Money is very much on our minds these days, isn’t it?
It certainly is in Jamaica, where the Minister of Finance recently tabled the first Supplementary Estimates (a reduction of J$9.89 billion). The House of Representatives approved them, and we now move on, with some trepidation, towards the Budget. With the visit of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team last week, the “prior actions,” the huge new taxation package and other developments are weighing on our minds.
So in the midst of all this, how are we to ensure that gender issues are taken seriously into consideration in every single aspect of the budget process? This is a topic under consideration in a series of seminars for Jamaica’s civil society, as Budget Day (April 1) approaches. Last week I attended the first seminar, coordinated by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre as part of its Economic Literacy Program, in collaboration with its partners, the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided funding, with the support of UN Women. Ms. Marsha Caddle, from the UN Development Program‘s Barbados and Eastern Caribbean (OECS) office, guided us through the morning, bringing clarity and reasoned thinking to the topic. We all thought hard, took note, and later put our heads together to come up with strategies for, specifically, the education sector. We also looked at opportunities for introducing gender thinking into the process, or the “system.”
Let’s get something clear – the term “gender” does not mean simply “women.” In this context especially, it is important to note that gender-responsive budgeting is about priorities and strategies for women and men, and different groups of women and men, and their unique and different needs. Nor is gender budgeting about separate budgets for men and women. It is about always taking gender into account in the planning and implementation of economic strategies – including the rigorous process that Jamaica is currently engaged in with the IMF. In some countries, gender budget analysis is called equity analysis. Once the word “gender” is introduced, it raises visions of “feminism” (I am not sure how this became a scary word for some, but that is another question).
There are obvious and glaring imbalances in the current Caribbean (and Jamaican) socio-economic landscape. There is the gender wage gap – men still earn more than women, while still underperforming educationally. But then, overall, sixty per cent of students in Jamaica leave school without formal certification. There is low economic growth (or none at all) leading to stagnation. Productivity is low, resulting in low returns on the government’s investment in education. There were major spending cuts throughout the structural adjustment period of the eighties and nineties in various sectors. The staggering burden of debt threatens to overwhelm us. Crime and violence place a huge social and economic cost on society.
So, gender inequality is costly to all – not only to women. It affects the man, children, the family, society. We must keep this in mind at all times.
And how are women doing? The traditional view of the economy in the Caribbean, Ms. Caddle noted, includes some built-in attitudes – the “male breadwinner bias,” for example. The working woman is mostly in the lower-paying sectors of the economy; or she is performing domestic or agricultural work, which is neither recognized, nor supported; neither rewarded nor supported (for example, by pensions or other social support). I myself know some women whom I consider the “working poor.” Young women in particular are more likely to be unemployed than men. While more than two-thirds of Caribbean people living alone are men, over four-fifths of single parent households in the Caribbean are headed by women (there are even “child-dependent” households by the way – that is, an older child supports the family). In Jamaica, 47 per cent of urban households are headed by single women; of these, thirty per cent live below the poverty line. Female-headed households tend to be larger. But women have limited access to land and credit, for example – two means of increasing production. They also have less access to wellbeing and leisure activities than men. In short, many Caribbean women – and their families – are disempowered and vulnerable.
But hold on a minute – isn’t the domestic sector also a producer? Of course it is. Projects such as the Glass of Milk program to fight child malnutrition in Peru are often largely supported by unpaid labor in communities. This production capacity must be supported. When more resources are provided to women, evidence shows that they put it to good, productive use compared to men. But even some aid programs are still skewed in a way that does not benefit women and children; a banana industry support program, for example, targeted male banana farm owners and actually resulted in increased female poverty.
Now let’s look at what one hopes to achieve in terms of human development through gender budgeting. How can working gender considerations into the mainstream positively impact men, women and children? Governments need to target their spending much more carefully, spending their money more efficiently. It is all about “governance for development” – whether it is in health or education, agriculture or housing. Gender budgeting will help governments to do this, while improving family welfare and reducing poverty. And that critical element (which often eludes us in the Caribbean) – productivity – will be increased.
