Promoting sustainable human development rights for women in Africa
The current economic reforms and debt relief initiative being promoted and pushed by the IMF and the World Bank on the African countries seek to foster economic growth by the balancing of national budgets and the liberalisation of markets. Using the case studies of Senegal and Sierra Leone, Yassine Fall demonstrates that these policies violate the right of women to sustainable human development by depriving them of proper access to and control over resources and the right to participate in economic policy formulation.
1. Introduction: Why economic rights for women?
IN Sub-Saharan Africa, women's roles have been increasing in scope because of the impact of economic reforms, wars and crises. In addition to being consumers of economic and social goods, women contribute to GDP growth as part of the labour force, as producers and household income generators. Women are also social service providers, playing the role of caretakers and community organisers. The differential effects of debt-related adjustment policies on women and men have been extensively documented by various studies (Elson and Mcgee, 1995).
Gender relations are at the heart of economic restructuring. Macro-economic policy designs are meant to generate outcomes through the manipulation of market mechanisms and cost-benefit impact on different economic agents whether institutional or individual, whether women or men. However, little attention has been paid to gender analysis in the design and implementation of macroeconomic policy choices and outcomes (Elson and Mcgee, 1995; Fall, 1996). Many researchers from the South and the North have been voicing the need to link gender-sensitive economic reforms to women's rights and to sustainable human development, as women and men equally should enjoy universal human rights.
Present macroeconomic reforms have been severely criticised for promoting an export-for-growth approach in which wealth supposedly trickles down to the poor. These reforms do not consider poverty elimination and gender equity to be priority objectives in policy design (Fall, 1996). Market forces such as interest rates, credit conditions, credit demand, money supply, exchange rate, export earnings, etc., are manipulated to meet the requirements of the global economy. The mechanisms put in place to create an enabling environment for the private sector (in particular, foreign investors) often represent a trade-off at the expense of small businesses in the informal economy such as market women, homeworkers, women street vendors or petty traders. These shock absorbers are key economic agents in sustaining the household economy (Stewards, 1992).
Because the overriding concern in current economic reform is balancing budgets and liberalising markets to promote growth, policy-makers are not seriously concerned with the elimination of gender imbalances in access to and control over resources. It is quite obvious that there is a potential conflict between export/growth-oriented objectives and the social and distributional goals. Macroeconomic policy designers do not give poverty and gender factors the consideration they deserve.
In pursuit of correcting the wide gaps between poor and rich, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development in its Resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986. This Declaration calls for the right to participation and to people-centred development. On another level, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights states in its article 22 that: 'All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind.' The Charter also says that 'States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.'
This paper examines the issue of economic rights as it relates to human rights violations of African women, and raises questions of participation, access and information, with regard to democratic development. For example, does the concept of 'good governance' enshrined in the current Lome Convention include the right of women to participate in and challenge economic policy-making; to determine the economic model that best suits their needs; to opt for development priorities based on their constraints and to set their own economic agenda?
This paper will try to answer the question: To what extent do policy prescriptions such as budget programming and debt relief initiatives, supported by the Bretton Woods institutions, promote the rights of women to sustainable human development? It includes testimonies from two Senegalese women on their perception of their economic rights in relation to recent economic reforms.
Budgetary reforms are a key instrument of fiscal policy. In order to reduce the budget deficit, the government is required to raise revenues by raising taxes and cutting expenditures. This section will concentrate on budget expenditures using two countries as case studies, Senegal and Sierra Leone. This analysis will show that women's rights to basic social services are undermined when budget allocation priority is given to other sectors.
The composition of public expenditure presented by the Senegalese Government is not consistent with the country's need to build capacity. The social investment requirements that could ensure human capacity- building are far from being met. The sectors of health and education critical for human capital generation and maintenance have been seriously affected and the slogan 'education for all' is not a reality, especially for girls and women.
