Debt to Women Concept:Reflections on a just and Caring Economy, Alternatives to Globalisation


Abstract: Globalisation and the implementation of structural adjustment policies have resulted in an escalation of worldwide poverty which is felt most acutely by women. Globalisation has thus contributed to further subordination of women. Economic globalisation has brought new kinds of businesses, opportunities, and a better life for many. It also has resulted in increasing misery for others. Intensive global competition and economic mandates often demand sacrifices from those least able to afford them. The only way to adopt global economics, in which everyone benefits, is to begin by unconditionally rejecting market economics, with its divisive and separative underlying philosophy. There has to be a complete about turn in economic thinking by world leaders and those holding world positions of political and economic responsibility including church leaders.

Keywords: structural adjustment policies, market economy, global economics, Globalisation Sustainable(-ility), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Economic Reforms for Global Economy, citizen movements, structural adjustment policies, third world nations/economies

‘Everywhere the poor are poor because the rich are rich, and everywhere the growing gap fuels the fire of resistance.’ Unknown.

‘The anti-capitalist movement proclaims that another world is possible— a world that puts people before profit, one where women’s willingness to have children will be seen as the wonderful contribution that it is to society. Such a world would put every resource into ensuring that every child gets enough time with its mother (or whatever other parent she or he may leave) while ensuring that the mother is able to have a life outside the home,’ Unknown.

Global Arena: Operating Space

While globalisation has resulted in overall job creation, it has not produced jobs that contribute to the long-term social advancement of women. In general, globalisation and the implementation of structural adjustment policies have resulted in an escalation of worldwide poverty which is felt most acutely by women. Globalisation has contributed to further subordination of women.

This economic globalisation has brought new kinds of businesses, opportunities, and a better life for many. It also has resulted in increasing misery for others. Intensive global competition can force a company to relocate if it is to survive, generating jobs elsewhere, while leaving behind many workers who lose their jobs. Sudden shifts in globalised capital and financial markets can dramatically affect the economic well-being of millions of people, for good or for ill.

Human beings are responsible and accountable for economic life, but people often feel powerless in the face of what occurs. Market-based thought and practices dominate our world today in ways that seem to eclipse other economic, social, political, and religious perspectives. To many people, the global market economy feels like a free-winning system that is reordering the world with few external checks or little accountability to values other than profit.

Economic mandates often demand sacrifices from those least able to afford them. When any economic system and its effects are accepted without question, when it becomes a ‘god-like’ power reigning over people, communities, and creation, then we face a central issue of faith.

While a market economy assumes people will act to maximize their own interests, we acknowledge that what is in our interest must be placed in the context of what is good for the neighbour. While competitiveness is key to economic success, we recognize that intense competitiveness can destroy relationships and work against the reconciliation and cooperation God desires among people.

There is a growing discussion on global restructuring and the growing pressures and inequalities across different social and spatial boundaries. This increase in inequalities has also been accompanied by the decline of class-based movements, which have themselves suffered from a failure to recognise social exclusion based on issues other than class.

The only way to adopt a global economics, in which everyone benefits, is to begin by unconditionally rejecting market economies, with its divisive and separative underlying philosophy. There has to be a complete about turn in economic thinking by world leaders and those holding world positions of political and economic responsibility, including church leaders.

In its place we must adopt an economic philosophy that starts from a consideration of what is good for all. The doctrine of selfishness must be abolished, and substituted with a spirit of sacrifice and responsibility. The rights and needs of all must be recognised. Goodwill and right human relations must be the goal of the new philosophy, and each world citizen must be educated so as to nurture a sense of personal responsibility.

The resistance against corporate globalisation is global in scope and is dedicated to international cooperation to achieve economic justice for every person on the planet. As for the charge of being anti-trade or anti-debt, many of the movement’s leaders are actively involved in the promotion of fair trade- in contrast to the often exploitative free trade they oppose- as a means of improving the economic conditions of poor people and their communities.

