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Monitoring the impacts of government and corporate behaviour in communities overseas.

International Women’s Day

Release Date: 08-Mar-2008

The Exhausted Woman: the costs of the World Banks' 'Structural Adjustment'

There's no doubt that Australian women are busy; engrossed with the constant coming and going of work and family. In the developing world women are also expected to take on multiple roles; as mother, carer, housekeeper, farmer. Women are over-represented in poverty statistics, and the burden of poverty they carry has been intensified by economic policy prescriptions imposed on poor countries by the World Bank as part of development loan conditions.

Being poor and severely indebted places a country under the influence of the World Bank. Since the early 1980's the Bank has imposed economic policies (called Structural Adjustment Programs) on poor countries. In the name of ‘poverty reduction’ and economic growth, these policies require, amongst other things, drastic cuts to public spending in crucial areas like health and education, and the subsequent introduction of ‘user fees’ for these basic services. 

Women filling the gaps
Worldwide, women make up half of the worlds population, head one-third of all households and are responsible for half of the world’s food production. Yet they receive only 10% of total income and own just 1% of the world’s property. The World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programs have exacerbated this disadvantage by adding to the work women must do in providing care and food. When there is a shortage of basic services like healthcare, education and water, women take on the extra work. They become substitute nurses and teachers, carers and farmers. For younger women this may come at the expense of education. When fees are introduced as a result of education spending-cuts, it is the girls who are first to be withdrawn from school. When water services are privatised the burden is on women to find new sources of water for their families. The effects are simply endless, seeping into all areas of women’s lives.

Economic policies of the international financial institutions like the World Bank have disenfranchised women further by mandating that poor countries switch to producing goods for export.  The focus on exports is a central tenant of structural adjustment under the influence of the World Bank, since it ensures that these poor economies can earn dollars to meet debt repayments. Women are expected to take on multiple roles; mother, carer, housekeeper, farmer. Their workload is doubled or tripled as they take on paid factory work alongside unpaid work in the home.

The bottom line is that these economic policies take women’s labour for granted. When social spending is cut women are simply expected to `fill in the gaps'.

‘Structural adjustment’ continues today
It is clear that the imposition of economic policies on poor countries as a condition of loans or debt relief is both harmful and inappropriate.  Yet the use of debt as a power tool to impose conditions on developing countries is not a thing of the past.  Most of the debt relief promised at the G8 in 2005 happens through the World Bank and IMF, who continue to exchange debt relief for enforced policies to cut spending and privatise services.

Demanding greater transparency from international financial institutions including the World Bank and IMF is a critical step in ending harmful policies. Jubilee Australia is signatory to the Global Transparency Initiative.