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Capitalisme néolibéral et féminisation de la pauvreté

dimanche 30 novembre 2003, par Joëlle Palmieri

Mirjana Dokmanovic, représentante de l’Ong Women’s Center for Democracy and Human Rights en Serbie et Montenegro, intervenait le jeudi 13 novembre à la plénière « Quel future pour l’Europe de l’Est et la Turquie ? ». Insistant sur la paupérisation de sa région et en particulier au regard des femmes, elle explique que le dernier piège à surmonter reste la privatisation des services et l’AGCS.

At the beginning, I want to remember you : Why are we here ? Are we here because we are content, satisfied with the world around us, with our living conditions, with our place in the world ? Or because we are not satisfied, because we do not want to be any more a silent majority without right to exercise our right to decide about our lives. I am here because I am not satisfied, and because I know that another, better world is possible. The world that would make us possible to live in dignity, peace and wealth. Dignity, peace and wealth for all of us, and not only for a minority that posses the rules over the whole world, nations, and individuals. In that sense, poverty is the greatest risk and danger for all of us. If we do not have water, housing, what to eat and dress, the problems of the world do not concern us – in that case, we have only one problem – to survive. Nowadays, just in this very minute, every fifth living human being in this planet has only this one problem – to survive. In the very close future, it would be every forth – extreme poverty is increasing with geometric progression. We should not be excellent mathematician to calculate when will be the day when all of us in this room will have only one problem.

Change the agenda

We will not wait too long for that day if we let the things go. We are living in a capitalist world, where there are very few rules, and they are very simple. I have seen a slogan on one of leaflets here – « Capitalism is wealth for a few, misery for masses ». It is obvious : we cannot reach our aim if we do not change the agenda ; if we do not change the paradigm Money is being the God ; if we do not put human beings into the focus of development ; if we do not build human rights based approach to development. And we cannot reach our aim if we do not change the social attitude toward three billion human beings ; toward every second human being living in this planet. Yes, I am speaking about women. Why ? Because there is no solution for social problems, no another better world, without taking into consideration needs and status of a half of the world population. Because women are those who, being in the need, accept to work with no pay or for a low wage and under a miserable working conditions, just to earn money for their families. Without them, without this cheap, and well skilled labour force, capitalism would not be possible. Women are the main target group as a labour force of those who have capital and power.

The gender dimension of powerty

In spite of the recognition by the international community and governments that there is a gender dimension to poverty, and that gender perspective should be integrated in all poverty eradication policies and programs, the feminisation of poverty is on rise. Women contribute to two thirds of the worlds’ work hours, account for 60% of the labour force, as the invisible work force contribute to 25-40% of the GNP in developing countries, and still consist the majority of the world’s poor. The feminisation of poverty is accelerated by the neoliberal agenda, governed by the rule of the market, cutting public expenditure for social services, privatisation, and deregulation of everything that could diminish profits. In this process, women play a crucial role as a cheap, and skilled labour force. The patriarchal nature of neoliberalism downplay women’s role in the economy by pushing them into low-paid and insecure jobs, and weakening their chances to take part in the policy-shaping and decision making process. The incidence of poverty has increased in the past few years not because the world as a whole is getting poorer, but because the benefits of growth have been unevenly spread. There has been a striking increase in inequality both between countries and within countries, even within the rich industrialized countries, which raises pressing questions about the policies that have contributed to this worrying trend. 14Ironically though, the issue of inequality has received little attention in policy circles. The retreat from equality is evident across the literature on economic development, which has been far more concerned with issues of poverty than of inequality, and redistribution. Inequalities especially have arisen in the so-called transition countries. While in 1989 13.6 million people in the Eastern Europe lived in under the poverty line of 4 USD per day, five years later the number increased for five times. Those who before transition had little, now they have less. The greatest losers are families with children. It was estimated that in 1997, 37% of families with two children lived in poverty, every second family with 3 children, and even 72% of families with more than four children. The transition and structural adjustment were accompanied by the decreased level of expected life and increased level of mortality, and unhealthy living conditions, parallel with the decreasing level of social, health and child care. The number of people living in bad living conditions, and poverty rises every day in Moldavia, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia… the list of countries in which majority of the population live in despair and hopelessness is too long. It is obvious : future of the Eastern Europe is future of Europe.

A non transparent privatisation process

Regarding the human rights situation, effects of the transition of the former socialist economies in the NIS, SEE and CEE to the market economies until now are as followed :
- Increasing labour insecurity and flexibility of the labour force
- Increasing grey economy and informal labour market
- Increasing unemployment
- Decreasing of wages and pensions
- Increasing poverty, corruption and crime
- Increasing personal insecurity
- Increasing social inequalities
- Cutting social services and state care to education, health, family care, child care and social welfare system
- Decreasing role and influence of trade unions, workers’ rights protection and healthy and secure working conditions
- Decreasing environmental protection. All these negative trends more deeply and more often affect women than men, and that is the characteristic of all the transition societies, disregarding differences they have referring the speed of the transition, and success in developing market economy and increasing GDP. In addition, the privatisation process is characterized by a shortage of mechanisms and political will to protect and fulfil economic and social rights, lack of respect to international labour and environmental standards, lack of transparency, and adequate legislative on foreign investments. The transition process has been accompanied by the evaporation of the government sponsoring job programs. Women are often the first to lose guarantee of paid employment and benefits, while bearing the burden of cutbacks in social welfares. In addition, it is estimated that women worked on the half of the 26 million of working places that were closed during 90s. From 10 million of unemployed, 6 million are women.