Among the 60% of the population of children enrolled in elementary schools, 64% are boys. At the level of technical training, girls represent 23.8% of the student population and boys 76.2%. Not only are girls under-represented in technical schools but they are also not encouraged to pursue scientific and technological fields of study. Girls in technical schools are mainly present in the sectors traditionally considered as women's, such as home economics, secretarial, etc. At the university level, figures for 1985 give a percentage of 1% of girls against 4% of boys. A drop in the student population, in particular girls, will reflect the implementation of university reform in the late 1990s. The government's intention of addressing the issue of girls' lower school attendance and high drop-out rates is not consistent with the budgetary allocation for education (Plan d'Action de la Femme Senegalaise: 1997-2001).
The cut in budget expenditures in the education sector is also expressed through the efforts undertaken to decrease or freeze the wage bill of teachers. This is expressed at the elementary - school level by the imposition of the system of 'double flux'. Under this system, teachers have to teach more than 100 pupils, who are divided into two groups that come to school at different times and days of the week. This system has a negative impact not only on the capacity of the teachers to perform because they are overworked and exhausted, but also in the reduction of teaching hours given to the pupils. In the meantime, working parents, in particular single mothers or women heads of household, have difficulties finding alternative activities for their children during the time they are out of school. This situation of idleness contributes to child delinquency, increased rates of drop-out and girls' pregnancy. This 'double flux' system was cancelled in well-to-do communities when parents and teachers denounced it. However, this system continues in poor suburbs and in the rural areas.
To avoid increasing the wage bill of teachers, the Senegalese Government has adopted a new system of hiring individuals with low-level education and giving them a 'quick-fix' teacher training programme. The government has cut the budget allocated for elementary and secondary school teacher-training programmes by decreasing the content and the duration from nine months to three months. Despite poor training and a meagre salary, the teachers are expected to perform the same task as better-qualified and better-trained teachers. In Senegal, the 1997 class of high school teachers is conducting a hunger strike because the government has decided not to hire them after training them and promising to hire them. This is happening at a time when high schools lack one-third of the required teaching force. The government cites budgetary reasons for hiring cheap and unqualified teachers.
The per capita share of the Senegalese budget that is allocated to health and education continues to decrease. This leads to a degradation of human capital formation at the expense of women, girls and the poor. The share of the national resources allocated to health has fallen in real terms during the 1980s and 1990s, as a consequence of stabilisation measures. It amounted to 9% of the national budget in 1968-69, 7.5% in 1975, 6% in 1982, 5.2% in 1991 and to less than 5% in 1994. These statistics are alarming for a country with one of the fastest growing populations in Africa and which spends about 50% of its revenues in foreign debt service payment. These rates are way below the 9% minimum level recommended by the World Health Organisation. From 1979 to 1989, per capita public spending on health services decreased from 653 Franc CFA to 427 Franc CFA, and from 2,268 Franc CFA to 1,841 Franc CFA in education (Plan D'Action de la Femme Senegalaise: 1997 - 2001). Household expenditures on health services are second after food expenditures in family budget allocation. Given the number of women-headed households (Plan d'Action de la Femme), cuts in health services represent a direct tax on the revenues, labour and working hours of women.
Frequency of visits to health centres has also decreased. When poor women know that they have to pay to be seen by a doctor and then receive a prescription they cannot afford, they no longer go to the doctor. This situation represents a serious health hazard particularly in light of the fast population growth and rapid proliferation of HIV in the female population.
There has been an intensification of child labour to supplement the reduced family income when parents lose employment in the name of budget re-equilibrium. More and more little girls are deprived of their fundamental right to education and sent to work for long hours under very stressful conditions as housekeepers. These girls are exposed to all types of abuses, both sexual and physical (Fall, Child Labour in Senegal, 1992).
The table above illustrates the trend of the Sierra Leone Government's allocation of revenues and the priority given to each sector. Government expenditures on education, health care and agriculture are respectively devoted 14.3%, 5.5%, and 3.8%. More than 50% of the government expenditures go to the debt service payment. This type of budget allocation is an illustration of the little consideration given to gender and social factors. Sectors perceived as priority to disadvantaged groups, women and children have been the most neglected. The present situation of poverty and social depravation in Sierra Leone is not only a consequence of the civil war but also the result of this no-people approach to macro-economic policy.