The World Bank has recently responded to grassroots demands to allocate funds to restore environmental damage, and we see the emergence of community banks. These are promising trends, but the world economic philosophy needs to be reversed at its core, not just on the fringe. The World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), all need a complete reversal of philosophy towards one of sustainable development and concern for the needs of all.

But the imminent global economic crisis will not be averted unless the World Bank, IMF and WTO do likewise, and reform their underlying philosophy, not by token gestures, but in its entirety. There is no security for the world’s future generations when market volatility and the gap between the rich and poor increase day by day.

Women’s Space in the Global Arena

In 2001 and 2002, tens of thousands gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for the first and second annual World Social forum, titled ‘Another World Is Possible,’ to carry forward this process of popular consensus building toward a world that works for all. Perhaps the most obvious and straight forward alternative advocated by civil society is simply to place a moratorium on the negotiation of new trade agreements. More ambitious proposals- redirecting global, national, and local priorities toward the task of creating healthy sustainable human societies that work for all, are needed.

Although many of the protests have centered on opposition to trade agreements, global civil society does not oppose trade. Humans have engaged in trade since the beginning of time and as long as two or more members of the species survive will surely continue to do so. What the protesters reject is the use by corporate interests of international trade agreements to circumvent democracy in their global campaign to strip off the weaker players in the trading arena.

The issue is governance. Will women have a democratic voice in deciding what rules are in the best interests of society? Or will a small ruling elite, meeting in secret and far from public view, be allowed to set the rules that shape the human future? If the concern of the decision makers is only for next quarter’s corporate profits, who will care for the health and well being of people, especially women and children?

Where corporate globalists see the spread of democracy and vibrant market economies, citizen movements see the power of women to govern shifting away from people and communities to financial speculators and global corporations dedicated to the pursuit of short-term profit in disregard of all human concerns. They see corporations replacing democracies of people with democracies of money, replacing self-organizing markets with centrally planned corporate economies, and replacing diverse cultures with cultures of greed and materialism.

In the eyes of citizen movements, these trends are not the result of some inexorable historical force but rather of the intentional actions of a corrupted political system awash in corporate money. They see the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organisation as leading instruments of this assault against people. Citizen movements see that the policies and processes of corporate globalisation are destroying the real wealth of the planet while advancing a primitive winner-takes-all competition that inexorably widens the gap between rich and poor. They reject as absurd the argument that the poor must be exploited to make the money necessary to end poverty.

Many of us embrace the present imperative for transformational change as an opportunity to lift humanity to a new lever or possibility-the greatest creative challenge in history. Yet experience leads us to conclude, that the institutions with the power to provide the leadership are neither there nor are inclined nor suited to doing so. Nor is there realistic cause for hope that leaders who are lavishly rewarded by the status quo and hold steadfastly to the view that there is no alternative, will suddenly experience an epiphany?

The challenge of providing leadership to create a just and sustainable world thus falls by default to the hundreds of millions of extraordinary people in an emerging global civil society who, believe a better world is possible- and who are forging global alliances that seek to shift the powers of governance to democratic, locally rooted, human-scale institutions that value life more than money. Although the most visible among them are those who have taken to the streets in protest, equally important and even more numerous are those struggling to rebuild their local communities and economies in the face of the institutional forces aligned against them.

These are only a few examples of the initiatives and actions in defense of democratic rights that are occurring around the world. Some are purely local; others are national or international. All are linked together in common rejection of the illegitimate power and false promises of global corporations and a probative commitment to revitalize democracy at local, regional, national, and global levels. Each contributes to an emerging vision of the healthy, just and sustainable society. Thus our biggest task now is to do the following:

To scrutinise how specific policies and practices affect people and nations and propose changes to make policies of economic growth, trade, and investment more beneficial to those who are poor;

To increase the participation of low-income people in political and civic life, and citizen vigilance and action that challenges governments and other sectors when they become captive to narrow economic interests that do not represent the good of all; shifts throughout the world from military expenditures to purposes that serve the needs of low-income people; to support efforts for debt cancellation in ways that do not impose further deprivations on the poor, and cancellation of some or all debt where severe indebtedness immobilises a country’s economy; investments, loan funds, hiring practices, skill training, and funding of micro-enterprises and other community development projects that can empower low-income people economically.

