As the deadline for submitting comments to the Word Bank concerning the second draft of their safeguard review looms (March 1st), a group of Nobel Peace Prize winning women (The Nobel Women's Initiative) have sent a scathing letter to World Bank President Kim detailing concerns they have with the process thus far. While the review covers safeguards on wide-ranging issues, the women focus on three of particular interest to them: women's rights, indigenous peoples' rights, and climate protections. The laureates make it quite clear the Bank has a long way to go in these areas to live up to their goal of "eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity."
As of right now, the World Bank does not have a mandatory gender safeguard policy. As they note, women and girls make up well over half of the world's population, but they have no safeguard to insure their fair share of Bank projects. More often than not, they face discrimination and abuse all but barring them from the positive benefits of Bank supported economic development. No community can be lifted out of poverty, and certainly no nation can be expected to adequately look-after its citizenry -- if by design over 50 percent of them do not have a fair shot at Bank-supported social mobility. A nation that leaves behind over half of its people is a nation that will be left behind and forever trapped in poverty. This cannot be allowed to go unaddressed by the World Bank. A mandatory safeguard policy that identifies and mitigates potential negative impacts of Bank projects on women is essential.
Photo caption: Fishing communities affected by World Bank Group financed coal power plant in Gujarat, India (Photo credits: Joe Athialy)
Second, the laureates argue that it is long past the time to eliminate the indigenous peoples' policy loophole and indeed all safeguard loopholes. While supportive of the Bank's inclusion of a requirement for obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent in the new Indigenous Peoples policy, it is a complete waste if a wealth of loopholes makes the requirement all but voluntary. As they report: "The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and other research has highlighted, indigenous peoples' defending their right to consultation for large-scale development projects are among the most vulnerable, subject to attacks and assassination. This new requirement should be advanced further to ensure indigenous peoples can exercise their right to self-determination and are full and equal partners in the development process."
Opt-out clauses are more than a get-out-of-jail-free card. They are a never-have-to-worry-about-going-to-jail card. Currently there are opt-out clauses in the new safeguard policy the Bank has made public and is currently accepting comment on and the aim of one of them is to deny Indigenous Peoples' their rights. Such loopholes, Nobel Women demand, need to be completely removed to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples are protected.
Last but not least, the laureates weigh in on the always dicey issue of climate change. While the Bank has identified climate change as an emerging issue in the safeguards review process, from the looks of the current safeguards draft it does not look like climate will be addressed systematically. If allowed to happen, this will represent a huge lost opportunity to avert further climate degradation. Nobel Women call for the new safeguards to be "tools in addressing our urgent climate crisis." New meaningful and enforceable Bank safeguards would show the world that we are all in this together: It is not up to a handful of countries to take action. But the reality is that some negative impacts are already apparent and past the point of no return. For these we need the resiliency of host communities and ecosystems be considered before Bank-funded projects are approved. We can only put off dealing with the looming climate threat for so long. After all, you can't kick the can down the road if that road is already underwater.
We are glad the important words and opinions of the Nobel Women's Initiative have been shared with the Bank. They are far too important to ignore. Time has all but run out on the second draft which makes the letter that much more timely. Now it is up to the Bank to do their jobs and put forward the strong enforceable safeguards the world wants and needs. At this point, we are all counting on them.