Emma Burgisser is sceptical of Christine Lagarde’s claims to have embraced women’s empowerment 

As head of the most powerful influencer on economic policymakers around the world, Christine Lagarde’s claims to have embraced women’s empowerment must be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt (Fight sexism to make the world richer, says Lagarde, 2 March). I have spent the last four years working with women’s groups that are speaking out about how the bulk of the IMF’s work continues to undermine gender equality and women’s rights.

To present just a few examples: Lagarde points out how joint v individual tax filings can make a difference to women’s lives in countries like France and Germany, yet neglects the fact that the IMF continues to push regressive indirect taxes, especially in developing countries, that disproportionately target women, instead of going after the immense wealth of companies and top earners and the taxes they avoid. She also cites IMF research on its programmes protecting health and education spending. That has long been discredited by Oxford and Cambridge researchers finding that the programmes actually, on average, reduce health spending by 1.7% of GDP, on which women disproportionately rely.

Half of the social protection schemes that she says protect women were found not to be implemented, while those that are have been found to exclude between 50% and 90% of the intended beneficiaries, of whom the majority are women. Never mind the relentless austerity measures and dismantling of labour rights that still make up the bread-and-butter policy advice of the IMF today and undermine women’s rights and gender equality.

If Lagarde wants to make a name for herself as a true ally of women, she could begin by looking critically at the harms the IMF is causing and make a case as to why the economy should work for women (and men), and not vice versa. 
Emma Burgisser
Gender project manager, The Bretton Woods Project