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Date: Thu, 31 Aug 1995 01:06:39 GMT
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/** econ.saps: 268.0 **/
** Topic: Women Under SAPs in Africa **
** Written 12:41 PM Aug 30, 1995 by dgap in cdp:econ.saps **

The ignored cost of adjustment: Women under SAPs in Africa

By Lisa McGow, August 1995

Note: The following document is the property of The Development GAP. We want people to distribute it widely as long as credit is given to The Development GAP. If you do repost it or reprint it, please let us know via e-mail <dgap.igc.apc.org>. If you would like printed copies, contact Tony Avirgan at the e-mail address above.

A Development GAP Discussion Paper prepared for the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women

Data shows that poverty is on the rise in Africa and that women in particular are worse off today than they were a decade ago when structural adjustment programs (SAPs) pushed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) became widespread. SAPs have failed throughout Africa to increase investment and savings rates, improve export performance, diminish debt, create jobs, bring about sustained growth, or improve the productive capacity of the poor, the majority of whom are women. Nevertheless, the World Bank and the IMF continue to insist that SAPs, with their emphasis on creating "macroeconomic stability", are the best tool for bringing Africa out of economic crisis and laying the groundwork for economic development.

Women in Africa have a different point of view. Around the continent they are calling for an end to structural adjustment programs, a rethinking of the basic assumptions underlying neo-liberal economic theory, and a retooling of economic policy to address the needs and priorities of women. They are also demanding a role in economic decisionmaking at the national and international levels that reflects their economic and social importance. Their position is informed by their experiences living under SAPs, their own analysis of their situation, and their ideas for and commitment to change.

The Impact of SAPs

SAPs have required 36 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa - where more than half of the population lives in absolute poverty__to decrease domestic consumption and shift scarce resources into production of cash crops for export. To cut government spending, state-owned companies and many state services have been privatized, civil services have been drastically downsized, and health and education expenditures have been cut and restructured. Resources, including credit and services, have been shifted into the export sector, while taxes and the regulation of export production and marketing have been diminished. Currency devaluations have been undertaken in part to make exports less expensive to buyers in the international market. Increased efficiency and competition were supposed to be increased by doing away with protective tariffs and marketing boards and by opening economies up to the international market.

In the first instance, this package of measures was imposed across the continent by the World Bank, the IMF and bilateral donors to enable countries to repay their debts, put themselves on sound financial footing, and pave the way to renewed growth and poverty alleviation. Between 1990 and 1993, the region did, in fact, pay US$13.4 billion annually to its external creditors__more than its combined spending on health and education1 __yet the African debt burden continues to rise. In 1994 alone, it increased 3.2 percent to US$312 billion.2

In the meantime, these austerity and other adjustment measures have had the combined effect of diminishing women's access to a wide array of productive and social resources. The further impoverishment of African women has been parallelled by a sharp increase in their multiple responsibilities for production and survival of the family and community. In the following sections, we trace how and why SAPs have impacted women so negatively by analyzing the local effects of a number of adjustment policies.


Currency devaluation makes imported items, such as food, fuel, medicines and spare parts, more expensive and therefore reduces their consumption. This leads to a reduction in a country's balance-of-payments deficit. In terms of having its intended effect__to cut consumption__devaluation has been one of the most consistently effective policy tools in the structural adjustment arsenal.

However, from the point of view of women, who are responsible for purchasing essential household items, devaluation can instantly wipe out their ability to ensure family survival. In Zambia, devaluation combined with other SAP measures to increase the cost of bread from 12 kwacha a loaf in 1990 to 350 kwacha in 1993. In describing what such a rapid and massive decrease in purchasing power seemed like to her, a woman from an eastern province in Uganda said, "The government has stolen our money."