The 1995 UNDP Human Development Report, UNICEF and World Health Organisation statistics all confirm 'unacceptably high' maternal and infant mortality rates in Sierra Leone, the decay of infrastructure of support services in education and the deterioration of the quality of education. The rise of the cost of childbirth has contributed to the increased rate of female mortality related to home delivery. In this situation of decreased public spending in education translated with low per capita expenditure, the level of school attendance has decreased and the number of drop-out students has increased. In such conditions, support for the education of girl children seems like a distant dream.
2. Privatisation and support to transnational corporations
Structural adjustment policies call for structural reforms and recommend the implementation of economic liberalisation. Structural reforms emphasize the creation of conditions and an enabling environment that would attract foreign investors into the private sector. The overall aim of attracting private investors is to induce economic growth, boost export and generate foreign currency to sustain the debt service payment. This section will analyse liberalisation using the illustration of the implementation of a transnational corporation in Chad.
The Chad oil project
The World Bank is financially supporting a multi-billion-dollar project in Chad which consists of oil exploitation by a consortium of Exxon, Shell and ELF. The project will undertake the construction of three oil fields in the Doba Basin of southern Chad and the building of a 6,000-mile long pipe that is planned to go from Chad and pass through Cameroon to reach the Atlantic ocean. Additional plans include the construction of a pump and storage stations in Chad and a storage and off-loading station to be built in Cameroon.
This project receives direct support from the World Bank with $120 million from the International Development Association (IDA) and $250 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Importantly, this World Bank financial contribution represents a political warranty for the consortium. By being associated with the World Bank the oil consortium will be protected against any kind of political or financial risk that may be encountered in these countries. The World Bank's financial contribution is also a way of encouraging other big investors to participate in the venture.
Chad is a very poor country with one of the lowest Human Development Indexes of 0.288 and a very low Gender Development Index of 0.270 (UNDP Human Development Report 1997). It has very poor public revenues, with an extremely limited tax income, due to its small economic base.
The World Bank and the Chad Government have shrouded this project in secrecy and very little documentation is available. There is complicity between the World Bank and the Chadian Government to not share any documentation with the public. Journalists are not allowed to film, take photographs of the sites or have access to information. The people are being denied their rights to information. This is in direct opposition to the Bank's recommendation for national consultation. No one is allowed to come close to the oil exploitation site. A Chadian farmer was killed near the construction site, in front of his children, because he was trying to show them an airplane. The political climate is getting worse. This project is planting the seeds of future conflict in the region.
As an officer of the Environmental Defence Fund wrote, this is 'another Ogoniland in the making' (Horta, 1997). This project is described as having detrimental environmental and social consequences for the population. Forests will be destroyed, the water will be polluted and the agro-ecological equilibrium will be disrupted. Many people will be displaced and their land taken away from them. Given the deep gap in gender disparities, women will be last to be served if any reallocation of land to re-settlers takes place. As they constitute the majority of food growers, women can already see the impact this project will have on food security.
Even if the Chad and Cameroon Governments get a percentage of the benefits generated by the oil companies, this extra revenue will be used to pay for a larger amount of the countries' debt service and for the buying of arms. Expenditures for the provision of social services to respond to women's needs are a small percentage of government expenditures and the amount of money that would be allocated to that sector would be marginal. On the other hand, the debt service payment, the buying of arms and the transfer of profits from the oil consortium will represent an important shift of financial resources to Northern countries at the expense of women's rights to economic livelihoods.
The World Bank and women's rights
We must ask ourselves, where is the World Bank's commitment to women? African women cannot follow the assertion that the Bank has changed, when such violation of our rights to information, participation and choice of the type of economic sustainable investment we want is being orchestrated. What right does the World Bank have to organise this new disguised economic colonisation with no respect for people's priorities? To the World Bank Senior Investment Officer, Avi Hoffman, who is reported to have said: 'We have to take risks if we want a positive outcome,' African women would respond: 'You do not speak for us because your positive outcome means the aggravation of our poverty and destruction of our environment and increased corruption of our leaders!'