Impact of Debt on Women: Debt to Women Issues

There needs to be a focus on the importance of redistributive policies that are rooted in the structural inequalities of capitalist production and exchange. In this situation alliances between women’s and other social groups and solidarity among different emancipatory social movements, which expand the inks between gender activism and other forms or transformative politics become both more necessary and more possible.

In the last 30 years women have come a long, long way. Our lives are nobler and richer than they were, but they are also fiendishly difficult. The contradictions women face have never been more bruising than they are now. On every side speechless women endure endless hardship, grief and pain in a world system that creates billions of losers for every handful of winners. It’s time to get angry again (Germaine Greer 1, 2001).

Globalisation has had such negative consequence s for women and children that some commentators argue that ‘globalisation is a man’. They point to the way women suffer disproportionately from IMF and World Bank policies as public services are cut and they are forced to care for sick, disabled and older relatives, as well as earn a living. But globalisation could equally be a woman. Capitalism’s expansion across the globe has depended on a massive influx of tens of millions of women into the workforce who had traditionally been dependent on husbands and male relatives. Globalisation has contradictory effects on women which in a way makes women ‘donors’ as opposed to being ‘debtors’. The international financial institutions and donors owe women a great deal of reparations and these would need to be paid back. The global financial system needs urgent restructuring.

The central truth within the Bretton Woods principle upon which the IMF was founded, still remains relevant today; that nation states’ domestic economic policies do affect each other and do need surveillance. But the IMF, in promoting and facilitating such volatile and speculative investment and insider trading, has now become a principal problem, rather than a solution for the global economic crisis. In contrast to the IMF prescription, the Chinese government has resisted the market economics model and has insisted upon limited convertibility of the yuan. This seems to be the main reason that China was shielded from the 1997 Asian meltdown, and it therefore provides the world with a most constructive lesson.

The corruption within the global market economy has seen numerous dictators and military regimes in third world countries bought out by colonialists or more recently, multinational corporations, with the result that the people are repressed while the wealth of the nation is milked out and the corporations and the ruling elite become fabulously rich. When the third world economy collapses and the government is overthrown, as corrupt governments eventually are, massive debts are accrued. The debt is bailed out by the IMF fund, and the IMF then imposes the massive debt upon the people of the third world nation, who never had any say in the first place. The IML then imposes strict restrictions on social expenditure for the third world nation, with the effect that such nations then provide cheap slave labour for the affluent world. The Jubilee 2000 campaign succeeded in relinquishing only a small portion of this un-repayable debt. The problem is that the IMF, to whom the debts are owed, is controlled by corporation interests.

The only effective way to resolve the third world debt problem is for debtor nations to get together and refuse to recognise the authority of the IMF. This will mean that they can no longer receive any new IMF loans, but the terms for such loans are so oppressive and unjust, that this seems more of a positive step. The newly organised third world nations then would set up a new debt review body, organised by the UN, the third world nations themselves and civil society. All unjust and un-repayable debts would be cancelled and the nations would develop an ethical economics for global trade and investment and borrowing. Major capitalist corporations would naturally withdraw their investments, and the newly organised nations would be able to attract investment from only the smaller, more ethical banks.

Nature of Economic Reforms for a Positive Global Economy

Talking more specifically, what will be the nature of the economic reforms that will characterise a positive global economy for the 21st century? We must start from an honest appreciation of the evolving social dynamics within our communities. There can be recognised a pronounced trend, to move away from a focus on material goods, towards a focus on services and the more intangible factors of culture, living standards and quality of life. If given a choice, people will opt for more free time and quieter, slower and culturally creative lifestyles, in which money is not so dominant a priority. We must move away from our present win-lose games and adopt an economics of sharing, in which there are no losers. Strategies for the new economics will need to be broader and co-operative, and it must be based upon futuristic planning and recognition of the high priority for sustainability and consideration for the needs of future generations. These factors must therefore become the basis for the new economics.

