Men and women are affected differently by the debt issue. With the nation saddled with a debt of over $18 billion, effectively every man, woman and child in Zimbabwe owes a minimum of $1,285-00 in order to settle this debt. While the debt burden is evenly spread across gender, the income disparities and attendant social and economic responsibilities disproportionately affect men’s and women’s capacities to shoulder the debt burden.
The Progress of Nations Report (2000) published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that the day will come when nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength, nor by the splendour of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their peoples, i.e. by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labours; by their ability to participate in decisions that affect their lives; by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties; by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; and by the protection that is afforded to the women and growing minds and bodies of their children.
In the 21stcentury, it is disheartening that an overwhelming number of people living in poverty across the world are women. In addition to being the most hard hit by poverty, women are also vulnerable to political violence.The debt trap in developing countries, especially in Zimbabwe, is one of the major causes of the suffering for both urban and rural women who constitute the majority of the country’s population. In actual fact, UNICEF reported that as African governments are diverting resources away from health, education and other social services to repay foreign debt created by prior rulers (like the Rhodesian government and the Mugabe regime) the most affected are poor women including their environment.
In Zimbabwe, economic challenges exacerbated by neoliberal economic policies characterised by poor service delivery, unavailability of drugs, and lack of investment in critical sectors of the economy that can be a conduit for sustainable human development, are felt by women the most.
Scholars like Portes (1992) have consistently argued that debt sustainability cannot be captured solely by reference to financial indicators. In Zimbabwe, women’s developmental needs are yet to be met and this calls for an urgent need of increased budget resources towards poverty reduction. Zimbabwe has one of the worst human development levels with unemployment at a staggering 90% with 94% of the population being informally employed and with women constituting the majority of the informal sector.
As the nation commemorates the International Women’s Day, it is prudent to establish the nexus between the struggles of women and the national debt crisis towards solving the two once and for all.