In January 1994, 14 countries in the CFA zone in Africa devalued their currency overnight by 50 percent. Other adjustment policies held down wages in these countries, so local purchasing power was hit hard, thereby undermining any pick-up in production. A year after the CFA devaluation, newspapers in Senegal reported inflation rates for that country of more than 60 percent, with peak levels at 120 percent for certain daily consumer goods in the food and health sectors. Women in the Kaolack region report a drastic change in eating habits, with they and their families forced to choose between reducing the proportion of the budget allocated for food and foregoing expenses related to health care, schooling, rent or household repair. They report that prices are so high that women cannot purchase basic goods even if they are available in the market.3

The inflationary effects of devaluation impact women's production as well as consumption. Agricultural production for export, for example, tends to be heavily reliant on imported inputs, the price of which rises under devaluation, and female farmers and other small producers often cannot afford the higher prices. This is one reason that female farmers are unable to participate in export production, even when the price for exports increases. Where devaluation has helped to increase agricultural exports, it is usually in sectors controlled by men. This was the case in Mali and Burkina Faso, where the CFA devaluation brought about a large increase in the sale of livestock, a male- dominated sector, to other countries in the region.4

Inflation caused by devaluation has also had negative effects on small-scale marketers, a sector that is dominated in many countries by women. In Senegal, women report that second- hand clothing sellers could sell a 50-kg. bale of clothes costing 15,000 CFA in a day. Today, a bale costs 75,000 CFA and takes two weeks to sell.5 In Ghana, women traders, referring to the impact on their customers of higher prices brought about by devaluation, said simply, "They don't buy."

Agricultural Policy Reform

World Bank agricultural adjustment programs are designed to shift resources to export-crop production, which is typically controlled by men, and to remove what the Bank has determined are the major constraints to such production. Common policy elements in these programs include: eliminating price controls on agricultural commodities; lowering trade barriers to agricultural products by eliminating tariffs; dismantling marketing boards; devaluing currency, which, as noted above, decreases the cost of a country's goods overseas; and changes in land laws designed mainly to attract foreign investment.

None of these policies address what women around Africa have noted as their primary constraints to production and to achieving household food security: the lack of credit; insufficient farm labor; insecure access to land; and unaffordable farm inputs. African women have also advocated support for local or household-level food storage, research on improved production and seed stock for women's crops, such as squash seed, and tariff protection for local food crops.

This is no small oversight on the part of the Bank, given that women produce upwards of 70 percent of Africa's food, account for more than 90 percent of all time spent processing and preparing food, and provide the bulk of agricultural labor.

Because much of women's food production is consumed in the home or traded in local markets, and because women rarely have the resources to make a production switch, producer price increases brought about by devaluation or reduced price controls are not sufficient incentive for them to produce more. Indeed, the fact that few small-farm households__especially the very poor and landless farm households, in which women are overrepresented__are food self-sufficient across seasons and so depend on purchased food as an important part of consumption means that increased food prices can actually threaten the food security of women farmers and their families. In some countries, this is the case for up to 50 percent of smallholder households.7

By drawing such critical resources as women's labor away from food production and household provisioning and into export-crop production, World Bank policies further weaken women's food-production systems already fragile from environmental degradation, war and poverty. Per capita food production has decreased an average of close to two percent a year in the 1980s, while food imports have increased.

Women in Uganda report that government incentives to produce beans for export have left them with no food crops for their families. In Kenya, women speak of planting tobacco__an export crop__right up to their door, yet not having enough money to buy food. Studies show that the nutritional status of women and children is worse among cash-crop farmers, particularly where the crops are tobacco, coffee and cotton. A woman farmer in Zaire, speaking of a scheme to switch land used for food into export-crop production, spoke to the wider reality of rural women across the continent when she observed, "If you have to buy food, you will never get enough."

The reduction of barriers to production and trade have failed in many cases to benefit women in their agricultural roles and often work against them. In Ghana, for example, cocoa marketing boards were eradicated as a means to make the Ghanaian cocoa farmer more competitive in the international market and to enable small cocoa farmers in southern Ghana, many of whom are women, to receive a higher price for their crop. Female farmers increased the production of cocoa, as did other producers. A glut in the market, due in part to the fact that the World Bank had led many cocoa-producing countries down the same road, soon followed. As was the case in Tanzania and other countries in Africa, women still had to buy clothes and food, seeds and fertilizer, school fees and medical expenses, the price of all of which had increased. Thus, even the gains women made through initially high cocoa prices were quickly wiped out by devaluation and increased prices for goods and services, leaving them worse off than before.


