Money And Women

From Womb to Tomb

Vibhuti Patel

Macro-economic Policy of liberalisation, marketisation and globalisation, a marked feature of the 21st century world economy has created a condition where money reigns supreme. Unlike in the 18th and 19th century, in the 21st century, there is no need for a comprador to surrender sovereignty of the people of the nation, now the state itself plays the role of facilitator for giant multinational corporations (MNCs) and transnational corporations (TNCs) promoting cash nexus in every sector of the economy in the interest of super profit.

In this situation, the already skewed gender relations perpetuated over the last 5000 years of human civilisation get further distorted and women and girls get more and more resource-poor, marginalised and commodified as they are largely in the care economy, not cash economy. As per the United Nations, Women constitute ½ of the world's population, 2/3 of the world's work force but they get only the 1/10th of the world's income and 1% of the world's wealth. In a nutshell, the economic growth has by-passed the large majority of women and grils as their work is care work—cooking, cleaning, child and elderly care, live-stock raising, collection of fuel wood, fodder for animals and water for domestic consumption—which is not monetised. None of these gets them any money. Women, not only are deprived of the rewards of their hard-work in the domestic arena, but also, women's work is not even recognised as work, it is treated as unproductive. The same ideology gets extended when they join the employment market. As women's work is not treated as productive in 'domestic arena', their work in the professional life is also considered less worthy than that of their male counterparts. In every stratum of the economy—skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled, white collar-blue collar, intellectual-managerial-physical-manual—women get less pay than their male colleagues. Hence, women remain at the bottom of the pyramid even in the period of economic prosperity. In the market economy, governed by 'laissez faire', women rank among the poorest of the poor in the world economy. As the ascent of money does not challenge institutional hierarchy based on class, caste, gender, race, ethnicity, it accentuates inequality between 'asset owners' who are largely men, rich, upper caste, white, and 'asset-less' who are poor, lower caste, non-white and women. Definitely, there are inter-sectionalities in this process of increasing gap between those who control money and those who are forced to do servitude for money for their bare survival needs.

Economic independence is a minimum necessary condition for women's dignity, autonomy, decision making power in the family, community, economy and society at large.

It is in this context, commercial minded techno-docs and laboratory owners have been using new reproductive technologies that violate women's bodily integrity and dignity. Among the educated families, adoption of small family norm means minimum one or two sons in the family, they can do without a daughter The propertied class obsessed about capital accumulation does not desire daughter/ daughters because after marriage of the daughter, the son-in-law may demand share in the property. The middle and lower classes resort to sex selective abortions of female foetuses (i.e. future daughters) to avoid dowry harassment. But they don't mind accepting dowry for their sons. The birth of a son is perceived as an opportunity for gaining more money while the birth of a daughter is believed to result in losing money. In upwardly mobile communities, boys are treated as 'blank cheques' that can be used to encash from his future tn-laws. This mindset, in the context of the ascent of money, has converted doctors into mercenaries using patriarch bias of son preference and daughter aversion in South Asia, and has made science in the service of commerce.

Ascent of money has ensured unlimited power to men to control sexuality, fertility and labour of women. World capitalism uses the cocktail of monetisation / commodification of man-woman relationship and male supremacist value system perpetuated by patriarchal / class society for concentration and centralisation of economic-political-cultural-social-educational and political power in the hands of the moneyed who in turn use this power to get more money.

Women have historically managed the unpaid care economy and fulfilled the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, family care, collection of fuel, fodder, water, kitchen gardening, poultry and animal husbandry and provided food and nutritional security. As women's contribution to the economy and society at large remains unrecognised, largely underpaid and mostly unpaid, women and girls are main losers in this era of ascent of money. Macro economy is controlled and managed by men, while the powers that be, see to it that women get entrenched only in micro finance through self help groups. Money market will never help women!

The ascent of money has intensified the process of violation of women's human rights issues. While women's human rights highlight the importance of women being able to claim their rights to adequate housing and land, in order to lessen the threat of discrimination, different forms of violence, denial of political participation, and other violations of their economic rights.

The UN has invited attention to the problem of persistence of homelessness, substandard and inadequate housing and living conditions, an age-ing housing stock in the public and private sectors, grossly inadequate housing and civic services, including potable water. The ascent of money violates the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights characterised the state of homelessness and inadequate housing as a 'national emergency.' Homelessness due to desertion of aging women (who are considered to be 'garbaged') by their family members has been a major reality of the 21st century.

