New IMF Gender Strategy: An Unprecedented Step

This Friday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will take an unprecedented step forward as its Board of Governors reviews the institution’s first-ever gender strategy. On the eve of the Board’s meeting, I discuss the importance of this milestone for the Fund, the process the Fund’s gender team has led to ensure the strategy reflects the expertise of internal and external stakeholders, my own brief impressions of the strategy’s content, and an upcoming CGD event where you can learn more.

Why is a Board-approved gender strategy an important step for the IMF?

Given the significant role the IMF plays in shaping governments’ macroeconomic policies through providing loans and guidance, an increased focus on gender equality at the Fund is critical. The new gender strategy will help to increase alignment between the Fund’s support to governments and its own research identifying gender equality as macro-critical. The strategy’s implementation offers the opportunity for a more intentional, systematic effort to ensure that IMF lending and advice do not inadvertently exacerbate pre-existing inequalities in member countries and ideally work to narrow them.

CGD research reflects that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a gendered crisis, with disproportionate impacts for women and girls, and that donors and governments have not sufficiently centered this reality in their response efforts to date. Considering the Fund’s activities through a gender lens—especially in countries where data reveals gender inequality to be macro-critical—can contribute to maximizing their impact and promoting a more inclusive recovery from COVID-19, as well as longer-term equality.

How has the IMF gender team solicited guidance and feedback?

Earlier this year, the IMF’s gender team posted and circulated a draft version of the strategy and solicited written feedback from researchers, advocates, and other partners sitting both within and outside the Fund. The team also hosted a series of virtual consultations, both with Fund staff and external stakeholders, to create platforms for discussion and respond to questions.

As part of this process, I (along with CGD president Masood Ahmed) reviewed the strategy and posed questions and suggestions, both directly to the IMF gender team in writing and through virtual meetings and consultations.  I also advised the WeProsper Initiative on its collective response.

What are the strategy’s strengths, and where could it be improved?

The strategy has a number of strengths, which include its recognition of the IMF’s unique role in promoting gender equality. A key contribution of the Fund will be to familiarize finance ministers with the macro-criticality of gender gaps and policies to address them. Most finance ministers think this is someone else’s responsibility, but it should really be central to their own policymaking and thinking. The Fund will be unique in its ability to both access and persuade finance ministries to take a stronger leadership role in advancing gender equality.

At the same time, the strategy reflects awareness that it needs to forge partnerships with external experts and organizations with data, evidence, and tactics the Fund can learn from and leverage. In particular, establishing partnerships with in-country gender equality researchers and advocates can help ensure that the Fund’s own policy dialogues and capacity building efforts align with demand-driven, local priorities. In this way, the Fund has the ability to exert leverage in a way that gives increased voice to local expertise.

But while the strategy does a good job of demonstrating gender equality’s macro-criticality, it could strengthen its articulation of how macroeconomic policies can either help promote or hinder gender equality, depending on the design and implementation of these policies. In particular, I hope that care will be positioned as an area of emphasis for the Fund as it tackles persistent barriers to gender equality and macroeconomic stability and development, since historically-unrecognized unpaid labor by women and girls hinders progress on both fronts.

What’s next?

Once the final strategy is Board-approved and publicly released, I’ll look forward to reviewing how the Fund’s gender team incorporated feedback it received.

From an implementation standpoint, I look forward to seeing more details on how the work of the Fund’s gender unit will get mainstreamed and consider how the Fund will measure success in implementation. With CGD and Open Data Watch colleagues, I have made some recommendations tailored to the White House given its new National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality, and a similar approach could be applied to the IMF’s gender strategy. For the Fund’s implementation and evaluation efforts to be effective, it will be important for country governments to prioritize the collection and sharing of relevant gender-disaggregated data to inform research and policy dialogues.

I’ll also host Ratna Sahay, the Fund’s senior gender advisor, for the first public-facing presentation of the strategy’s contents, which will be followed by a panel discussion featuring IMF board members, government representatives, and civil society actors who will share their perspectives on the way forward. This conversation will take place on August 25th at 10:00 am ET; stay tuned for the announcement on CGD’s events page.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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