Two years ago, at the Beijing+5 U.N. Women 2000 Conference, European development agencies threatened to withhold funds from Nicaragua because Max Padilla, head of the Nicaraguan Ministry for the Family, insisted on defining gender by its common meaning of "male and female."
The European agencies defined "gender" as a social construct that included gays and the transgendered. Desperately poor and unable to risk losing foreign aid, Nicaragua fired Padilla.
This was not the first time world agencies had attempted to impose a politically correct gender agenda on a resisting nation, nor was it the last. Recent pronouncements by the World Bank — which lends over $17 billion annually to developing nations — suggest that the U.N.-aligned agency is currently engaged in gender blackmail: The World Bank has declared that "gender mainstreaming" (the demand for socio-economic and political equality between the genders), is key to "poverty reduction."
According to a January announcement, it will dole out loans and investments to starving nations based on whether they "equalize opportunities" for the genders.
The World Bank vaguely defines correct gender policies and how to implement them in a document entitled Integrating Gender into the World Bank's Work.
The first step is to perform a Country Gender Assessment on all borrowing nations or those who aspire to borrow. A CGA involves assessing "the different socioeconomic roles ... in both the market and household economies," inequalities in "decision-making at the local and national levels" and "laws, institutional frameworks, norms, and other social practices that lead (implicitly or explicitly) to gender discrimination."
Regardless of the customs, religion, traditions, and unique history of a nation, Western standards of gender equality would be required. Virtually every impoverished corner of the world would be monitored by "the submission of regional gender mainstreaming plans and year-end reports" to the World Bank.
The scope of the conformity required can be judged by the broad range of specific issues mentioned in "Integrating Gender": health, land reform, violence against women, work without pay in the family, access to credit, prostitution, equal representation in government, vulnerability to HIV, and illiteracy.
Elsewhere in the document, issues such as male alcoholism, unequal pay rates, harassment at work, reproductive health care, and rape within marriage are stirred into the mix.
This vast expansion of the World Bank's power comes as a result of a study entitled Engendering Development Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources and Voices. The study "found" that societies with gender discrimination also experienced greater poverty and governmental corruption.
"We are saying to nations with significant gender stratification, 'If you allow gender disparities to persist, it comes at a cost,'" declares World Bank economist Andrew Mason, who co-authored the study with fellow agency economist Elizabeth King. "If you ignore this, you ignore economically significant costs to your country," he said.
Economic pressure can often succeed where other motivations have failed, and this may seem to be sound human rights policy. However, the imposition of such sweeping policies on developing nations could open up every aspect of daily life in these societies — from the crowded streets of Asia to the isolated huts of Africa — to World Bank approval.
Perhaps more significantly, agencies like the World Bank have themselves accrued dismal human rights records and disturbing histories of corruption.
Impoverished nations cannot rely on the honesty or consistency of the world agencies that may demand compliance with feminist ideals before extending a dime to those in dire need. Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, has diligently reported on the corruption and hypocrisy of agencies such as the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
He writes, "It condemns prostitution, [but] the convention's review committee directed China to legalize it. Even though the convention never mentions abortion, the convention's review committee repeatedly tells Catholic countries they must legalize it."
Others point to the complicity of the United Nations Population Fund in such human rights atrocities as China's "one-policy" by which women are forced to abort pregnancies that are not state-sanctioned.
There is also the question of the World Bank's motives.
The study was conducted by the World Bank itself, by economists who both work for the agency. Based on his organization's own study, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn reached a conclusion that should startle no one: The agency — which has approximately 8,000 employees in Washington and over 2,000 in the field — had to expand.
Integrating Gender includes page after page of presumably well-paid new positions in the World Bank that gender mainstreaming will require. (This expansion of power also comes at the same moment that increasing criticism is being leveled at the World Bank's dismal internal morale and poor management.)
Nevertheless, at last month's U.N. development conference in Monterrey, Mexico, President Bush committed additional funds to the World Bank. A White House press release reported that "the president's budget requests an 18 percent increase ... over the next three years — equivalent to a pledge of $2.85 billion — if the World Bank demonstrates it can use the funds to achieve measurable results."
The proposed budget also includes an 18 percent increase specifically to the African Development Bank.
The conditional nature of Bush's commitment to the World Bank must give hope to developing nations who object to the imposition of a Westernized feminist ideal that is controversial even in North America. Certainly, these nations can expect no protection from the World Bank. The draft of the study was discussed and refined at the same Women 2000 Conference that led to Padilla's political demise. PC feminist groups were actively consulted for input.
The World Bank has become the financier of a world government that withholds funds from desperate nations unless they parrot the correct party line. World government is government at its worst: unaccountable, arrogant, unwieldy, and corrupt.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.