Since its birth in 1986, the Structural Adjustment Programme has dealt untold hardship on the lives of Nigerians, especially on the rural woman. She has become more and more hopeless and gradually frustrated because her family is poor, diseased and hunger stricken, without any ray of hope shining on her. Her children spend more time of every academic year at home rather than at school due to the incessant non-payment of teachers' basic salaries. Seventy percent of the national population are illiterate adults, most of them peasant rural dwellers.

The Federal Government finds it difficult to pay workers' salaries, repair bad roads or ensure the maintenance of good health for all. Since the idea of a balanced diet is a far-fetched idea for the rural woman and children, you find that cases of malnutrition are at an alarming increase. Diseases like guinea worm have really infected so many areas and sent many little children and adults to their graves too early, just because the rural women and their children do not have access to fresh, clean tap water.

We at the Development Education Centre, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation based in Enugu, Nigeria were tired of looking at the status of our rural women without doing anything. We decided to swing into action to salvage what remained of the lives of these strong rural women who actually cater to the food needs of the so-called elites in the big cities and towns. We gave birth to a series of life-transforming programmes in health, education, food and shelter. Our agricultural specialists fashioned very simple machines that are capable of producing our main staple foods within minutes. The rural women organize themselves into effective units either producing food items or engaging in animal husbandry, like piggery, goatery, and rabbitery farms. Even with a "sapped" economy, our rural women are raising high standards of rural survival which no government can give them.

by Mrs. Kechi Florence Okpara, D.E.C. Nigeria

Trade and Market Liberalization

Under SAP trade- and market-liberalization programs, import and export restrictions are lifted, tariffs are decreased, and control of crops is taken away from marketing boards. Intended to open markets to international competition and investment, stimulate exports, and increase efficiency, these policies also reduce the capacity of the state to protect important local industries, encourage domestic food production, or direct scarce foreign currency to the purchase of essential imports. Women are impacted in a variety of ways, both directly as workers, consumers and producers and indirectly through the filter of intra-household relations.

Lifting import controls often leads to the dumping of foreign goods, especially agricultural and light industrial products, which can destroy domestic production and jobs. Since Tanzania opened its doors to imports in 1984, over 90 percent of the country's textile mills, which employ mostly women, have closed. In Zimbabwe, a similar situation is emerging. The jobs of over 8,000 textile workers are facing unemployment because firms in that country can no longer compete with Taiwanese imports.8

Trade liberalization has helped turn Uganda into a "second-hand society". Large increases in the import of cheap second-hand clothes threaten the livelihoods of small-scale seamstresses as well as larger textile concerns. Similar situations are reported around Africa.

With liberalization in Zambia, the importance of beans, a woman's crop that traditionally was both eaten and sold on a small scale to urban traders, grew. And as beans became a major source of cash, men increasingly moved to control the income from their sale. While liberalization helped to stimulate production, the World Bank did not account for the household-level impact of the policy and implement parallel strategies for ensuring that women could maintain control of their income. The program thus served to decrease women's ability to provide for their children and forced them to seek agricultural day work__in which wages are very low and women earn less than a third of what men do --to maintain the income they need to purchase essential goods for the family.9

Box 1: Ghana

The adverse consequences of the 1983 introduction of Structural Adjustment Policies to the Ghanaian economy have been felt particularly hard by the nation's poor, women, and children. In an early effort to alleviate the detrimental impact of SAPs on these members of the population, the government initiated a Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Costs of Adjustment (PAMSCAD) in 1985. However, apart from acknowledging the unequal burden shared by the poor, women, and children, PAMSCAD was largely ineffectual.

