“Zim rising debt affecting women, youths”

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THE government has been urged to come up with a holistic approach to arrest rising debt and empower marginalised people such as youths, women and the disabled.

Zimbabwe’s unresolved debt running into over US$18 billion has not only resulted in high levels of unemployment but also increased marginalization of women and the rural folk.

Thabo Dube, an economic analyst, said if the government is seriously committed to lasting socio-economic justice, it will engage the youths on the implication of the country’s public finance system, which informs our governance.

“Young people in Zimbabwe constitute a demographic bulge, which translates to 75 percent of the total population and 41 percent of eligible voters, and need to be extensively engaged with public debt contracting, monitoring and adjudication so as to engender their inclusion and socio-economic justice,” he said.

Dube, who was presenting a paper on the social and economic implications of public debt on the youth commissioned by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, said the negative state of the economy and diminishing prospects for a brighter future – intergenerational injustice, will persist lest public debt is extensively reduced and be governed by mechanisms which minimize borrowing.

“The government and its development partners should conduct studies on opportunity cost and overlapping generational modelling of public assumed in the same especially the youths, so as to inform progressive revenue mobilisation and distribution, through taxes and socio-economic development incentives,” he said.

Researcher Sandra Bhatasara also weighed in saying one of the main consequences of a country’s indebtedness is increasing socio-economic inequality but it is women, youth, people with disability, people living with HIV/Aids and other vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected.

“Debt repayments prevent the government from channeling money into much needed social services such as health and education,” she said.

“The government should institute measures geared towards transparency of debt processes. Debt transparency will provide citizens and pressure groups with information to hold the government accountable.”

Bhatasara also added that the Women Affairs ministry should play an integral role in debt management systems to ensure that relief is strategically allocated to gender concerns within poverty reduction strategies that benefit men and women equally.

“There is an urgent need to build a feminist movement in Zimbabwe around debt justice that not only revisits the discourse on debt but brings together a coalition of women’s organisations and movements to build a feminist narrative on debt that caters for and includes women.

“Gender impact assessments should be carried out prior to borrowing and after the implementation of a programme to assess the extent to which the programmes contributed to the needs and interests all groups, especially marginalized women and girls,” she said, adding that there is need for government to protect vulnerable women from disproportionately being affected by debt servicing and loan conditionality.

Former World Bank country director for Zimbabwe said debt and development in the context of youth, gender, and social services was significantly affected by the uses the incurred debt is put to.

“Countries that have invested their borrowings into the development of human capital, infrastructure, and production are generally not seen as having a debt crisis.  For instance, as a proportion of GDP, Japan debt stands at 237 percent, USA at 107 percent, and UK at 87 percent and they are not considered as countries in a debt crisis, primarily because their economies generate enough revenue to service their debts while expanding economic opportunities for their citizens.

“In my view, this is the challenge for Africa in general, and for Zimbabwe in today’s discussion,” he added.

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