The liberation of women


Accused of attempted rape of a New York City hotel maid, International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was hauled off an airplane last week and arrested before he could depart for his native France. Later, a New York Times article revealed that the IMF's culture has been known for tolerating sexual harassment of women. I find this especially troubling for an organization charged with aiding economically struggling nations. Thriving economies help to liberate women, yet the IMF apparently has a history of oppressing women on its own payroll.

The Times reports that the IMF, based in Washington, D.C., isn't subject to U.S. laws and has developed a pattern of turning a blind eye to sexual harassment problems within the organization. Students of organizational culture know that unwritten values such as "we look the other way when women are mistreated" are at least as consequential as official corporate pronouncements like this one found on the IMF's code of conduct web page:

"You should treat your colleagues, whether supervisors, peers, or subordinates, with courtesy and respect, without harassment, or physical or verbal abuse. You should at all times avoid behavior at the workplace that, although not rising to the level of harassment or abuse, may nonetheless create an atmosphere of hostility or intimidation."

The IMF situation is particularly vexing because its work, if effective, should help to liberate women around the world. Bettina Bien Greaves' article for The Freeman in 1971 ("The Liberation of Women") chronicled the development of labor-saving tools beginning in the 19th century that have freed women to seek economic equality with men:

"Doing the family wash was another backbreaking chore in the nineteenth century. First the soap had to be prepared from lye made out of wood ashes, and fat and grease saved from cooking. The water had to be toted and heated, heavy wash tubs filled, with countless trips back and forth to the stove."

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You get the picture-life in less advanced economies was, and is, difficult for women. There's little time for anything else other than basic survival chores. Yet, the IMF's culture demonstrates that enlightened economics alone does not liberate women. At heart, liberating women is a spiritual matter. Women are created in the image of God and must be treated accordingly.

According to a May 19 update to its staff conduct rules, the IMF has been working on its harassment problem for two years. But if the IMF truly wants to liberate women, it needs to do more than enhance its policies and procedures. It needs to reassess its core beliefs.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.


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