Box 2: Ghana

Across several important categories, SAPs in Ghana have continued to decrease the living standards of women. In a decisionmaking process that is dominated by IMF/World Bank officials and a small minority of male political leaders and senior bureaucrats, policies have evolved that are detrimental to women in the areas of agricultural production, employment, health, and education. Higher prices for the export crop of cocoa mean increased revenues for the predominantly male cash- crop producers, yet women farmers do not share in this benefit. Rather, the removal of subsidies from crucial inputs have placed the means of production out of the reach of women farmers as their food crops generate insufficient revenue.

Employment levels among women, like the rest of the population, have been reduced by the privatization of state enterprises and the reorganization of the bureaucracy. Yet these trends are additionally detrimental to women, who in their role as managers of the household are forced to make difficult adjustments. Increased unemployment has also led to a breakdown in the family unit while encouraging women to choose prostitution as a means of income generation, hastening the spread of AIDS.

The introduction of user fees has reduced access for both men and women to basic health-care facilities. The resultant fall in hospital attendance has led to an increase in unpaid labor provided by women as they must care for the ill within the household. In addition, the rising costs of child- birth has encouraged women to give birth at home, increasing the incidence of maternal mortality. UNICEF's 1993 figures places maternal mortality rates in Ghana as high as 1000 deaths to 100,000 births, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Regarding education, the introduction of user fees and a lack in the expansion of services has led to a decline in attendance levels and decreased the quality of education. Here, too, females appear to be dispropotionately affected by these changes. Drop-out rates are higher for girls, and the gap between the educational levels of boys and girls, especially in the higher grades, continues to widen.

In sum, the application of SAPs in Ghana has contributed to a state of extreme hardship for the poor and within this sector has furthered gender inequities as women shoulder a disproportionate amount of this burden.

by Edzodzinam Tsikata, Third World Network: Africa

Wage Restraint and Labor-Market Deregulation

Wage restraint__that is, keeping both private- and public-sector wage increases below inflation__is mandated as a condition for receiving adjustment loans. This is accomplished through a variety of means, from freezing minimum wages while allowing prices to rise, to actually cutting wages, to reducing benefits that accrue to wage employment. According to the International Labor Organization, real wages in Africa have fallen between 50 and 60 percent since the early 1980s in most countries.10

For the poor, the silver lining of a low minimum wage in the formal sector is supposed to be higher employment. This has not materialized, however. The massive wage drop in Africa during the 1980s correlates with a decrease in formal-sector employment. Women's formal-sector employment decreased from ten percent in 1980 to less than eight percent in 1990, even though their wages are lower than those of men.

Even those women with formal-sector jobs have suffered such a loss in real income that they are forced to engage in informal-sector activity to supplement their earnings. A social worker in Uganda with a full-time job reports that in order to pay school fees for her four children she must also work evenings making bakery cakes and designing and sewing wedding dresses. And, while men are also increasingly being forced to work additional jobs, it is more often than not the woman who will carry the responsibility and do whatever job is necessary to make ends meet.

SAP-mandated low wages have a ripple effect throughout the economy, placing further downward pressure on women's income. For example, falling incomes have destroyed local demand for goods produced by women, such as textiles, and created large numbers of unemployed workers. These displaced women have been forced into the informal sector in large numbers to compensate for their own income loss and that of their respective households. This has greatly increased competition and further decreased women's income in that sector. Women traders in Zimbabwe report that, by 1993, business conditions had deteriorated noticeably, even though a devastating drought had passed. The traders identified their customers' insufficient income as the primary reason for this problem.11

While wage suppression itself has had multiple negative effects on women, their situation around Africa has been further exacerbated by the deregulation of labor markets that has increased the exploitation and flexibilization of their labor. It has led, for example, to a significant increase in contracting-out arrangements in which women undertake piecework in their homes. Not only are women paid abysmally low wages for long hours, but, because regulation is non-existent and there is no separation between living and work space, women and their children face increased health hazards.

