Chapter 8: International development institutions, gender and economic life
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International development institutions (IDIs) have had a significant and wide-ranging impact on gender and economic life for the past half century. While the stated goal of development has been to improve the economic fortunes of all members of society, the economic and societal transformations associated with it have had mixed results on gender hierarchies and relations. While some initiatives have promoted gender equity, many others have contributed to the immiseration of women, indigenous populations, sexual minorities, and other subordinate groups, even as development itself has undergone numerous shifts in direction. Agencies such as the World Bank, the United Nations (UN), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among others, have long implemented agricultural and industrialization policies that structure access to resources such as land, credit, and paid employment in ways that assume a hetero normative male worker/female caregiver household, often limiting women’s access to paid labor and other earning opportunities and exacerbating a variety of gender inequalities in the process. While the male worker assumption lost some ground in the 1970s with the promotion of export production in feminine-coded clothing and electronics manufacturing, women’s insertion into these jobs had uneven effects in terms of improving women’s lives (see Kabeer, 1994; Fernández-Kelly and Wolf, 2001). In the 1980s and early 1990s, the neoliberal turn of many IDIs toward structural adjustment resulted in fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policies that heightened economic insecurity and increased work burdens for poor women.

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