The Beijing Conference: Governments Refused to Address a Major Cause of Women's Weakening Economic Status, While Claiming to Support Women's Economic Empowerment

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The World Bank and IMF have lately spoken of their great concern for the plight of women in the third world. But as this article points out, the structural adjustment programs that these US-controlled institutions have imposed on the third world are having a devastating impact, especially on the lives of women in these countries. This piece is a direct reflection of the work done by women at the Beijing Conference on Women on this question. It is the fruit of a workshop organized by third world women. As such, it reflects the growing sense of shared experience and common understanding so evident among the thousands of women at the Conference of Non-governmental Organizations at Beijing.

Governments have refused to address the structural causes of women's poverty and marginalization, according to members of the NGO Economic justice Caucus of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

The Caucus noted that every regional NGO meeting leading to Beijing, as well as cores of panels and workshops held in Huairou in the previous ten days, identified globalization and structural adjustment policies SAPS) as major threat to women's well-being and economic rights. NGOs presented evidence on the failure of the current economic model which underlies international policy and assumes that the market is the best means of distributing resources, including social services.

According to Helen Hill of Australia, "by empowering multinational capital vis-a-vis the state and the worker, globalization not only weakens the ability of governments to provide health, education, and other public services to their citizens, but it also weakens citizens' voices in economic decision-making."

"Governments gathered in Beijing have refused to address a major cause of women's weakening economic status, while claiming to support women's economic empowerment. The United States and the European Union are leading the pack by refusing to allow language and analysis in the Platform for Action that links their economic policies to poverty," said Lisa McGowan of the Development GAP, a public-policy organization in Washington DC that tracks economic issues.

According to the caucus, the sections of the platform dealing with poverty, women's economic empowerment, and women and economic decision-making fail to provide long-term solutions to poverty and economic inequalities. This is very serious, given that the platform is contradictory, lacks a coherent economic analysis, and therefore runs the danger of being reduced to nothing more than rhetoric.

Women attending the NGO Forum and the FCWC reported similar impacts of SAPs and other economic liberalization policies. In Africa, contrary to World Bank claims that SAPs would generate economic growth, promote investment, create jobs, and alleviate poverty, women's experience tells a different story. Economic policies such as high interest rates, trade liberalization, devaluation, and the full removal of subsidies on inputs have undermined food production and local industries. For example, in Senegal, women were encouraged to invest in tomato production for sale to local processing plant. Massive devaluation of the CFA, coupled with increased input prices and the sudden importation of cheap tomato paste from Italy, wiped out the market for locally produced tomatoes, leaving women worse off that they were before. …