Privatization and Retrenchment

The privatization of state industries and the retrenchment of government workers have resulted in massive numbers of unemployed across Africa. Because of their predominance in low-skill jobs, female workers have experienced higher levels of retrenchment than have men working in private- sector enterprises. Women's concentration in secretarial, teaching and primary-care sectors has also meant that they suffer disproportionately under government retrenchments.12 This is another contributing factor to the decline in women's formal- sector employment noted above.

Box 3: Zimbabwe

In 1990 the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) was introduced in Zimbabwe. This was supposed to be a SAP with a "human face". Unfortunately the programme was introduced without consultation with the people and, although people were told to "tighten their belts," top government officials were opening their belts even wider. This created a negative attitude towards ESAP in the country.

The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Beautiful new buildings are going up all over the city of Harare. But there is no sign of improvement of employment opportunities, in fact the rate of retrenchments and rising unemployment is very high and unsettling.

Introduction of user fees for health attention is demoralizing to the poor, especially women. They are required to prove their poverty before they can be exempted from payment of fees. The process is long and cumbersome. The maternal mortality rate has generally increased.

There is evidence, especially in girls' secondary schools, of an increase in drop-outs mainly due to non-payment of school fees. Where families have a shortage of funds for school fees, the girls become sacrificial lambs. The illiteracy rate, which dramatically improved after independence, is experiencing a set-back. The more school drop-outs and children who do not go to school, all the more the illiteracy rate will increase.

Since the removal of subsidies on basic commodities, there has been a shift to maize meal consumption, away from roller meal. Since women must walk far to grinding mills to buy maize, consumption of bread has fallen.

Women are looking for avenues to keep their heads above water in these harsh economic times. They are still recovering from the effects of the 1992 drought. The Zimbabwe Council of Churches is now training them in food preservation and grain storage, and may pursue these as business ventures. Women try to be resourceful but it is difficult to survive.

by Belisha Tanyongana, Zimbabwe Council of Churches

In some cases, when men are fired from formal-sector jobs as a result of cost-cutting measures, they enter the already saturated informal sector and displace women who have traditionally depended on this sector for their sole source of income. In Ghana, young men have swelled the ranks of those hawking second- hand clothing and other commodities traditionally sold by women. They have even appeared in the female-dominated local food markets, creating gender tensions when they expect female deference.13

In Zambia, where over 72,000 people have lost their jobs in SAP-induced retrenchments, there are now a reported three million part-time child laborers out of a total national population of nine million. Female participation in the informal sector increased from 46 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in 1986. During that same period, there was a nine-fold increase in the 12-to-14-year age group working in the informal sector.14

Cuts in Health-Care Expenditures

An integral part of SAPs during the 1980s was the slashing of expenditures in the social-service sector, including health care. By the end of the 1980s, real per capita government expenditures on health were below their 1980 levels in 64 percent of countries for which data was available.15 In Tanzania, for example, per capita expenditure on health care fell from US$7.00 in 1980 to US$2.00 in 1990. This trend has continued in countries like Zimbabwe, where per capita expenditure fell from nearly US$6.00 in 1990 to US$3.84 in 1994.

Women have been hit hard by these budget reductions. The United Nations reports that, in Zimbabwe, maternal and infant mortality rates are "unacceptably high" in rural areas and are increasing in Harare, the capital. Infant mortality rates reflect the economic, health and social status of the mother and thus serve as a proxy variable for measuring the impact of policies on women. The World Health Organization reports that maternal mortality is increasing across East, Central and West Africa.16

In recent interviews on the quality of health care, women in both Zimbabwe and Uganda report that user fees, a standard SAP prescription designed to defray the cost of services, make even basic health care unaffordable. In Zimbabwe the maternal mortality rate rose from 90 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 168 per 100,000 in 1993 following the introduction of user fees.

