1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009), Special Events (2000 - 2009)

The Gendered Impacts of Liberalisation Policies on African Agricultural Economies and Rural Livelihoods (Draft)

Background paper prepared for the UNRISD report "Gender Equality: Striving for Justice in an Unequal World"

Economic liberalisation has been taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) since the early 1980's, when many countries undertook stabilisation and restructuring measures of unprecedented scope as conditions for further loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IFIs). In 2004, individual countries are continuing to liberalise their trade regimes, to encourage private investment, foreign and private, and to maintain fiscal discipline. IFI loans are now more closely tied to the adoption of national poverty strategies - itself a tacit recognition that structural adjustment has not brought ordinary people in African countries out of poverty. The structural adjustment decades have been marked as much by contestation over the policies and their effects as they have been by the policies themselves. By now the minority critical position of the late eighties and early nineties has become more mainstream. There is a widespread recognition that the anticipated growth rates have not occurred and that the sought stimulus to production, to technological change and to a restructured composition of the economy has been muted at best. Nowhere are these debates more important than with respect to the agricultural sector and Africa's rural populations. In most SSA countries a high proportion of the population lives in rural areas, is dependent on agriculture for its livelihood and is poor. One of the further characteristics of this rural population is that the family - or more properly the household - is a key institution within the rural economy. Divisions of labour based on gender and generation have an impact on the effects of liberalisation. Conversely the gender and generations are affected in different ways by the impact of changes in the macro-economic environment for agricultural production and in the institutions that deliver inputs and distribute outputs. This paper seeks to provide an overview of these gendered impacts.

An initial section looks at the background to economic reforms and describes liberalisation policies, especially with respect to agriculture and assesses their rural impacts. It makes the important point that any discussion of gendered impacts needs also to take on board that rural poverty and food insecurity in general have increased in many areas during the structural adjustment decades. Section 2 explores 'the evidence base' - what data are there which tell us about gendered impacts? I suggest that there is surprisingly little information that disaggregates by gender, at either national or district or community level in case studies. This poor evidence base affects the form of this paper. The substantive discussion begins with a fairly lengthy case study of Tanzania in which I examine what we know about the gendered impacts of liberalisation on rural men and women's livelihoods in Tanzania. Themes from this case study are then placed within a review of what we know about the gendered nature of the rural economy in SSA as a whole. This gives some indication of how widespread the findings from Tanzania might be in the continent as a whole. The paper concludes by summarising the effects of liberalisation and discussing the evidence for changes in rural gender relations occurring as a result.