in the countries in which it engages in loan agreements and structural agreement programs. Therefore, it is not just women’s issue, it is a human issue. But at a time when the workplace sexism of the IMF is being examined alongside the violence against women perpetrated by its highest in command, let’s not forget the global violence against women that it also enacts and not assume that change will come with a replacement in the director’s gender. In all likelihood, misogynist policies will not change easily or willingly. It is imperative that we put pressure on the IMF to make real changes, that we as feminists and as human rights activists make our demands and make them loud and clear. What are your ideas?