For healthy and efficient economy, the country must have healthy and educated / skilled workforce. Introduction of 'User Fee' in all social sector services has been a special and over-enthusiastically promoted characteristic of phenomenon of ascent of money. This has served a major blow to social sector services of welfare state in the area of public health and education.

Due to massive reduction in public health budgetary allocation by the state, patients in public hospitals are now increasingly being given prescriptions to purchase drugs from outside at their own cost and this too against the background of drug prices having increased two to three times during the last 2 to 4 years, in the public hospital and health centres also user charges have been introduced. The net impact of introduction of charging fees for health services and issuing of prescriptions to purchase drugs, injections, syringes, bandages etc. from outside have reduced public hospital utilisation in most districts—and these would of necessity mean the poorest. All these ultimately push the poor to increasingly use private health providers, often at a cost of personal indebtedness, and makes public health institutions restricted to those who can exert influence through their connections with politicians and bureaucrats to grab the restricted but quality services. The poor women's health gets most neglected as poor household will use their scarce resource for male members of the family.

Even budgetary cuts for food makes women suffer the most due to hunger as women and girls eat last, least and the left-over in the households with scarce monetary resources. The ascent of money and ascent of starvation, hunger, ill-hearth and illiteracy among women and girls from the marginalised sections of economy are two sides of the same coin.

In India, 52% women and 74% children are victims of under-nutrition, a silent catastrophe. The gap between the overfed population crowding the gyms and underfed millions groping for food in the empty cans and garbage is widening. Women and children suffer due to self-denial, learning to live with far less food and nutrition than the body needs. Women headed households suffer the most. So many illnesses among the poor are linked with malnutrition. If one deconstructs infant mortality rate (IMR), 1/8th child deaths are of tribal children. Majority of tribal communities are out of cash nexus. Gender inequality in nutrition is a norm in India. Due to focus of state policies on reproductive and child health (RCH) to attain population stabilisation, elderly women and adolescent girls get left out in nutrition programmes. Desertion of Elderty Women dying due to starvation is a mind-boggling reality of contemporary rural, urban and tribal life. After years of unpaid family work, aging women get discarded so inhumanly due to fetish of money.

The marketisation of education has made school and higher education very expensive. A majority of the parents are reluctant to invest in the education of their daughters whose education does not have a production-value because her income goes to the groom's family. It is important to focus on 'Gender-dynamics' of the Economics of Education. In the drive for privatisation, women as students are the main losers as parents channelise financial resources for son's education; daughter's education is considered to be less important. NAAC study reveals that there is ghettoisation of women in general higher education (Arts and Commerce) and mostly men throng professional colleges (Engineering, Architect, Medicine, Science & Technology).

Education is a necessity for all and not just a luxury for those who can afford it. Therefore, it must be a top concern for India as she ventures into the future, since without a solid educational spine, her economy will no longer be able to stand the test of time. At present only 7 % of total Indian women have been able to enroll themselves in the institutions for higher education.

The global market forces persuaded the Indian State to reduce budgetary allocations for state funded educational institutions in the 1990s. It was precisely the opposite of what was directed by the Constitution and resolved by the Parliament in the 1986 policy. The undeclared but operative strategy was to "let the vast government education system (from schools to universities) starve of funds and consequently, deteriorate in quality." As the quality would decline, resulting in low learning levels, the parents, even the poor among them, would begin to withdraw their children from the system. A sense of desperation and exclusion from the socio-economic and political space in the country would prevail. More importantly, the people's faith in the Constitution and the capability of the State to fulfil its obligations will be shaken up, thereby leading to a cynical view of the nation-state. This will lay the groundwork for appreciation of market as a means of solving people's problems.

Most of these changes have been at the behest of World Bank whose World Development Report (1993) has advised the nation states to privatise and commercialise education, health and insurance sector and open up health insurance market for global players.

Gender equity is increasingly cited as a goal of inclusive policy but there is considerable confusion about what this could mean either in theory or in practice. If policies for the promotion of gender equity are to be realisable their goal must be the equitable distribution of all resources. This requires people-centric, women-centric, child-centric, elderly centric-approach, not money-centric mindset that one sees in this neoliberal market economy that believes in the principle, the might is right. It also necessitates an analysis of the gendered obstacles that currently prevent men and women from realising their potential.

[source : People's Reporter, December 25, 2015—January 10, 2016]

Vol. 48, No. 30, Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2016