What about the World Bank's Mr Wolfensohn's promise, made in Beijing to thousands of women to invest in their priority areas? Why do we need to generate growth through Exxon/Shell/ELF's oil exploitation in order to see it trickle-down to alleviate poverty when we know that growth has not created trickle down results anywhere? What would women and the poor gain after being expelled from their communities and losing their forests and land for cultivation, after seeing their biodiversity severely damaged, and their drinking water, most valuable resource for women farmers, polluted? Of course Mr Wolfensohn will come back in 10 years and recognise that mistakes have been made, but after the oil companies have had enough time to extract a lot of profit.
How about Mr Wolfensohn's commitment in Beijing to set poverty alleviation as the top World Bank priority and to ensure that IDA money gets into the hands of women? All the statistics generated by the Bank show that feminisation of poverty has been aggravated. Empowering the transnational corporations against women's rights is no solution. If poverty were a serious concern to the Bank, it would tackle poverty in a direct fashion. By excluding the people from the conception of this project, the World Bank contributes in postponing democratic rights, good governance and encourages corruption. This tends to confirm what many women believe, that the World Bank is only concerned with the promotion of the world market economy.
3. Debt management
This section will examine the indebtedness of African countries and the extent to which women's economic rights have been constrained by the debt process and the new World Bank-IMF Highly Indebted Poor Countries Debt Relief Initiative (HIPC).
The actual macroeconomic reforms implemented in African countries are a result of the debt crisis in which countries have been unable to pay for their debt and also provide the basic social services such as health care, housing education, etc. With the withdrawal of the state's responsibility women's workload increased tremendously.
Origin of the debt cycle
In the 1970s the European and American banks were facing an unprecedented financial crisis because of excessive Eurodollars. The industrialised nations then offered very attractive credit conditions to developing countries, in particular African countries. These poor countries were encouraged to borrow large sums of money with no conditionality or monitoring. Borrowing countries demonstrated very irresponsible spending behaviour with no priority given to the current development needs. Poorly conceived, high-risk and expensive projects were financed in most cases to benefit transnational corporations. High economic and social costs were paid by the local people (Fall, 1996).
When, in the 1980s, their financial situation became stabilised, the Northern countries decided to tighten the lending conditions by multiplying interest rates by four, while paying cheap prices for raw material exports of African countries. African countries were hit hard by the deterioration of terms of trade particularly because the agreements they signed under the Lome Convention encouraged them to continue producing a limited range of raw materials to satisfy the needs of their former colonies instead of diversifying their economies through industrialisation.
The 1980s saw the beginning of hardship periods for the Third World countries. The African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries had lost $147 billion between 1980 and 1987 because of the fluctuation of the world market value of their raw materials (Lafleur, 1990). The decline in commodity prices led countries to increase their external borrowing to sustain their levels of public expenditure. But borrowing was now under new terms: skyrocketed interest rates, much higher debt service to pay and conditio-nalities to implement heavy economic adjustment under the supervision of the Bretton Woods institutions.
The debt burden
Sub-Saharan Africas (SSA)'s total debt has grown at an amazingly fast pace. From $6 billion in 1970, it climbed to $134 billion in 1988. From an annual average of 27% of the region's export earnings in 1985, the debt service continuously climbed to reach 47% of export revenues in 1988. The number of SSA countries that serviced their debt on a regular basis between 1980 and 1988 did not reach 13. All the others had to reschedule their debt or accumulate more arrears. Twenty-five SSA countries have rescheduled their debt 105 times between 1980 and 1988 (The World Bank, 1989).