We live in a world of increasing global economic interdependence, and so there is an urgent need to set new and appropriate global standards. There is an urgent need for international regulation of corporations and markets, and co-ordination of national policies and standards. New international agreements based upon the new economics, and replacing the ‘Bretton Woods’ philosophy, which dominates today’s market economics, require urgent implementation. Such new agreements would protect citizens, employees and investors, not just the mega-corporations and traders as at present, and they would ensure full disclosure, accounting protocols, and safeguards against money laundering, insider trading, bear-raids and extremities of speculation.

We need better global standards, establishing harmonious rules tor international investment, finance and trade, banking regulation, accounting transparency in securities markets, and currency exchange fees and controls to dampen speculative flows of money.

Reflections on Some Fundamental Principles of a Just and Caring

The principles of a sustainable society are interrelated and mutually supporting.

  • Respect and care for the community of life.

This principle reflects the duty of care for other people and other forms of life, now and in the future. It is an ethical principle. It means that development should not be at the expense of other groups or later generations. We should aim to share fairly the benefits and costs of resource use and procurement among different communities and interest groups, among people who are poor and those who are affluent, and between our generation and those who will come after us.

  • Improve the quality of human life.

The real aim of development is to improve the quality of human life. It is a process that enables human beings to realize their potential, build self-confidence and lead lives of dignity and fulfilment. Economic growth is an important component of development, but it cannot be a goal in itself, nor can it go on indefinitely. Although people differ in the goals that they would set for development, some are virtually universal. These include a long and healthy life, education. access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living, political freedom, guaranteed human rights, and freedom from violence. Development is real only if it makes our lives better in all these respects.

Minimize the depletion of non-renewable resources.

Minerals, oil, gas and coal are effectively non-renewable. Unlike plants, fish or soil, they cannot be used sustainably. However, their ‘life’ can be extended, for example, by recycling, by using less of a resource to make a particular product, or by switching to renewable substitutes wherever possible. Widespread adoption of such practices is essential if the Earth is to sustain billions more people in future, and give everyone a life of decent quality.

Change personal attitudes and practices.

To adopt the ethic for living sustainably, people must re-examine their values and later their behaviour. Society must promote values that support the new ethnic and discourage those that are incompatible with a sustainable way of life. Information must be disseminated through formal and informal educational systems so that the policies and actions needed for the survival and well-being of the world’s societies can be explained and understood.

  • Provide a national homework for integrating any positive development process.

All societies need a foundation of information and knowledge, a framework of law and institutions, and consistent economic and social policies if they are to advance in a rational way. A national programme for achieving sustainability should involve all interests, and seek to identify and prevent problems before they arise. It must be adaptive, continually redirecting its course in response to experience and to new needs.

Create a global alliance.

No nation today is self-sufficient. If we are to achieve global sustainability, a firm alliance must be established among all countries. The levels of development in the world are unequal, and the lower- income countries must be able to define their own path to development with the involvement of the majority of its peoples. Their rights (social, political, economic and cultural) must be protected regardless of whether they are male or female.

Two Concluding questions

What types of markets and states would address poverty and promote women’s rights such as access to and control of certain types of market, economic assets, wage labour, equality in conditions of work, access to social development, education and health care, and access to decision making?

On what principles should an economy be built on?


BARBARA KALIMA. Dircetor of African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) in Zimbabwe. Played an important role in mobilising public opinion on Cancun Conference of the World Economic Forum. She is challenging World Bank and International Monetary Fund through her writings and active participation in the negotiations with the international financial insittutions dealing with African countries.

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Dircetor of African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) in Zimbabwe. Played an important role in mobilising public opinion on Cancun Conference of the World Economic Forum. She is challenging World Bank and International Monetary Fund through her writings and active participation in the negotiations with the international financial insittutions dealing with African countries.

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