What's more, women in these countries report that, contrary to the expectations of the World Bank, the quality of health care has actually declined with the introduction of user fees and the commercialization of health care. As one Zimbabwean women noted, "The nurse is the doctor, the nurse, everything. No wonder she becomes irritable." Another said simply, "The amount of work is too much [for them]." This is the case not only because of higher case loads under conditions of declining pay, decaying infrastructure and dwindling state funding, but because the nurses' search for extra income "has become nearly universal with the advent of SAPs."17

In Uganda, women told the same story. Not only do they pay consultation fees, but they also pay to have prescriptions filled and for other services. In addition, they must purchase medicines, dressings, theater operating kits, gloves and other items related to their treatment. Worse still, women report that they are expected to pay bribes to health-care providers. When they visit a doctor, for example, he asks if the patient has "come with her sister," meaning a bribe. Women also report that deregulated markets for pharmaceuticals in Uganda have resulted in an explosion of unqualified "pharmacists" dispensing drugs, as well as increased marketing of expired drugs.

In both Uganda and Zimbabwe, women attributed the decline in the quality of care to the fact that user fees, combined with low government salaries, deregulated health-care markets and economic hardship, have made health care a business rather than a profession. This has stripped away the notion of care and service and opened the sector to massive corruption.

Decline in Education Budgets

Women raise similar concerns vis-a-vis expenditure cuts and user fees in education. Total public spending on education in sub-Saharan Africa fell in real terms between 1980 and 1988 from US$11 billion to US$7 billion. For a sample of 26 countries, this translated into a decline in spending per pupil from US$133 to US$89. The reduction in educational spending has directly translated into an erosion in the quality of schooling. In many countries, the whole infrastructure of support services - - school inspection and supervision, in-service teacher education, curriculum development, school health services, and maintenance of school furniture, equipment and physical facilities__has deteriorated.

Even more serious is the marked drop in gross enrollment rates at the primary-school level, which fell from 77.1 percent in 1980 to an estimated 66.7 percent in 1990. With the introduction of school fees, girls are often withdrawn from school, and at rates higher than for boys. The inability to pay school fees is one reason; another is the fact that girls provide valuable services and income to their families, which poor families can no longer live without. In Africa in the 1980s, female school enrollment rates dropped and drop-out rates increased. On average, only 37 percent of school-age girls were enrolled in first or second levels of education in 1990. Rural women in Uganda lament the fact that their children are not receiving as good an education today as they did 20 years ago.

The World Bank is aware of these failures. Indeed, so compelling was its own data about the effects of collapsing health and educational systems that the Bank, which presided over a decade of crippling human-resource expenditure cuts, is now calling for a reversal of that trend. The IFIs are not well suited to timely analysis and mid-term corrections, however, and these changes have been painfully slow in coming. Furthermore, health and education services have degraded to such an extent that it will take several years to recoup losses, even with increased investment. In the meantime, the health and education of a generation of women and girls has been sacrificed on the alter of that elusive priority called macroeconomic stability.

Wearing Women Down: The Cumulative Impact of SAPs

By their very scope, SAPs impose a multitude of negative effects on women, which they are simply expected to bear. Indeed, women in Africa have been widely lauded for their ability to "adapt" and find new ways to generate income from the informal sector for their families in the face of the severe economic austerity caused by SAPs. This resourcefulness and ability to "make do" has been overemphasized and romanticized. For many women, it simply means deprivation, uncertainty and a never-ending struggle to survive.

Women note that there has been an increase in violence against them with the imposition of SAPs due to higher levels of frustration and stress within the family as a result of reduced income and intense financial pressures. A women in Senegal said, "Our men have turned more violent ever since we started working and acquiring a little money while they remained unemployed."18 In addition, women have become more vulnerable to violence and sexual attacks as they join the informal sector and seek odd jobs in the streets.

Female-headed households are also on the rise as economic crisis causes more men to migrate in search of work, abandon their families, or simply withdraw from supporting their children. It is widely estimated that 30 percent of African households are now headed by women. Dependency ratios, which reflect the number of young children and older people per adult workers, are very high in these households. Because they are characterized by a lack of both adult labor and productive resources, as well as limited social services, they also tend to be among the poorest households. Having been abandoned by both the government and having lost, by desertion, widowhood or migration, the men in their families, these women must shoulder the increasingly heavy burden of caring for children and ensuring their families' survival. Things have gotten so bad, however, that vulnerable members of the household, such as children and old people, are being forced out in increasing numbers. In Nairobi, for example, there are tens of thousands of street children where a decade ago there were virtually none.