SSA's debt increased by 250% between 1980 and 1982. This debt was equal to 111% of SSA's GDP and 345% of its export earnings. The acceptable percentage of debt payment to export earnings is 20% (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1994). In spite of all these sacrifices the World Bank reported in 1993 that many countries were failing to fully service their debt. This situation led to the accumulation of interest arrears that reached $14 billion in 1992, more than three times the level of arrears in 1987 (The World Bank, 1993). Despite the fact that the region was paying an average of $1 billion a month in debt service payment between 1991 and 1993, the amount of foreign debt owed did not change. By 1993, it was still equivalent to its 1991 level. This is how the dangerous game of indebtedness works, given the incapacity of countries to be consistent in fully servicing their debt, leading to accumulation of interest arrears and debt rescheduling programmes.
From the debt service payment of developing countries, the European and American banks collected unprecedented profits. The 100 largest banks in the world made $16 billion in profits in 1982, these profits climbed to $30 billion in 1987. Lending banks created provisions for loss out of these profits, to anticipate and cover for the later impossibility of debtor countries to continue to service their debts. Banks continued, and still continue, to collect interest on the debts they have created provisions for while not paying any tax on these savings. Provisions are tax-free in the industrialised countries because they are considered as real loss by tax collection agencies (Fall, 1994).
The HIPC initiative
HIPC Initiative, adopted in September 1996, was proposed by the World Bank and the IMF to resolve the debt burden problem of a selected number of developing countries. This initiative is presented as the solution for poor countries that are unable to pay back their foreign debt while satisfying the minimum social welfare needs of their populations. It is also a reassuring response to requests from all sources, including debtor governments, international organisations and the NGO community, to find a solution to the debt cycle of poor and highly indebted countries. The framework is also presented as introducing a new mechanism of burden-sharing among creditors.
SSA counts the largest number of countries involved in the HIPC process. The HIPC countries are: Angola, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Kenya, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Assessment of HIPC
History seems to be repeating itself. We are faced again with a situation under which the poorest of the developing countries are caught in a vicious cycle by their debt burden and ready to do anything to get adjustment loans. This HIPC initiative has proven to be attractive to governments of poor countries because all they foresee is the opportunity of finishing with their debt burden. For this reason they are ready to make their people undergo any kind of sacrifice.
However, many analysts think that to a large degree this initiative serves the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). It certainly boosts the powers of the World Bank and IMF because:
More than the World Bank, the IMF is made the omnipotent body in the HIPC process. The IMF is the key designer of the conditionalities; its Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) programme is conditional for HIPC implementation. The Fund will, of course, lead the choice of country programmes and the decisions to suggest that relief aid be made available to any poor country.
The microeconomic implications of the new macro policies coming with the initiative will be worse than the present impacts of adjustment policies in SSA given the situation of persistent poverty. These six years of ESAF implementation will mean a very high social cost, paid by women and the poor.
Budgetary measures will deepen the gaps in the distribution of wealth, gender disparities, geographic disparities and access to social services. The income, price and labour effects derived from the measures to be implemented will seriously hurt the purchasing power of the local population, its capacity for engaging in enterprise development and increase women's labour and time allocation in substituting the role of the state in the provision of social welfare.
Questions on HIPC
Several criticisms have been made with regard to the criteria used to define debt sustainability. How are countries differentiated in specific situations? In what ways and at what level are factors such as gender and overall human development considered when assessing debt sustaina-bility? How can a country be very poor, very indebted and undergo six years of ESAF before being eligible for debt relief? To what extent have the research results that positively correlate ESAF policy instruments with mechanisms that aggravate the poverty of women been taken into consideration? (Fall, 1996)
Why should only the Bank and Fund decide on what indicators to use? Why is the IMF asking industrialised countries to commit their resources to HIPC, while it has not done much so far?
The debt problem is a problem of economic justice because expenditure on debt service endangers women's right to human development. Much more money is used to service the debt than to support social spending at a time when the continent is faced with the challenge to take a strong action in the fight against poverty, illiteracy and HIV.
African women need to get clear answers to these questions. They must be actively involved in the assessment of the HIPC process. The initiative involves a range of economic reforms and raises very critical gender and social policy issues. Sustainable human development should be the ultimate aim of development and an inalienable right of both women and men. The World Bank-IMF criteria must consider the state of human development in the classification of criteria (Addison, 1996).
