Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

The Debt Crisis, Structural Adjustment and Women's Education; Implications for Status and Social Development

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

The Debt Crisis, Structural Adjustment and Women's Education; Implications for Status and Social Development

Article excerpt

Recently, the United Nations estimated the total cost of meeting basic human needs in Africa - for education, health, nutrition, and family planning - at $9 billion a year. A high price? It is less than the more than $10 billion that Africa is currently repaving in the form of interest on its foreign debt. Actually, this $10 billion is only one-third of the annual interest due on Africa's debt burden which, most experts agree, will never be repaid (UNICEF, 1994:51). The payment of this huge sum each year by poor African countries has only been possible through the stringent structural adjustment policies now common in the indebted countries of Africa and other developing regions.

When Mexico declared that it could no longer service its debt in 1982, international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund [IMF] introduced structural adjustment policies for indebted nations to follow in order to facilitate repayment. These policies include reducing civil employment, eliminating food subsidies, and reducing public expenditures for health care and schooling. Such measures are meant to reduce state spending so that countries can use more of their capital to service their debts. Structural adjustment policies may have a severe impact on poor and vulnerable groups in developing countries. Concern for these groups has led the United Nations Children's Fund [UNICEF] to call for "adjustment with a human face" (Cornia, Jolly, and Stewart, 1987). UNICEF has urged governments and non-governmental organizations to devise safety nets and programs to protect those most likely to be harmed by structural adjustment policies.

Third World leaders have voiced similar concerns. At a recent United Nations debate, Mavis Muyunda, Zambian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, insisted that constant debt servicing "translates into a dehumanizing life of poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality and moral degradation" for people in the developing world (United Nations, 1990b:22). In an attempt to find out what groups are most likely to be harmed by the debt crisis, some researchers and organizations have begun to ask: how might the effects of debt and structural adjustment policies be gender-specific? How might they affect women and men differently?

In response to these questions, two views predominate. The first, put forth by UNICEF and other international organizations, argues that women, along with children and refugees, constitute an especially vulnerable subpopulation in developing countries (Cornia, Jolly, and Stewart, 1987). The proponents of this view emphasize that throughout the world women are poorer than men. According to this perspective, female-headed households - which comprise an estimated 25-35 percent in some regions - and other poor women are the first to suffer negative effects of macroeconomic change. Moreover, because women have limited access to political power, land, literacy, credit and other valuable resources in most countries, they are especially vulnerable during economic recessions and periods of austerity.

A second view, popular in the women in development [WID] literature, emphasizes the role of women as agents of development (Moser, 1989; Sen and Grown, 1987). While women are directly involved in productive activities - in agriculture, industry and the informal sector - they are simultaneously responsible for the wellbeing of their families and the "reproduction of humanity" (Ward, 1984:16). Yet these contributions to development are often invisible or ignored. It is a little known fact that an estimated 75% of the food produced in Africa for African consumption is produced by women (Lele, 1991). And since much of the productive labor done by women is in the informal sector it is not numerated in measures of economic growth. Finally, women's reproductive labor is not defined as "work" despite the fact that raising children and work within households sustain and promote the economic and social development of any nation. …

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