ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Non-Conventional Indicators

Prevalence of mental distress and of abuse and violence are important indicators of the wellbeing of a community and are significantly differentiated by gender. The socio-economic changes wrought by structural reforms have the potential to disrupt existing notions of gender in ways that could be threatening, demoralising and oppressive for men and women in some contexts and empowering in others. Some of these factors, especially those that concern gender ideology, may indeed be difficult to 'measure'. It is therefore necessary to consider research methodologies that go beyond the quantitative in order to do justice to the complexity of these phenomena.

Structural adjustment refers to those economic reforms undertaken in countries with heavy burdens of international debt. Typically they involve lifting subsidies on food and other basic commodities, deregulation of local currencies, decreased investment in social services like health and education, denationalisation of state-sponsored production activities and shifting from production for domestic use to production for export. Diverse projections have been made as to the outcomes and differential effects by gender of such reforms. According to the Economic Agenda document prepared by the Coordination Unit for Women NGOs (1995), a futuristic nightmare is visualised for women where widespread unemployment will lead to economic insecurity and an increase in crime, where cuts in government spending and employment will mean worsening health services, less access to education, and deterioration in civic services. As jobs disappear and the cost of living rises, women will be forced to seek employment in insecure, poorly paid jobs and since gender relations at the household level governing the sexual division of labour tend to remain rigidly in place, women will be forced to work harder and longer hours. Girl children will be forced to give up their education or prospects for gainful employment in order to help their mothers with household maintenance. Rising food prices will mean poorer nutrition, especially for the female members of the family. The fallout will ultimately be on their health and well-being. It is thus held that economic reforms, by ignoring the crucial structural category of gender, interact with existing gender asymmetries to affect women in negative ways.

On the other hand, some have held that this doomsday scenario is, in fact, present reality and argue that some aspects of economic reforms hold promise for healthy change [Kishwar 1996]. It is true that the process has brought more women into the workforce. Whether this will have liberating and empowering effects for women ultimately, especially for those women whose options have thus far been limited by their confinement to the household sphere, remains to be seen. Certainly their well-being will be affected if their working outside triggers conflict in the home, and also if their work burden has to stretch to include income generation in addition to their traditional tasks of household and family maintenance. Although the overall effects of SAP are difficult to distinguish because women in different sectors are affected differentially, it is clear that women are working longer hours in an effort to reduce the effects of rising costs of living and cuts in social service [Elson 1994].

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