The effects of the mental stress of balancing multiple roles, the physical wear and tear of overwork, and the psychological impact of grinding poverty and worry about survival accumulate and damage women's health over the long term. Women's own quality of life is damaged, as is their capacity for productive activity, for ensuring the survival of their families, and for contributing to the viability of their societies. This constitutes a long-term degradation of a human resource that poor populations can ill afford or sustain.

Box 4: The African Women's Economic Policy Network (AWEPON)

In 1993, The Development GAP hosted a meeting of a dozen African women to discuss the exclusion of women from economic decisionmaking. A year later, in November 1994, women from over 15 African countries met in Dakar, Senegal and formed the African Women's Economic Policy Network (AWEPON) to enable women to better comprehend and shape the economic policies that affect their lives.

The Network identified economic literacy as a primary tool in this endeavor. Economic literacy programs begin with women's knowledge of their household economy__and build up. For women, some of the important benefits of economic literacy are that they are able to: become familiar with and demystify economic jargon; begin to see themselves as integral parts of their country's economy; explore ways in which women's lives and concerns are affected by economic policies; understand the wide range of roles and contributions that women make to national and international economic development; see the economy as a social and personal issue and so reclaim it as their business; and begin to develop and push for their own vision of "economic restructuring". It is armed with this knowledge and understanding that women can proceed to influence policy.

Women Taking Charge

"When we think of our situation under structural adjustment, we see that there are three types of people. There are the drummers (donors), those who applaud (intermediary groups, including governments) and the dancers (women). Since the beginning of SAPs, only one thing has changed: we women are dancing a different step. The only way for women to benefit from economic policy is for them to become drummers."
--- Analysis of SAPs by a women's group in Mali.

Women in Africa are increasingly becoming aware that the agenda of the World Bank and the IMF is not their agenda. The overwhelming nature of the burden women now carry, combined with the rapidly declining standard of living they and their families are suffering, brings urgency to their conviction that women must enter the policy dialogue in full force, advocating for their interests and the interests of their families and communities. Consequently, a growing number of African women's programs and organizations are working to address directly the impact on their lives of free markets, export-oriented policies and other measures of structural adjustment and to lead in the fight for economic alternatives that serve the needs of the majority of women and men.

Among the many things they are calling for are:

  • The inclusion of women as full partners in all national and international economic decisionmaking processes. Mechanisms must be found to exchange information and policy analysis among and between poor women, intermediary organizations and policymakers, as well as to engage poor women in meaningful policy dialogue.

    BOX 5: Is the bank listening?

    The hue and cry from affected women around the world and the availability of supportive data on the negative impact of SAPs on women have given the issue a high profile. Still, the World Bank and IMF continue to deny these negative impacts. This can only be characterized as willful blindness and denial of observable phenomenon.

    Even those within the IFIs who are working to identify and ameliorate the gender impacts of economic-policy reform are handicapped in at least two ways. One is simply that the intellectual terrain upon which they base their policies is narrow, gender biased, and too removed from the lives of the people at the grassroots. Another is that until recently the IFIs have had little interest in talking to the people affected by their policies. Attempts to increase participation have been weak to date, not sufficiently gender inclusive, and focused primarily on projects, not policy.

    On the positive side, the World Bank's Chief Economist for Africa recently traveled to Uganda to look first hand at the impact of SAPs on women. Hosted by The Development GAP and the Mother's Union of the Church of Uganda and accompanied by representatives of those organizations, he met with rural women and discussed the impact of SAPs on their lives, their analysis of the situation, and their ideas for change. The Chief Economist conveyed to those with whom he met that the insights obtained will be fed into discussions of future adjustment operations. The women involved in the meetings have requested a follow-up meeting with the Bank to monitor progress in this regard.

