Lately there has been a lot of talk in the news about the impact of the decision by ratings agencies to downgrade South Africa to ‘junk status.’
For many of us, these ratings don’t mean anything tangible and can feel like just another example of the mysterious workings of global capitalism. However, junk status could have a particularly profound impact on women in South Africa.
Changes in interest and exchange rates
Changing interest and exchange rates can result in increases in petrol and food prices, with a negative effect on household income and spending.
“Men are often more in control of household spending decisions than women are. We know that women are more likely than men to spend on things that have a positive impact on the status and development of children, and thus it isn’t unreasonable to expect that spending on these things will be constrained in the face of reduced household income,” says Laura Brooks, economist and Senior Consultant in KPMG’s Human and Social Services practices.
So less household money may mean women are less able to spend on their children and themselves.
This has particularly negative effects on households that were already struggling before junk status. “Items which are often treated as luxury goods, such as sanitary products and sexual and reproductive health products are sacrificed to the disproportionate disadvantage of women and girls,” says Brooks.
As we know from recent campaigns around these products, not having a pad or tampon can mean missing days of school, with long term effects on educational and employment opportunities for women.
WATCH: South Africans react to junk status downgrade
Government spending on services that impact women
Women in South Africa are more likely than men to be unemployed, and the prevailing gender relations mean that they are often responsible for the majority of child care.
In times of financial constraint, government often adjusts its spending priorities. According to Brooks, “government must spend more money to service its debt, leaving a smaller slice of the pie for social spending.”
So while the number and size of social grants is not likely to get smaller, growth in their number and size will be limited. This has significant effects for women, who are most likely to need social grants to address their care responsibilities.
It also affects services funded by government to help the most vulnerable women. Kathleen Dey, Director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, explains that when economic changes in household income and spending occur, this can result in high levels of frustration, which can lead to more interpersonal and sexual violence. In addition, she notes concern that “there is already a dearth of services. If junk status means less funding to these services, the future will look very bleak.”
So what now?
Whilst none of us individually has the power to change the junk status rating, we do have the power to see whether we have any extra spending money left over to use to support women’s organisations across the country.
They need our support now more than ever.