Marcela Ballara

Mercela Ballara, also from the Gender and Education Office of ICAE, goes after the question of what effect the international financial crisis has on access to food, health and education, especially for women. Poverty and child mortality rates rise, climate change is increasing. During this time, Adult Education is confronted with an enormously important mission.

An Inconvenient Truth: Cross-linked Crises and their Impact on Education, Health and the Access to Food

In 2006, an international financial crisis started to brew, leaving long-lasting after-effects on the countries’ economies. In 2007, this crisis moved on to Europe, Japan and other developed countries, resulting in global economic crisis, recession in the world economy, commerce and financial flows reduction and finally in the increase of unemployment.

The financial and economic crises impacted, to a larger extent, on the poor countries of the world’s regions. They were affected by the increase of inflation, unemployment and the reduction of income in the poorest population sectors.

These combined crises brought about a global food crisis as well as difficulty in the access to food, health and education, especially for women, children and indigenous people. The latter were the most affected, particularly those who live in rural areas or in marginal urban areas.

This is the backdrop for CONFINTEA and the FISC. Hence we should ask how will the agreements emerging from these events influence on this two-fold crisis that has become systemic.

What the Numbers Say

At global level, estimates show that approximately 160 to 200 million people fell into extreme poverty between 2005 and 2008 by the effect of the combined crises.

This affected the access to food in particular, enhancing famine in the world. Data by FAO (2009) and the World Bank (2008) show that:

  • At global level, estimates show that 160 to 200 million people fell into extreme poverty on account of the rise in food prices.
  • The number of undernourished persons at global level has been increasing. Between 2004 and 2006 this number went up to 870 million people; these figures rose to 915 million people as a result of the food crisis. Between 1990 and 2006, Latin America and the Caribbean was the only region that achieved hunger reduction, going from 53 million people to 45 million people; however, estimates show that on account of the food crisis these levels will revert to those of the ‘90s.
  • Due to the economic crisis, 100 million more people will suffer from hunger by the end of 2009.
  • For geographic, cultural reasons and on account of the difficulty in the access to basic services and food, indigenous people will be the most affected by hunger and malnutrition in relation to non-indigenous groups.
  • The financial and economic crisis will result in 200 thousand to 400 thousand additional average child deaths per year for the period 2009-2015; most of them will be girls.

The economic and financial crises appear as the main threats to household income because of increasing unemployment, loss of quality labor sources, reduction of remittances and food prices increase. The low growth of the economy implies the loss of jobs, the increase of informal employment with neither social security coverage nor labor rights. Women and indigenous people will the ones who will lose the most.

Decent Labor at a Crossroads

The increase of unemployment, added to the rise in the cost of living due to inflation, has meant a double burden for households, causing a reduction of real income and consequently a crisis in the access to food, education, health, among other basic goods. People living below the poverty line are even more vulnerable given their scarcity of goods and assets and due to the restrictions they face to adapt themselves rapidly to this new situation.

As a consequence, employment and labor market policies cannot be absent from the strategies aimed at overcoming poverty, including the so-called active policies to generate employment and provide support in terms of training and labor insertion so that employment becomes an alternative to improve the income and living conditions of ample social sectors presently living in poverty and extreme poverty.

It is worth mentioning that the structural adjustments of the ‘80s dismantled the system of public agencies devoted to support the poorest sectors of the population. The role of the State was reduced and the functions that had been dismantled were taken over by private actors. Neoliberal positions argued that by following those guidelines, costs would be reduced and the quality and efficacy of services

– among them, education – would be improved. In general this did not happen and it resulted in the escalating prices of the services provided, which lacked quality control and which diminished the welfare of the population in general, and of women, indigenous people, children and older people in particular. Education and health were some of the areas most affected by privatization.

Climate Change and its Impact on the Population

Climate change, which is affecting every country in the world, adds to the above situation, differentiated by regions, age groups and gender. Climate change will exacerbate inequalities and women will be affected disproportionably in their goods and assets. Notwithstanding, the debates of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) do not require the incorporation of gender in the National Programmes for Action. As a result, in some cases the discussions barely refer to the increasing vulnerability levels women have to face, and they do not incorporate the gender issue to the mitigation and adaptation strategies. These are indispensable matters that must be addressed as women are direct agents in these strategies aimed at facing climate change.

Several experts affirm we are facing a systemic crisis and that it is urgent to start shifting the paradigm. They advocate for developing a new development model that recognizes the true weight carried by agriculture, education and health in the economies. It is, among other things, about undertaking reforms in the State with new policies, a new and better approach to the alliances with the civil society, ecology, investment and infrastructure, education and new technologies, among other sectors. Development cannot be achieved if there is no investment in these sectors.

What Happens to Adult Education?

In the present situation of crises at a crossroads, Adult Education throughout life is part of the solution. Delivering capacities for the development of people and, among other things, to get better jobs, is crucial to overcome poverty and address the global food, energy, environmental and economic/financial crises.

The financial and economic crisis is only one crisis that endangers the entire work that has been done for the past years: for example, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals regarding education by 2015 is at risk. The lack of funding hinders the offer of quality education services and insufficient follow-up prevents us from seeing clearly the magnitude of the learning deficits of the adult population.

The achievement of long-term solutions is essential. Commitment to a public quality education that includes education throughout life must be renewed.

Responses to the Crises

In order to face these crises, countries resort to a series of economic measures; for the poorest, they have established and strengthened the programmes of conditioned transfer of income delivered to a population segment that usually does not have sufficient resources; however, there is no mention of specific support to health, education or Adult Education.

Some Reflections on the Identification of Alternatives

According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report published by UNESCO (2009), 11,000 million dollars are needed per year to achieve the main education goals in the poorest countries of the world.

Due to the above, it will be necessary to strengthen legislation and institutionalism in order to guarantee the practice of education as a human right, beyond the sporadic implementation of low quality education programmes, which many times are guided by emergency.

What will be the magnitude of the impact of these cross-linked crises on the above-mentioned households and particularly on those headed by women? And which conditions will have to exist for them to benefit from Adult Education throughout life?

As a way of contributing to FISC objectives we should reflect upon the challenges ahead

  1. To devise public policies that support Adult Education throughout life and benefit the poorest populations
  2. To identify sustainable low-cost alternatives that support environmental aspects
  3. To contribute to the discussion of the economic, cultural, social and environmental factors that can support the multiplication of Adult Education throughout life.
Adult Education and Development


DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.

To interactive world map

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.