February 11, 1999
Women’s EDGE, a coalition of international development organizations, domestic women’s groups, and individuals, is writing to express our concern about the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act II (H.R. 434). We oppose this bill, as currently written. Women’s EDGE works to give women and families around the world an economic edge. Women’s EDGE believes that H.R. 434, will harm, rather than help, the majority of African citizens. We support the HOPE (Human Rights, Opportunity, Partnership, & Empowerment) for Africa Act, sponsored by Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Illinois) as the best opportunity to achieve sustainable development in the Sub Saharan African (SSA) region.
H.R. 434 aims to improve the livelihoods of African citizens by pursuing an export-promotion strategy to the exclusion of other methods. We are deeply disturbed that H.R. 434 contains no provisions for development assistance to Africa. Women’s EDGE believes that trade and aid are both important policy tools for the U.S. to use to achieve its diplomatic and economic aims. Furthermore, in order to truly benefit African citizens, the U.S. needs to support basic development needs such as basic education, education and access to technology, and capacity-building efforts. By laying the foundation for strong human capital development, the U.S. will be aiding African citizens today and tomorrow. In contrast to H.R. 434, the HOPE for Africa Act supports restoration of annual aid to Africa at the 1994 level ($802 million) under the Development Fund for Africa and prioritizes funding for basic human needs.
Women must be central to any discussion of sustainable economic development. A recent World Bank paper (No. 428) stated that “if Sub-Saharan Africa is to achieve equitable growth and sustainable development, one necessary step is to reduce gender inequality in access to and control of a diverse range of productive, human, and social capital assets. … Reducing gender inequality — a development objective in its own right — increases growth, efficiency, and welfare”.
Trade policies must take women’s social and work roles into account and design policies that improve women’s lives, rather than increase their burden. Numerous studies have shown that trade provisions affect women differently because of the social roles that women play in most societies, as well as the wage discrimination, job segmentation, and cultural barriers women often face. While we commend the author’s of H.R. 434, for recognizing the importance of women to economic development (Sec.3), we are dismayed that there are no provisions within the bill to facilitate women’s access to education, credit, capital, or technology in order to increase their ability to become economically self-sufficient. Instead, many of the export-driven strategies within H.R. 434 will serve to undermine women’s businesses and health.
Some examples include:
- Micro-credit programs, which have gained strong support in the U.S. Congress, are an avenue through which women have been able to parlay small loans into thriving businesses throughout SSA. However, in Zimbabwe, as trade was liberalized, women micro-entrepreneurs were unable to compete with the flood of cheap goods entering their country (AWEPON/DGAP).
- Susan Joekes’ research has shown that in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), a switch to export-promotion crops (non-traditional agricultural promotion) has often diverted resources from domestic consumption. Men have controlled the extra cash earned from this strategy and the nutritional status of women and children has declined. Falls in girls’ school enrollment has also been observed, reflecting the need to use additional labor to meet domestic and export production.
Women’s EDGE has grave reservations about the impact of the eligibility requirements on the poor in SSA, particularly poor women. The eligibility criteria outlined in H.R. 434 calls for the restructuring of African economies. Past experience has demonstrated that this sort of restructuring has led to deep cuts in government health, nutrition, and education programs. As a result, professional women who work in the government (and are disproportionately concentrated in these sectors) are displaced, and poor women see an increase in the cost of health care, food, and education. Any eligibility criteria should allow nations the necessary latitude to ensure food security, adequate health care, and access to basic education for its citizens.
The HOPE for Africa Act, rather than using the “cookie-cutter approach” outlined in H.R. 434 to determine eligibility, recognizes the need for self-determination for African nations. The HOPE for Africa Act enables African nations to pursue policies in the best interests of their citizens and recognizes the different capacities, natural resource base, and economic, social, and political needs of each nation.
Women’s EDGE shares the concerns that other organizations have articulated about the preoccupation of expanding the textile industry in SSA, given that global trade rules will end textile and apparel quotas in 2005. With China competing for the textile market once the quotas are lifted, nascent industries will be overwhelmed and it is likely that China will become one of the sole suppliers of textiles for the global economy. This strategy seems to be shortsighted as a long-term development model for the region. The HOPE for Africa expands the market access for African goods, while protecting workers rights and the environment. Women’s EDGE also supports the HOPE for Africa contention that debt relief must be an integral part of any policies aimed at improving the livelihoods of African citizens.
Women’s EDGE urges you to oppose H.R. 434 and instead, support the HOPE for Africa Act that includes development aid and debt relief, and respects the sovereignty of African nations.
Ritu R. Sharma, Executive Director