How third world debt hurts women

An “Alas” reader – I apologize, but I don’t remember which one – pointed out this excellent British article on how the third world debt crisis harms women. Here, for instance, is a discussion of what happens with the World Bank and IMF impose “austerity plans” on third-world governments:

Take the capping of public expenditure. One of the first things that governments don’t do in order to meet this particular requirement is invest in infrastructure development like water and sanitation. This disproportionately affects women because it is women in developing countries who, as a result, walk up to 15km each day to collect water; it is women who on these journeys risk their own security. The Sudanese militia, for example, has been reported to prey on the women in Darfur who have to walk long distances to find water. It is girls who become “prisoners of daylight” because of a lack of toilet facilities, fearful to go for a pee until it is dark.

The reining in of public expenditure hurts girls in other ways, too. In order to meet this requirement, almost all developing countries have adopted a policy of charging for healthcare and school fees. And when parents faced with school fees have to choose between spending their money on sending their daughters or sons to learn, guess who gets to go to school? When the state doesn’t provide healthcare, it is daughters not sons who are taken out of school to become care-givers; it is girls who become the unpaid nurses. […]

In the most extreme cases women become a key source of foreign exchange themselves. The export of women from Thailand and elsewhere in south-east Asia to work as domestic servants overseas is a well-documented key foreign exchange generating industry for many developing world governments, an industry actively encouraged by the World Bank. A less well-known and highly disturbing fact is that the Philippines government, in the late 1970s, actively promoted the mail order bride industry in order to repay its debt.

Read the whole thing. Also, while we’re on the subject, Pinko Feminist Hellcat has a post on sweatshop labor in the third world I’ve been meaning to link to for a week.

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9 Responses to How third world debt hurts women

  1. 1
    jam says:

    that link was noted by NancyP in the discussion “Whose Voice?”…

    excellent article.

  2. 2
    Sheelzebub says:

    Great article!

    And thanks for the link!

  3. 3
    Richard Bellamy says:

    I agree with this article, so far as the issues raised do certainly affect women and children more in the short-term.

    The question, though, is whether this harm is greater or less than the long term harm to women (and men) of elimination of that debt. I mean, any poor country could renounce its foreign debt today, and it would not get invaded by creditor banks seeking to collect — the countries just wouldn’t be able to borrow any more.

    Another question is whether the money saved will go to help women and children, or whether (as is more likely in Sudan) it will go to weapons that will kill them.

    The IMF has done a lot to help the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (see here).
    The countries it has not helped are largely those with governments that are a bigger impediment to development than the debt is.

    My point is not to say that the article you cited is wrong: merely that it is only one side of the picture. Women and children are certainly harmed by the massive debts, but they also benefit from the ability of their governments to borrow — a benefit that would be lost if lenders lost confidence in their ability or willingness to repay.

  4. 4
    Richard Bellamy says:

    For just one example:

    “In Ethiopia, where only one in six women receive antenatal care, debt repayments total four times as much as public spending on health.”

    Ethiopia also has one of the highest military expenditure rates in the world (18 out of 166 listed).

    Comparing debt to public health is one relevant criterion. If both are dwarfed by military expenditures, though, I don’t see how public debt could be considered a primary cause of Ethiopia’s woes.

  5. 5
    Decnavda says:

    Note this sentence from this British article:

    When the state doesn’t provide healthcare, it is daughters not sons who are taken out of school to become care-givers; it is girls who become the unpaid nurses.

    I live in the U.S.A., The Richest Country in the World, and, um, that happens HERE.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. Good point, Decnavda.

  7. 7
    mkultra00 says:

    That is why microenterprise loan NGO’s specifically target women as borrowers, they are not only the most neediest in developing countries but they are also good repayers with a 98% payback rate when given to women’s groups. Men would squander the money on vices. The payback rate for commercial loans and third world debt by governements to NGOs is much much lower.

  8. 8
    mythago says:

    Decnadva, it happens here, but it’s not something women generally do instead of school; it’s something they do in addition to all their other responsibilities. It’s not lawful in the U.S. to pull your ten-year-old daughter out of school forever to help Mama with chores instead.

  9. 9
    debt says:

    mkultra00, I watched a special on OPB where companies investing in micro-loans in countries like India are targetting women just for the reasons you mentioned.

    Many women in that country, in groups have been able to finance their own small farm and trade businesses because of this. In a sense i think it’s a positive thing for women in third world countries. They are given more opportunities for being more vigilent with their financial matters.