The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who has been charged with rape and forced imprisonment of a 32-year-old Guinean hotel worker at a $3,000-a-night luxury hotel in New York, can be seen through the feminist lens of the “personal is political.” As his personal case is being investigated, it is important to point out that the disrespect for women demonstrated by the man at the highest levels of leadership within the IMF is quite consistent with the gender bias inherent in the IMF’s institutional policies and practice.
In exchange for IMF loans, governments in the Global South must accept austerity measures that, instead of reducing poverty, actually deepen it, especially for women who make up 70 percent of the world’s poor. IMF-mandated cutbacks in social welfare and governmental programs, as well as encouragement of exports over local production for local consumption, have disproportionately affected women who have been laid off, cut off from medical services, and subjected to sexual exploitation. IMF policies have also raped the earth by dictating that governments privatize the natural resources most people depend on for their survival: water, land, forests, and fisheries.
It would be a great thing if Strauss-Kahn’s trial succeeded in ending the world’s tolerance for those who discriminate and abuse women. The courage and gumption of the young Guinean immigrant who stood up for herself gives hope to women who are too afraid to speak the truth. We cannot tolerate this kind of abuse one second longer. We cannot tolerate it at the personal level, we must refuse to condone it at the professional level, and we must challenge it every time it we see it in the policies of global institutions like the International Monetary Fund.
The full column can be read here