The end of the 20th century could be characterized by radical alterations in the international discourse and economic relations. The aftermath of WWII and the shift of priorities towards humanistic values resulted in the creation of an environment beneficial for the development of the Third World States or Developing nations. Possessing unique natural and human resources, these countries became one of the most fast-growing economies in the world.
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The given phenomenon impacted the character of international cooperation and stipulated the increased attention to regions that demonstrated stable growth. At the same time, regulations and assistance suggested to these countries regarding Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) did not help them to solve all problems, especially in the social sphere. Under these conditions, today, we could observe a contradictory situation when a state combines a powerful economy with poverty and harsh living conditions. In this regard, SAPs turned out efficient in stimulating economic growth; however, they impacted young women workers in Third World Countries in a specific way.
In general, Third World Countries have similar features that result from peculiarities of their historical development and character of their economies. For a long period, these areas had been used as raw materials bases for developed European states. Additionally, their human resources were also exploited. In the 1970s, Third World Countries became independent; however, the majority of them preserves patterns and methods used in their past.
It means that the attitude to workers and living conditions were not improved. Even human rights organizations note numerous cases of child labor, lack of social protection, harsh working conditions, overwork, etc. These factors trigger debates related to the impact Structural Adjustment Programs have on Third World Countries and their relations with Export Processing Zones (EPZs) as one of the ways to improve the situation in the state.
SAP could be defined as a set of economic regulations and limits suggested to countries to qualify for the New World Bank and the International Monetary Fund loans to improve the situation in the sphere of economy and overcome the crisis (Shah, 2013). These measures are suggested regarding the idea of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus (Shah, 2013). One of the primary goals of these programs is the reduction of fiscal imbalances peculiar to developing nations in a short or medium period and the gradual adjustment of these states economies to long-term growth. Traditionally, SAPs are designed for every case; however, some similar contradictory features contribute to the ambiguous character of this program (Besen, 2006).
For instance, countries should devalue their national currencies against the dollar, remove price controls, state subsidies, and increase taxes to balance the national budget (Shah, 2013). In general, these measures are rather harsh and violent as a state that accepts this program should pass through a painful reorganization to be able to meet all requirements of central international financial institutions.
Therefore, the severity of these measures implied to states that want to engage in the international discourse is often considered one of the main causes of extreme poverty and poor living conditions. The fact is that by the terms of these programs, governments have to spend less and reduce consumption. In this regard, over time, the value of labor significantly reduces, and workers in the state suffer from deterioration of their situation.
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Furthermore, the above-mentioned plan also implies the creation of specific export processing zones that should stimulate the appearance of new sources of income and investors interested in placing their facilities in these areas. EPZs could be defined as an industrial area or region that is focused on manufacturing products for export (Shah, 2013). Moreover, to attract investors, governments of these states offer corporations free-trade conditions, beneficial taxes, and a regulatory environment (Shah, 2013). These measures cultivate improved cooperation between global companies and developing countries.
Nowadays, these zones could be found across the globe in Brazil, Colombia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kenya, etc. Therefore, the primary purpose of the introduction of these zones was to support developing nations and ensure that they will be able to cooperate with the most potent global institutions.
The fact is that the above-mentioned set of measures resulted in the blistering impoverishment of nations where it was implemented. In accordance with SAP, a country has to open up to allow more imports in and, at the same time, export more of their commodities (Shah, 2013). This model cultivates significant deterioration of the standard of living, reduced access to public services, pollution of the environment, and harsh working conditions for all members of society (Siddiqi, 2009). Under these conditions, traditionally most vulnerable groups like children and women were affected by new regulations and specific setting that was established due to the Third World Countries cooperation with developed states.
In general, a significant deterioration of the state of women in these countries is one of the primary concerns of sociologists and researchers who investigate the issue (Siddiqi, 2009). The fact is that the creation of new factories and even brunches of industries in Developing states stipulated a significant need for workers and chip labor. For this reason, women had no chance but to engage in processes peculiar to a country and perform hard tasks to earn money and survive.
For instance, in Bangladesh, its economy depends on the labor of women factory workers significantly (Siddiqi, 2009). The bigger part of the work in the garment industry as so-called sweatshop workers and face harsh conditions, low wages, and the lack of social protection. It does not mean that the appearance of factory-work became the only reason for the appearance of gender-based exploitation in these areas(Siddiqi, 2009).
Numerous women still work in the agricultural sector and in areas that traditionally have been associated with female labor. However, at the same time, the adherence to the policy, including SAP and EPZs, triggered the further worsening of the working environment in these regions and stipulated the appearance of the need for additional sources of income. Correctly realizing the complexity of the situation and environment in which they live, women have to find jobs to support their families, feed children, care for parents, etc. (Siddiqi, 2009). The ability to earn money means a greater degree of independence and autonomy for these women (Siddiqi, 2009).
They are now able to control spending, incomes, and other important financial issues. In such a way, a certain improvement of the state of women and their rights in Third World Countries could be observed. At the same time, this also means their involvement in processes in terms of SAPs and measures presupposed by these policies. In other words, they now should work in factories in different industries and face difficult working conditions. Additionally, regarding the peculiarities of capitalism and its basic points, women have to deal with resistance, rivalry, contestation, and discrimination (Siddiqi, 2009). They have to work harder to be able to compete with men and preserve their workplaces.
The problem is also complicated by the fact that in the majority of areas where SAP is being implemented, the question of womens involvement in industrial work is not topical at all (Timmerman, 2008). They are now considered a part of the working process and are suggested the same conditions as other employees have. For instance, in Bangladesh, we could observe the struggle for garment workers’ rights and the improvement of the working environment. However, these movements do not touch upon feministic perspectives and gender questions peculiar to the issue.
Altogether, despite the rapid rise of their economies, Third World Countries still remain problematic areas where people suffer from the gradual impoverishment and deterioration of their living conditions. Numerous factors might precondition the given result; however, structural adjustment programs are often considered one of these. Being introduced with the primary aim to assist the developing nation in their recovery, SAPs, on the contrary, give rise to numerous debates related to their pernicious impact on peoples lives.
Therefore, in countries that follow all recommendations suggested by these programs, a significant deterioration of living conditions along with the appearance of particular gender issues might be observed. It means that SAPs and neoliberalism provide women with an enhanced opportunity to control their finances and become more autonomous. At the same time, these programs introduce numerous capitalist patterns like increased competitiveness and rivalry that make women work harder to earn money.
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Siddiqi, M. (2009). Do Bangladeshi factory workers need saving? Sisterhood in the post-sweatshop era. Feminist Review, 91, 154-174. Web.
Timmerman, K. (2008). Where am I wearing?: A global tour to the countries, factories, and people that make our clothes. New York, NY: Wiley.
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