Governments’ relationships with aid agencies (and international financial institutions such as the IMF) are also critical in the Caribbean. Like its neighbors, Jamaica is working towards achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG); we are only two years away from the MDG deadline. I would like to take a good hard look at how Jamaica is progressing towards those goals (and by the way, Jamaica has its own “Vision 2030″ to keep in mind). After that, how is a post-2015 sustainable development agenda looking? Perhaps Caribbean governments and their international partners need to re-examine their programs to ensure that gender equity is always an important component. And when looking at budgets from a gender perspective, one may wish to reorient programs in different sectors, accordingly – not necessarily change the amount of funding allocated, but perhaps the timing of a project needs to be revised.
The discussion was wide-ranging. Many of the conclusions that seminar participants reached extended beyond gender considerations, embracing issues of governance and leadership, accountability and transparency (words that we like to use, but which really are important words). Governments must focus more on economic policy in the medium term, it was agreed. One participant raised the issue of class bias – another factor that cannot be ignored in Jamaican society. Taking the education sector as an example, participants wanted to explore the gender implications of investment in early childhood education, the school feeding program and other government programs. There needed to be a better gender balance on public school boards – an issue that the 51% Coalition is very much focused on (see my earlier blog posts, links below). It was generally agreed that a stronger emphasis on civic education in schools would provide a clear framework for young Jamaicans, both male and female. There should be a much stronger emphasis on rights-based pedagogy, on critical thinking – even on the redesign of classrooms to reflect changing approaches to gender.
Some of us addressed broader issues. The aim, after all, of a balanced and equitable society must be that all groups benefit; that there is real and sustainable development; that our leaders serve a more satisfied constituency; and that all sectors of society understand and “buy into” the vision. People need details, and certainties – the clear framework for progress mentioned above. You only have to watch or listen to a “man/woman on the street” interview to realize this. And everyone must have a say. Partners in this process must include youth; faith-based institutions (in particular those influential conservative religious elements that ascribe traditional roles to men and women); politicians (of course); schools and academia; the media; the private sector; community-based organizations; party workers at the grassroots level; and of course, families. Government initiatives such as public-private partnerships, local government reform, conflict resolution, technology policy and legislation, and others should provide opportunities to mainstream gender considerations.
Where do we go from here? Well, WROC aims to roll the findings of these discussions into a project, as part of its Economic Literacy Program. This should not, and will not, be just another set of workshops with breakout sessions that produce interesting ideas that are not followed up.
“We have to value the under-valued,” someone commented. Giving value to each and every citizen’s role in society must be a crucial element in budgeting – including women whose role in the economy is often largely ignored. And this also includes consideration for marginalized groups, such as the large numbers of young, “unattached” males (this is a huge problem in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we learnt – but also in Jamaica). It is not OK to have a large percentage of the population unengaged – unemployed and not interested in becoming productive members of society.
Gender equity is about equity. And equity implicitly means equality for all. So let us turn our thoughts towards practical, sensible ways in which we can ensure that our (increasingly scarce) resources are used in the right way, to benefit every member of society.
Related articles and websites:
http://www.who.int/topics/gender/en/ Gender: definition: World Health Organization
http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ UN Millennium Development Goals
http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTGENDER/0,,menuPK:336874~pagePK:149018~piPK:149093~theSitePK:336868,00.html Gender and development: World Bank
http://www.wrocjamaica.org Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre website
http://www.wrocjamaica.org/partners WROC partners: wrocjamaica.org
http://www.unwomen.org UN Women website
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/we-are-the-51-per-cent/ We are the 51 percent: petchary.wordpress.com
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/madam-director-madam-chair/ Madam director, madam chair: petchary.wordpress.com
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/we-are-family-on-blog-action-day-2012/ We are family: petchary.wordpress.com
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/many-happy-returns/ Many happy returns: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-104/32979 House approves first Supplementary Estimates: Jamaica Information Service