Increase of disparities

On the other hand, there is a sharp decrease of the real wages and increase of disparities. Even in those countries where the GDP is increasing, the fall of wages and employment continue. This situation creates pressure to households to keep two sources of income, resulting at high participation of women in the labour market, on one hand, and raising insecurity of working place. Having such a great demand for jobs, full time jobs are more and more replaced by part time jobs. Status of women in the transition countries in South Eastern Europe can be summarized in several points :
- Women are the most marginalized and the largest social group affected by the negative effects of privatisation and transition.
- The economic and social position of women in the whole region is constantly worsening, and out of public attention and public policy.
- The discrimination of women at the labour market and at work is speedily increasing and is socially invisible, in the same time.
- Women suffer from unemployment, lack of resources and lack of opportunities more than men.
- Women are excluded from the decision-making and policy shaping.
- More and more, women become cheap well-educated labour force.
- In the worst economic and social position are invisible groups, as rural women, minority women, women refugees, elder women, self-supported mothers, disabled persons, young women, and Roma women. Accordingly to the official politics and economic policy, they almost do not exist at all. The policy-makers and political parties poorly recognize the gender issues and discrimination of women, steadily holding to the supposed gender equality reached during the socialist period. Thus, women’s needs and interests are not integrated into the public policy and economic sphere. Transition process is marked by the re-patriarchalisation of values and society as a whole, while violence against women increases. As the result, the feminisation of poverty is increasing, caused by :
- Women’s social exclusion and isolation
- Perpetual sustainability of the patriarchal pattern in the society
- Presence and development of various forms of inequalities, biases, and prejudices
- Barriers to access to decision-making, politics and public life for marginalized groups
- Lack of resources
- Economic globalisation and world trade based on inequalities, exploitation, and profit World Bank’s assessment was that the costs of the reconstruction of companies and enterprises were too high due to the high level of social protection (as maternity leave, and maternity benefits) and the protection given to workers (notice period, severance pay, collective dismissals, wages). Accordingly, that was high level of labour and social protection that discouraged foreign investments, and prevented the economic growth and employment. Employment objectives, and redistributive social welfare systems are no longer even the objectives of public policy in most countries. What we are witnessing now instead in many contexts is the drastic reduction of state-based entitlements and their replacement by a market-based, individualised system of social services which inevitably only responds to the needs of a few privileged men and women who can afford them, while the great many who cannot are left with elusive safety nets, overwork and increasing vulnerability.

The Gats Danger

Women are now under a new attack – WTO, fostering trade liberalisation on services and imposing GATS on national governments, will impact on women’s working condition, and income, as well as their access to water, schooling, affordable health, and other services. And if women are concerned, everyone is concerned. General Agreement on Trade of Services, as an effective instrument of neoliberal global governance, will « successfully » increase the poverty everywhere where implemented, making the poor poorer, and the rich richer. Elimination of poverty is not possible within the capitalistic framework. Capitalism is based on exploitation, and inequality. It is based on unequal distribution of power and wealth, and it perpetuates and deepens inequalities and discrimination in a society, increasing gap between rich and poor. In this context, poverty reduction strategy papers pushed by the IMF and WB are a trap. PRSPs, for example, foreseen measures to enhance women’s entrepreneurship and access to education, while at the same time, foster trade liberalisation and privatisation that have negative impact on economic and social status of women and other marginalized groups. Therefore, fight against poverty demands changing the ruling trends of the economic globalisation, posing accountability to the international actors, and developing economic alternatives, based on solidarity, and human rights, taking into account needs of the most vulnerable groups. Effective politics to combat poverty is not possible without resistance to neoliberalism, and development of global politics that will be based on democracy, and rule of the international law, posing international standards and obligations to all international actors, including transnational corporations and financial institutions. Combat poverty is not possible without developing fiscal and legal framework that would decrease social inequalities and make socially responsible economy possible. It includes building effective mechanisms on international, regional, national and local level to respect, fulfil, and protect economic, social and cultural rights, and their indivisibility from political and civil rights. States should create express access and linkage to rights, and empower poor by emphasising a human person as the centre of the development process. This is not possible without high participation of all social groups, including women, in the economic policy shaping and democratisation process. Non-discrimination and attention to the vulnerable groups should be basic principles of state policy. This includes incorporation of express safeguards in development instruments to protect against threats to the rights of women, and engendering trade and macroeconomic policy. People should be primary focus and owners of development. Therefore, working to eliminate poverty and facilitating access to basic services, increasing educational opportunities for women and girls, and including women in all stages of the peace process are essential components of a campaign to ensure human security.


Mirjana Dokmanovic - Women’s Center for Democracy and Human Rights, Serbia and Montenegro – 13 novembre 2003

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