Under-Explored Aspects of Structural Adjustment - Growing Inequalities Among Women and Implications for Feminist Movements: A View from India
Since the 1980s, neo-liberal economic globalization for developing countries has entailed economic reforms called structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that were imposed on debtor countries which borrowed loans from the International Monetary Fund. SAPs include minimizing the role of the state, privatization of the public sector and exposing domestic industries to foreign market competition. Contrary to promised benefits, SAPs have resulted in escalating poverty and inequality, deteriorating health, education and housing conditions, and degradation of the environment in debtor countries. Women in so-called developing countries have faced the major brunt as SAPs have transformed crucial aspects of their lives. While the outcomes of SAPs for women have been well-documented, most extant literature views women as a homogeneous group ignoring differential impacts of economic reforms across class, caste, religion and other social markers. This paper contends that feminist writings have largely overlooked that in several countries SAPs have, in fact, benefited middle- and upper-class women while further impoverishing their resource-poor counterparts. There is little information about growing inequalities among women and their paradoxical effects on women’s political action. Conversations about differences between women are seen as a betrayal of the feminist cause. This paper asserts that a forthright discussion of the growing inequities among women can allow re-imagining feminist agendas in terms of broad-based mass movements that can thwart neo-liberal and concomitant fundamentalist forces. With a focus on India, the essay highlights the escalating disparities among women that have remained under-researched, and accentuates the need to investigate the repercussions of these egregious inequities for feminist organizations.
Keywords: Structural Adjustment, Inequalities Between Women, Feminist Organizations, Gender and Development
Dr. Vanmala Hiranandani
Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Dalhousie University