Mrs Bintou Diop, elementary school teacher in Guediawaye, Dakar, reports:
'Even before devaluation took place, the fear of the Senegalese population when hearing this word was immense. When the measure was implemented, the situation it created was beyond the worst expectations of people. We could not imagine the crises and disequilibrium it would create in families. I consider myself a head of household because I am the breadwinner in my family. My husband has been among the group of civil servants sent on early retirement with the budget cuts. He is bringing a marginal income to the family. Our purchasing power, which was already very low, has fallen dangerously with the skyrocketing of prices of basic necessary goods.
The major impact is regular food shortage within our family; we no longer think about a balanced diet. As a schoolteacher, I teach my students about the need to have a nutritionally balanced diet, but I am unable to practise it in my home. Protein consumption, meat and eggs, are a luxury to people who used to have them twice a week. Many people are obliged to buy fat or meat or fish bones or meat fat to boil in order to have a meat flavour in their meal. As a schoolteacher and civil servant I feel that my salary decreased after devaluation.
We teach under very difficult conditions. Our schools lack the basic infrastructure such as running water and toilets for teachers and students. If one needs to use the toilet he or she is obliged to go all the way to his or her house. The basic teaching materials such as chalk, books, desks and tables are not available. At least three pupils share a desk that is made for two. Teachers are obliged to buy chalk with their own meagre salaries.
Our children, who used to perform very well in maths, are now lagging behind because of lack of the supply needed to study maths, in particular geometry. I was told that in America students receive all books free of charge in the public schools. How can the IMF expect Senegal to build the knowledge base of its population when it expects it to undertake cuts in the education sector that the United States does not do? Despite the financial contribution of the Parent's Association, who make up for much of the budget shortfall, and without whose action the situation could be much worse, the situation is still very bad.'
Mrs Awa Seck, Nurse, Yoff, Dakar:
'As a woman civil servant I do not have the same right as a man to claim state medical support for my children. The state is supposed to support medical care charges for up to 80% for civil servants and their dependants. In order to cut on costs for medical assistance and satisfy the IMF, the state discriminates on the basis of sex those who would be eligible to claim medical charges for their children.
'As a woman I can only claim medical charges for my children if their father goes through the bureaucratic procedures of getting the Tribunal issue on my behalf a certificate of "puissance paternelle" (paternal power certificate). Most men refuse to do that because they feel that it takes away "their power" but more importantly their right and opportunity to claim social security assistance for their children.'
The large majority of African women have a very low income and face difficult humanitarian problems. Transfers from public spending programmes are critical to their survival, even though it may not solve all their problems. African economies' dependence on the Bretton Woods institutions is chronic. The essence of adjustment conditionality denies women the right to participate in economic policy formulation and to identify the economic models that suit them. The international financial institutions are actively contributing in mortgaging women's well-being.
Sustainable development will not be promoted if the country does not develop policy priorities that foster human capacity-building, food security and a strong environmental culture that puts forestation programmes and the fight against drought before short-term objectives of stabilisation. It is essential that women exercise their right to play a central role in evaluating the cost and benefits of policy choices in all sectors of the economy. Women's economic rights must be fostered through engendered human development which means that gender biases are corrected through the process of developing people's capacity to enjoy a decent life and be educated.
It is time to launch an Africa women's movement that goes beyond monitoring the World Bank's commitment to women but engages itself into requesting that women economic rights be protected and promoted. In doing so we need to recall that the Bretton Woods institutions - the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) - founded in 1944, are agencies of the United Nations. For that reason we should make them accountable for women's economic rights, despite the fact that unlike the UN General Assembly they do not function on the principle of 'one country one vote' but on the basis of 'one dollar one vote'. (Third World Resurgence No. 94, June 1998)
[c] The above article appeared in WIDE Bulletin (9February 1998) published by the Network Women in Development Europe and is reproduced with the kind permission of its editors.
Yassine Fall is the Aaword Executive Secretary of the Association of African Women for Research and Development.
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