Debt and structural adjustment programmes: the effects on women in Africa
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U Etim, Ekei. 1993. Debt and structural adjustment programmes: the effects on women in Africa. Spore 44. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Dr Ekei U Etim is a Research Officer with the Council for World Mission. Apart from her work as a part-time Lecturer at the University of London she belongs to organizations such as the Institute for African Alternative, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the...
Dr Ekei U Etim is a Research Officer with the Council for World Mission. Apart from her work as a part-time Lecturer at the University of London she belongs to organizations such as the Institute for African Alternative, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the Royal African Society. By 1991 Africa's foreign debt had reached US$280 billion - almost double its 1980 level and equivalent to over 90% of the region's GDP. In servicing this debt African countries paid out US$23 billion in 1990, which was equivalent to 30% of export receipts. Since these countries are highly dependent on imports for much of the resources they need for development, servicing the debt has directly taken away money needed for education, housing and health care services. Since 1981, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been the sole policeman of Third World debt. The result is that more than 33 African governments have implemented its Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). A phenomenon which has emerged from this IMF role is that international commercial institutions are imposing similar conditionality with respect to the commercial loans that they make to Third World countries. In Africa spending on health care has declined by 50% and on education by 25% over the last decade. The deterioration of such services affects women, both as consumers of such services and indirectly, since it usually falls on female members of the households to compensate for changes in the provision of public services. Women often need greater access to health care services than do men, because of childbearing and their traditional role in child care. Women have had to bear the brunt of crumbling services at a time when debt-driven demands on them as producers have increased. SAPs have had negative effects on the quality and availability of education. A UNICEF Study, Adjustment with a human face, shows that reduction in public spending on primary education tends to affect adversely girls more than boys. For example, as school fees increase or schools close down, families often choose to invest more in their son's education than their daughter's. Furthermore, the increased domestic workload during hard times may fall more heavily on female children. Austerity measures have resulted in redundancies and women, whether single or married, are usually the first to lose their jobs. In most cases women are busy satisfying the needs of all members of their families to the extent that everyone takes this for granted and they forget that the women in question have needs too. As family incomes decline and prices increase, women must work harder outside the home. In some cases the pressure on debtor countries to expand their export production has increased the number of jobs available to women, but under extremely exploitative conditions. The crisis affects rural women differently than it does men. The debt-driven emphasis on cash crops has added to women's labour burden without increasing their incomes. Where jobs are difficult to come by, women are struggling to make ends meet by producing food and handicrafts to sell in the markets. This trend is part of the growing informal sector which has developed to respond to the economic crises. In Zimbabwe, most women have already started to feel the pinch of SAPs introduced in January 1991. Their daily incomes are failing to meet the 26.5% inflation rate. Moreover the women do not have a steady income to rely on. Vegetable markets, where onions, tomatoes and single cigarettes are sold, have sprouted at street corners and even in residential areas. Other women are now selling cooked foods in cooperatives. Women are responding with inventiveness and energy to the challenges of the economic crisis with the establishment of self-help schemes and cooperatives. Individual efforts of people like Professor Wangari Maathai in establishing the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and Dr Maryam Babangida, wife of the President of Nigeria, in establishing the Better Life for Rural Women Programme, are notable. Then there are many non-governmental agencies who have programmes to enhance women's participation in development. As a complement to individual and collective self-help efforts, women are joining forces to document the impact of the debt crisis on them through research, advocacy and popular education. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Institute for African Alternative (London) and the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD) are just three examples of organizations working for women's perspectives to promote alternative approaches to current debt and development policies which undermine the situation of poor women. Governments have to work towards the reduction of exploitation and burden on women. Investment in education, health and housing, for example, will improve the quality of life of the people better than 'women only' programmes. African governments should commit resources to development programmes which will enhance women's participation in development and raise the standard of living of families and that of the community at large. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.
- CTA Spore (English)