Defend Truth


Economic policy is skewed against black women


Funzani Mtembu is an investment analyst, an activist and an advocate for a feminist economy and Pan Africanism. She writes and speaks in her own capacity on subjects such as feminism, political economy and social movements.

Changing South Africa’s economic policy to strengthen the bargaining power and position in society of black women will help to fight gender-based violence.

Whenever people talk about gender-based violence (GBV) and government’s intervention in the fight against this scourge in our society, the conversation inevitably revolves around analysing policing, the criminal justice system and the laws that govern our country. And rightly so – these are key facets of governance that should assist in eradicating GBV. However, I argue that not much work has been done towards understanding how macroeconomic policy affects black women.

The discourse on gendered economics suggests that there are opportunity costs in the time women spend to perform care work for both men and their children. This puts a strain on women economically and lands them in a perilous position of dependency which further perpetuates the gratuitous violence towards black women’s bodies.

Financially-constrained women are prone to abuse due to their undermined bargaining power. And the lack of infrastructure development results in women having to perform strenuous unpaid care work, which then compromises their health.

The government then has a substantial role to play in ensuring that black women are granted their just financial agency and economic liberation in order to increase their bargaining power. A majority of black women currently reside in townships and rural areas that are a result of apartheid spatial planning and are therefore subject to class stratification.

Neoclassical economics has become entrenched in government policy and accepted as an omnipotent school of thought. According to French post-modern philosopher, Michel Foucault, the notion of power is a regime’s truth that pervades society and is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and truth. And that power is everywhere. This is evident within our fiscal policy that is heavily informed by problematic/Western forms of knowledge.

Neo-classical economics’ guiding neo-liberal principles pertain to restricted government expenditure. This is entrenched in the ANC’s Growth Employment and Redistribution policy (Gear). The policy advocates a tighter fiscal stance. And its public services and budgetary reform and restructuring segments carry a similar theme of austerity measures.

This economic policy formulation has relegated black women to the status of a passive citizenry whose lives have been minified to fit existing policies with little-to-no consideration of the repugnant conditions for black women.

If the government was to purposefully distribute increased public investment to physical infrastructure, it would not only improve on women’s health as strenuous care work is eradicated through easy access to water, electricity, transport and other household maintenance activities, but also reduce the time spent on these activities. This is time which could be redirected to employment and thereby raising the earning potential of both women and men.

And although good service delivery and physical infrastructure are important to better the position of black women in society, it is not sufficient to strengthen their bargaining power. This is where social infrastructure investment, such as in education, clinics, hospitals, housing subsidies and social grants becomes an imperative aspect of fiscal policy as it relates to black women.

This isn’t just any form of discretionary spending, but is a public investment that has a positive spillover to the economy when directed well.

Social development spending does not only enhance the skills and literacy rates of black women through education, but it also creates income opportunities through publicly-funded social services. And with the way in which employment in society is gendered, favouring men, the probability is that women will gain more jobs in social service activities and the paid care sector of the economy.

Another aspect of it is that social service work is easily accessible to lower-income households with less educational attainment. This would then empower the most-disadvantaged black women.

There is also existing work that shows how child support grants make it easier for black women to find employment, like the work presented by Alessandro Tondini, a PhD candidate at the Paris School of Economics. Tondini discovered that finding a job, particularly a formal one, is expensive. It is both time-consuming and resource-dependent. Child support grants then serve two main purposes: they provide women with some level of income to take care of their children while they look for a job, and they grant them access to resources for things like transportation when looking for a job.

South Africa devotes a large proportion of its budget to service its debt. In the 2016/2017 financial year, the country’s debt stood at R2.2-trillion, relative to its BRICS counterparts such as Russia and China. Its interest payments accounts were 9.2% (R146-billion) of the general government expenditure (R1.58-trillion) in 2016/2017. This is more than it spent on some of its key sectors such as higher education and training (R52-billion), health (R42.42-billion), and rural development and land reform (R9.7-billion). And it only spent R1.4-billion on small business development and R204.7-million on women.

Perhaps then research ought to be done on whether spending such a large portion of revenue on servicing debt has been beneficial for the country’s economic development when little attention is paid on investing in the country and its citizens.

All this is important to take into consideration when the conversation centres on gender. Analysing macro-economic policy magnifies the importance of the inclusion of black women in the economic public sphere, but most importantly, it brings in the imperative aspect of challenging the policies that govern this very sphere.

A gender-aware fiscal policy is beneficial for not only the welfare of black women but also of children. The eventual result benefits black men as well.

Taking into account household bargaining dynamics and the increase in the bargaining power of men relative to women raises the awareness of the systems that perpetuate domestic violence. It is therefore important that economic policy formulation helps to strengthen the bargaining power and self-sustenance of black women. DM


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