Welcome to Episode 6 of Season 2 of the Glorieuses economic newsletter. Each month we write about economy, gender and race with an international perspective, and with the support of researchers.
Last month in « Pride and Prejudice », we spoke about the inheritance inequalities between women and men. This month, Les Glorieuses looks at the issue of integrating gender parity into budgets. The allocation of public resources can have a devastating effect on or on the contrary be very beneficial to gender equality. In this context she met with Elisabeth Klatzer, an independent Austrian researcher specialising in Gender Budgeting, feminist activist and author of “The EU Leaves Women Behind » – a gender impact assessment of the EU recovery plan.
Vous pouvez lire la version française, #Economie, ici.
March, 21st, 2021 – reading time: 8 minutes
A bigger part of the cake
Why is there this need for gender budgeting ? Usually, we think that public budgeting is “for everyone”, isn’t it ?
It seems that public budgets are neutral and for everyone. They are also increasingly portrayed by politicians and experts as a technical issue. But budgeting is an inherent political process. To decide what gets how much funds depends on our definition of priorities. And economic policy decision making is still very male dominated and very masculine in the sense of what is seen as important. This explains partly how much money is going to women or gender equality.
For example, care services — publicly and privately provided — receive little budgeting, and the jobs there are badly paid (even in the public sector). If you look at who is working in these very difficult jobs conditions, there are mostly migrant women who have few possibilities to climb the ladder.
If we feminists want to move towards an equal society, we need to engage with budgeting. Economic policy challenges existing power relations by redefining whose interests are served and who gets the largest part of the cake.
How did the Covid 19 crisis expose how blind economics is to
The Covid crisis showed many things. One thing is how much women are at the core of securing our survival. Who is the caring sector, who is in the hospitals, who is exposed to risks ? Women. The pandemic shows that our lives depend on this sector, so we should invest our money there.
But also when public institutions don’t function anymore — schools, kindergartens, care facilities — women are the ones taking over in households. So women’s work is the backbone of the economy and society.
The second thing this crisis showed is how economics is still blind to women. If you look at the schemes of the funds being distributed, they are not focused on the sectors where women work. In the EU Recovery Facility, there are quite strict criteria given by the Commission on what can be funded. There is climate change and digitalisation among them, but there is no criteria for gender budgeting.
The care economy is not even mentioned in the EU Recovery plan. Not that it is not a priority, but it is not even mentioned ! This is unbelievable. This is partly because there is no profit making in life saving public services. Big corporations’ interests make governments go in certain directions. These are rather interested in cutting public services because they can make profit if the
These are not the sectors where private profit is, but you showed in your economic assessment of the EU Recovery plan, “the EU leaves women behind”, that investing in women led sectors would help to recover the economy faster, so it would benefit “everyone”?
The European institute for gender equality published a study in 2017 that showed that the economic loss due to gender inequalities represents 370 billion euros a year (we also know that violence against women also has a big negative economic impact). The volume of the EU recovery plan is 750 billion. So the loss due to gender inequalities is more than half of the economic recovery fund.
Investing in care is a much better economic policy than investing in construction or in the automobile industry to come out of a crisis like the one we are living for many reasons.
One major reason is that care is labor intensive. So there is a lot of job creation there. And these are sectors with rather low income. So, if you invest in these sectors and there are more jobs hopefully also better paid, the tendency of people is to spend a higher part of their income. There will be a large consumption rate and it has a higher multiplier effect for the economy than other sectors.
For example, if you invest in childcare, you will have several positive effects for the economy. One of them is that parents (but mostly women) will be able to reduce the care burden at home, so they will be able to take a job. This indirect effect for the economy does not exist with investments in construction, for example.
What impact did your report have ?
We got quite a lot of interest from different groups, like feminists, EU parliamentarians (especially the Greens), and local political groups. They tried to use it to lobby and pressure to change the legislative process.
But the big public media attention rather focused on how much of the EU Recovery fund was going to be given through credits and how much to direct payments, or on Human Rights standards with Hungary. Gender equality did not make it to the media, which is really a shame.
Still, it had some impact. There are now a few provisions in the legislative text that say “gender mainstreaming needs to be taken into account across and there needs to be gender impact assessment in different funds ». It is better than nothing but it won’t change a lot.
Has there been any progress in the field of gender budgeting ?
Nowadays, even public finance institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD are working on gender budgeting, so it has entered the regular community of public finance management. On the one hand, one can say this is good, because important international institutions are promoting it, on the other hand, one can say we have failed.
The issue of what we understand as gender budgeting is problematic. Regular public finance actors are only doing marginal work on gender
equality and gender justice. They have adopted the concept as far as it does not lead to significant change, as a nice label.
Indeed, gender budgeting implementation by governments is generally compartmentalized in small tiny issues. When it comes to the big economic policy or budgetary issues, gender equality is often still left out. This is the case when we see where the big money from Covid related funds are going to.
You are a researcher and an activist. How can we feminists accelerate the inclusion of gender budgeting in the political agenda ?
Gender budgeting is only possible if there is feminist pressure behind it, we can’t leave the realisation to governments.
For example, the Commission president, Van der Leyen, claims she is in favor of women and gender equality. One of the first things she said when she took the Commission presidency, was that there is a EU gender equality plan being published. But when it comes to the big money, like the 750 billion euros for the EU recovery fund, the objectives of the EU Equality Plan were not even included.
Internationally, different feminists and budget groups are advocating and organising towards the transformation to a care economy. In Austria, we have a network called “Femmes Fiscales”. We started in august to draft a feminist recovery program built around investing in care, health services, childcare, elderly care, better education, psychological and social support, increasing the social benefits and the unemployment benefits. Our campaign is called “More for care”.
We are starting to strategize on how to build power. I believe that it is very important to do this now. Our main argument is that to get out of the Covid crisis, it will be easier and necessary to focus on an equal and just transition towards care for people and nature. I think that is the way to go, I have a lot of hope in this.
How about joining the Club ?
Save The Date – For our next Club des Glorieuses on Thursday, March, 25th at 6:30 PM (CEST) our guest will be the feminist activist Caroline De Haas who will talk about the #NousToutes publication « Manuel contre les violences sexistes et sexuelles » (éditions Robert Laffont). Please subscribe here
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