    • A shift in the primary objectives of adjustment policies and lending to place primary emphasis on such equity concerns as the economic security, health and well-being of women and the poor. This will require policies that help increase women's access to and control over resources and government services.
    • The design of economic policies based upon an accurate understanding of women and the poor, including gender and intra-household differences in production, consumption, access to resources and responsibilities. Women should be recognized as agents of development, and the kinds of work that they provide, visible or hidden, should be taken into account in economic research, national accounts and planning.
    • An emphasis in economic-policy- reform programs on the basic role of women as producers and on their access to education, property rights and financial credit. Without this focus, adjustment policies will continue to degrade women's productive capacity, thus precluding their critical participation in revitalizing collapsing economies and dooming economic reform to failure.
    • Accountable government, not less government. Unlike the World Bank and the IMF, women see the answer to corruption, mismanagement and non-representative government in increased accountability, transparency and openness to citizens, not in the narrowing of the role of government to the function of market facilitator.
    • Debt reduction. Not only was the large foreign debt of African governments accumulated and the loans squandered without women's knowledge and consent, but the vast majority of women have not benefitted from the programs and investments that were financed. As such, they feel that much of the debt is illegitimate and should be written off.


    1. Oxfam (U.K. & Ireland), "Embracing the Future, Avoiding the Challenge of World Poverty: Oxfam's Response to the World Bank's 'Vision' for the Bretton Woods System," July 1994.
    2. Samboma, Julian, IPS article, "Africa - Development: Debt Burden Growing at "Alarming Rate", 10 April, 1994.
    3. Ly, Sophie, "Impact of the World Bank Macro-economic Policy on Senegal: Difficulties and Community-base Solutions in the Kaolack Region," Oxfam America Case Study, (unpublished) 1995.
    4. Uku, Richard, "Mixed Results from CFA Devaluation," Africa Recovery, June 1995.
    5. Ly, Sophie, 1995.
    6. Clark, Gracia and Takyiwaa Manuh, "Women Traders in Ghana and the Structural Adjustment Program," Structural Adjustment and African Women Farmers, Ed. Christina H. Gladwin, University of Florida Press, 1991.
    7. Bangura, Yusuf, "Economic Restructuring, Coping Strategies and Social Change: Implications for Institutional Development in Africa," Colloquium Paper, "New Directions in Development Economics: Growth, Equity and Sustainable Development," March 1994.
    8. "Local Manufacturers in Africa Lose Out Under Liberalization," Third World Economics, Issue No. 117, 16-31 July 1995.
    9. Geisler, Gisela and Karen Tranberg Hansen, "Structural Adjustment, the Rural-Urban Interface and Gender Relations in Zambia," Women in the Age of Economic Transformation, Eds., Aslanbeigui, Pressman and Summerfield, Routledge Press, 1994.
    10. As cited in Oxfam (U.K. & Ireland), July 1994.
    11. Brand, Veronica; Rodreck Mupedziswa and Perputua Gumbo, "Structural Adjustment, Women and Informal Trade in Harare," Structural Adjustment and the Working Poor in Zimbabwe, Ed. Peter Gibbon, Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 1995.
    12. Bangura, Yusuf, March 1994.
    13. Clark and Manuh, 1991.
    14. Bangura, Yusuf, March 1994.
    15. Jespersen, Eva, "External Shocks, Adjustment Policies and Economic and Social Performance," Africa's Recovery in the 1990s, Eds. Cornia, van der Hoeven and Mkandawire, St. Martin's Press (a UNICEF Study) 1992.
    16. Darnton, John, "'Lost Decade' Drains Africa's Vitality," The New York Times International, 19 June, 1994.
    17. Bijlmakers, L.; M. Bassett and D. Sanders, "Health and Structural Adjustment in Rural and Urban Settings in Zimbabwe, Some Interim Findings," Structural Adjustment and the Working Poor in Zimbabwe, Ed. Peter Gibbon, Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 1995.
    18. Ly, Sophie, 1995.