Post 437.

I WAS hoping that the Minister of Finance would finally begin to speak about gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) and acknowledge the need for gender-responsive recovery. 

Particularly in the context of the pandemic, political will in TT needs to catch up with a world increasingly applying a gender-sensitive approach. This means assessing the differential implications for women and men of any planned action to ensure that women and men benefit equally and inequalities are not perpetuated.

There are two main benefits of GRB. First, in making budgetary decisions, the minister relies on and shares sex-disaggregated data, recognising that women and men participate in the waged and care economies very differently. 

As I have described in relation to the last three budgets, without this, fiscal decision-making ignores the responsibility of economic development to improve gender equality and ignores the costs of gender inequality to overall wealth creation and distribution. It’s like targeting the growth of specific trees while dismissing knowledge about the overall ecosystem of the forest.

We should hear a budget speech, and further details in the budget debate, that clearly outline basic numbers. For example, the unemployment rate for women and men; the rates at which women and men participate in different economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, construction, service and retail, car importation, and tech and digital services; their rates of participation in the informal economy; and the ratio of women to men as first-time homeowners as well as owners of small and medium businesses. 

It was important to hear whether women’s employment was harder hit by the pandemic, in what sectors, and how this shaped economic stimulus decisions.

This enables us to track the dollar value of incentives, tax breaks and funds allocated in terms of its results for both women and men. 

This is the second thing about GRB – it encourages a results-based approach. 

Currently, we can’t say how the minister’s fiscal plans aim to affect women’s entrepreneurship or participation in the economy. 

Next year, we won’t have a target or benchmark to appraise this year’s announcements. How will we know who benefited from the emphasis on these key sectors? How will we know who was left behind?

The digital divide remains gendered in terms of ownership of digital assets such as computers, and in terms of access and use. Globally, this has been key to women’s inability to equally propel and benefit from the digital revolution, and to access digital services. 

Women in our economy are more likely to have microbusinesses that depend on their own labour, rather than employees. They have less access to credit to expand, often lacking sufficient assets for collateral. 

Women still predominate in insecure, informal and low-waged five Cs: cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering and childcare. 

I would have welcomed incentives for childcare-centred (and predominantly women-owned) businesses, given that daycares and preschools, unlike even bars and casinos, have remained completely closed since March 2020, decimating women’s livelihoods and savings while increasing the pressures on women’s unpaid care. 

Accessible childcare services are directly linked to women’s employment, and public investment in quality care services can create more jobs than investment in construction, precisely because it frees so many women who are self-employed, seeking jobs or creating wealth to do so without unequally gendered constraints. 

This stuff isn’t rocket science and is being undertaken globally. Australia’s annual Gender Budget Statement explains how the budget is contributing to gender goals. Other countries publishing such statements include Bangladesh, Canada, India, Japan, Morocco, Rwanda, South Korea, and Spain.

In the PM’s Recovery Report, women are merely treated as a welfare category, not as a group involved in wealth generation under gendered constraints. A “woman’s perspective” on the budget is considered to centre on consumption and issues of food prices and VAT, subsidies for utilities, exemptions and rebates for the poorest of households, and direct social protection. 

However, women are not an economically vulnerable group because they are less capable, but because of unequal responsibility for families, sex segregation in the economy, gendered fiscal policy (think of the infusion of funds for big construction projects in every budget), and persistent gender norms. 

Fiscal policy either addresses these inequities or assumes them to be an unproblematic status quo. 

The 2020 UNDP Gender Social Norms Index demonstrated that 50 per cent of men worldwide think that, in times of scarcity and crisis, employment should be prioritised for men. 

Disappointingly, without sex-disaggregated numbers or targets underscoring his budget, for yet another year it appears the Finance Minister feels the same.