MENA Fem Movement for Economical, Development and Ecological Justice

Long Way To Go

Sahar Mechmech, 

Public Policy Analyst at Ali Ben Ghedhahem Center for Fiscal Justice (CAJF), working on issues of taxation, gender, and social protection in the MENA region. 


In the recent IMF/World Bank annuals in Marrakech, the two Bretton Woods institutions unveiled their prospects and their policy direction for the coming years. Despite years of critiques from governments, CSOs, and grassroots movements, the announced strategies by these IFIs do not steer away from the past failed austerity policies. Instead, they generally follow along the same lines of pushing for less government spending and weak taxation but re-wording them using progressive terms. This effectively redefines these terms and contributes to green- and pink-washing.

An example is the World Bank’s draft of its new Gender Strategy 2024-2030.[1] It is essentially a continuation of the previous strategy, with some marginal new axes of development. Overall, this strategy falls below expectations, and fails to acknowledge how austerity policies efforts, led in large parts by the Bank and the Fund, have contributed to economic and social inequalities suffered by women and other vulnerable groups.

For instance, throughout the strategy, there appears to be a focus on evidence-based policy and projects. This is also a continuation of the 2016-2023 strategy, where data was identified as a main driver of change. Yet, in the MENA region, the Bank has consistently failed to provide any consistent systemic data collection efforts on gendered data through mechanism such time-use surveys and gender-disaggregated poverty reports. Will this failure continue through the new strategy? Only time will tell.

Another contradiction in the strategy is its fourth outcome. This stated goal of “ensuring access to cash and ownership of assets” comes opposite to many of the Bank’s funded programs, especially cash transfer programs aiming at replacing universal food, energy, and water subsidies. These programs, such as AMEN in Tunisia, Takaful and Karama in Egypt, Takaful in Jordan, and the Emergency Crisis and COVID-19 Response Social Safety Net Program in Lebanon, suffer from large exclusion errors. They only cover 12.5% of the lowest quintile in Tunisia [2], 45% of the poorest in Egypt[3], and less than 50% in Lebanon.[4] Unlike universal subsidies that do reach much of the poorest populations, these targeted safety programs leave most of the poor (the majority of whom are women) without any type of social transfers.

Additionally, the Bank’s acknowledgement of the importance of care services, in its 5th identified outcome, is a welcome (though late) change in strategy. [5] But its approach to it leaves much to be desired. The Bank essentially continues in its efforts to privatize essential services, by alluding that much of these services can be done through private sector solutions, while the government either directly provides them or subsidies them for poor and marginalized. This is proposed, despite the years of research showing that the accessibility and unaffordability of these services created by the private sector puts many vulnerable groups at a disadvantage and creates and deepens social and economic inequalities.[6]

The Fund also fails to offer any hints of radical changes to its policies. It is still resistant to any discussions around creating wealth taxes and raising income tax rates on high-earners and corporations. The argument often given is that governments in the Global South simply do not have the administrative capacity to collect higher taxes and fight tax fraud. However, policies of reducing rates to improve compliance and broaden the tax base, not only failed to raise additional fiscal resources, but effectively lowered them. This weakened the countries’ ability to pay their increasing debt, their ability to finance public services such as health and education and invest in universal social protection programs. All of this while putting hiring freezes and wage caps on key public sectors such as the tax administration, which by IMF’s own diagnosis is understaffed and underfunded in countries like Tunisia.[7]

Instead of focusing on progressive taxation policies that would provide much needed debt relief, the IMF continues to pursue failed “fiscal consolidation” (AKA austerity) policies, and only compliments it with marginal policies around digital inclusion and other technical subjects.

Such policies by the World Bank and the IMF do not improve the situation of marginalized groups temporarily, and are nowhere near enough to treat the systemic issues around economic inequalities stemming from the IFI-backed austerity measures adopted by most Global South governments.

[1] World Bank. World Bank Gender Strategy 2024 – 2030 : Accelerate Gender Equality for a Sustainable, Resilient, and Inclusive Future – Consultation Draft (English). Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group.

[2]  World Bank, Consolidating Social Protection and Labor Policy in Tunisia: Building Systems, Connecting to Jobs, Policy Note, World Bank Group, December 2015, Accessed 6 December 2022, Page 36.

[3] Kidd, Sarina D. “Smoke and Mirrors: The Role of World Bank and IMF in Shaping Social Security Policy in the MENA Region,” April 2022. Page ii.

[4] Kidd, Sarina D. “Smoke and Mirrors: The Role of World Bank and IMF in Shaping Social Security Policy in the MENA Region,” April 2022. Page 10.

[5] Care services include institutions such as schools, daycares, elderly care facilities, and healthcare facilities.

[6] Kentikelenis, Alexandros, Mechmech, Sahar, Bouzaiene, Amine, Moshrif, Rowaida, Abdo, Nabil, The Middle East and North Africa Gap: Prosperity for the rich, austerity for the rest, Oxfam International, October 2023, DOI 10.21201/2023.621549,

[7] The Tunisian Finance Ministry, Projet de réforme du système fiscal tunisien: Rapport de synthèse des travaux des groupes de travail, Novembre 2013,