A new crisis is unfolding for women in developing countries, Zimbabwe included, due to the compounding effects of Covid-19 pandemic and an already existing public debt crisis.
According to the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM), a new debt crisis is now confronting many countries on the back of prospects of a global economic crisis amid the Covid-19 pandemic, first detected in China last December.
As such, international money funders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, will continue to resort to austerity measures focused on debt repayment, albeit its effects on the rights of women, their ability to access basic social services and grow into flourishing entrepreneurs.
Today Zimbabwe is battling an unsustainable public debt overhang putting a strain to the country’s fiscal space with efforts made towards repayment.
Studies have shown that as efforts are being made to narrow the debt burden, other crucial services that Government should provide are those that affect vulnerable groups, youths and women.
According to a study by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), there is a direct impact that public debt has on women and girls — negatively affecting their ability to grow as entrepreneurs.
The study, titled “Rethinking Debt Justice and Gender Justice in Zimbabwe: Equity in Shouldering the Debt Burden” — notes that the reduction in social investments by governments in favour of servicing public debt, have seen an increase in unpaid labour, which is mainly shouldered by women and girls.
In Africa, an estimated 80 percent of the food is produced by women, yet priorities in acquiring debt for agriculture is geared towards large agribusiness investment instead of the small-scale women farmers.
“Women, youth, people living with disability and other vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by debt.
“With given loan conditions such as removal of agriculture subsidies and promotion of cash crops, small farmers most of them women, end up getting less income from their agriculture produce and cannot support their household,” said researcher and author Dr Sandra Bhatasara while presenting her research findings at a recent virtual ZIMCODD meeting.
Gender burdens of unpaid care work when Government reduces spending on health, education and social care services, care responsibilities such as taking care of the sick and home schooling of children, predominantly fall on women and girls.
CADTM concurs that it is mainly women who bear the extra burden of unpaid care tasks when public sector provision is reduced and cuts are applied.
“In addition, women are more concentrated than men in lower-income sectors of society, so they tend to be more affected by cuts in social protection programmes and by a reduction in food or energy subsidies, or the removal of vital services for survivors of gender violence,” said CADTM.
Now with the burden of Covid-19, it becomes a double edged sword for women.
In a separate interview, recently appointed president of the Rotary Club of Highlands Colleta Mudondo, said women were mostly at the receiving end even of the measures being put in place to limit the spread of the virus.
The national lockdown, implemented effective March 30, 2020 has seen women businesses severely affected due to supply chain disruptions due to limitations in movements. Most of the women entrepreneurs are in the informal sector, which has largely been affected by the pandemic.
“The SME and informal sectors are mainly dominated by women. Now with the Covid-19 induced lockdown, it means women suffer more because they cannot access markets, for instance with their agriculture produce although agriculture is an essential service.
“Those into cross border trading or buying and selling are finding it difficult to move, the restrictions are affecting them, yet at the end of the day women are supposed to make sure the family is adequately taken care of,” she said.
A report from the Bretton Woods Project core- authored by Dinah Musindarwezo and Tim Jones highlights that debt-related policies continue to be designed with little or no regard for the realisation of women’s rights.
“In trying to reduce expenditures, governments make decisions to downsize wages, retrench and make redundancies, further corroding women’s opportunities to expand and build social networks, gain skills and confidence.
“Women, being disproportionately employed in civil service, and segregated in the lowest, most vulnerable positions, are often the first ones to lose their jobs,” reads part of the report.
To reduce the cost of public debt, experts indicate the need to improve the international legal framework for the prevention and resolution of debt crises.
This should include ending the dominance of lenders in setting the rules, and leading to a reduction in the level of debt servicing demanded and the creation of favourable terms for borrowing and debt relief.