Promoting women’s equal participation in the economy

Promoting women’s equal participation in the economy

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this image?

It’s  a vivid depiction of an Indian village, with images of women working – domestic chores of cooking, cleaning, attending to children, shopping for food, milking the cow and so on. None of this work is paid.

This painting by 14-year old Anujath Sidhu Vinayal from Thrissur in the southern state of Kerala is the cover for the “Gender and Child Budget 2020-21”. It shows the state government’s intent to recognize women as workers and to present policy measures to advance this shift.

Anujath has been painting since he was four years old. His painting titled, “My Mother and Mothers in the Neighborhood,” is a tribute to his mother, who died last year. Just days after her death, this painting won an international award. This beautiful painting highlights the need to create avenues to promote women’s equal participation in the economy.

Gender budgeting has a long history in India. It all started with the Indian government constituting a “Committee on the Status of Women in India” (in 1971) in response to a request from the UN to commemorate the International Women’s Year in 1975. The Committee report called Towards Equality  examined the constitutional, legal and administrative provisions that have a bearing on the social status of women, their education and employment, and their implications.

Twelve years later in 1986, 27 schemes where beneficiaries could be counted, were picked up to be monitored and direct funds for women. Another eleven years later, in 1997, Women’s Component Plan (WCP) was introduced to earmark at least 30% of Plan funds by government departments perceived to be “women-related.”

The next two decades saw many developments – deepening of WCP at state and Union level, coupling WCP to Gender Budgeting (GB), recognizing the importance of Gender Budgeting in the 2001 “National Policy for the Empowerment of Women,” piloting gender budget analysis for national Budgets in 2000 by National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) – a think tank that assists Union, state and local governments frame public policies – and constituting Gender Budget Cells in 2004-05.

All these efforts led to a commitment to institutionalize GB. Gender Budgeting is an analytical tool to scrutinize government budgets from a gender lens, recommend more programs that directly benefit women and call for their better implementation.

India saw its first-ever Gender Budget Statement (GBS) in 2005-06 that covered a modest 10 demands-for-grants comprising 2.79% of the total Union Budget. The next year GBS covered 24 demands and 5.09% of the total Union Budget. In 2020-21, Centre for Budget & Governance Accountability (CBGA) analyses showed there are 25 demands for grants in Part A and 33 in Part B of the GBS, comprising 4.71% of the total Union Budget. Part A of the GBS show allocations across government departments that are exclusively for women and Part B list government schemes that allocate at least 30% accruing to girls / women.

When we see in absolute terms, the GBS has grown 10 times in a span of 15 years. It now covers Rs.143,461 crore from Rs. 14,379 crore in 2005-06. However, when seen as a proportion of total Union Budget allocations, the magnitude does not seem to have changed much (from 2.79% to 4.71%).

That GB is not a separate budget for women is an important caveat. It is an approach to understand the gender-differentiated impact of budget making and implementation. It also goes beyond public expenditure analysis and looks at government’s resource mobilization efforts and policies from a gender lens.

Last year (2019), India’s Finance Minister in her Budget Speech announced setting up a committee to evaluate 15 years of gender budgeting. As Indian economist, Ashok Lahiri said, “…the progress has been mixed. There is satisfaction to be derived from the fact that gender budgeting has been sustained for the last 15 years. Not only has it been sustained but it has even spread to subnational governments including states and union territories…”

Lahiri also credits various arms of the government – Ministries of Finance and Women & Child Development, Comptroller and Auditor General, Planning Commission – as well agencies such as UN and NIPFP for this progress. It is to the credit of women rights’ networks, allies amongst legislators and policy research organizations such as CBGA (a longstanding IBP partner) whose continued scrutiny and independent analyses led to deepening of gender budgeting as an approach.

Coming back to the cover page of Kerala government’s Gender Budget document, valuing women’s work (paid and unpaid) is a substantive first step in shifting public policy attitudes.

In September, the High Court in Tamil Nadu, another southern state, ruled in a judgment valuing a woman’s unpaid labor more than earning family members. Also in September, India’s National Statistical Office released its report on a Time Use Survey for the period January to December 2019. The Survey, a first in 20 years, measures people’s participation rate and time spent on paid, unpaid and care activities. Unsurprisingly, it shows the extent to which gender determines how people spend their time. But it also reveals the impact of other factors such as class, caste and geography, on time use. This inequality clearly has a negative economic impact on women.

Approaches such as GB can be further deepened, be it by ensuring data integrity, consistent reporting, focus on outcomes and not on outlays, and most of all, recognizing the intersectionality approach to underpin this exercise to bring about meaningful changes in the lives of girls and women who are also Dalits, Adivasis, persons with disabilities, homeless and transgender people.

Latin American CSOs lead during pandemic

Latin American CSOs lead during pandemic

Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic often put civil society organizations on the front lines of response, filling the gaps governments cannot or will not fill. In this post, we highlight two IBP partners in Latin America that stepped up and are acting as leaders in their communities.

Brazil: Campaign wins guaranteed basic income for informal workers

informal workers
Informal workers (photo credit: Arthur Menescal)

As the country’s COVID-19 cases increased past 11,000, including more than 500 deaths, the Brazilian parliament approved a three-month basic-income guarantee for informal workers. And now, President Jair Bolsonaro has signed the bill—thanks to effective civil society mobilization.

This vital benefit was the result of a mobilization of more than 150 civil society organizations and social movements, along with a few politicians and political parties in the legislature. A coalition was formed and a campaign launched. In four days, boosted by popular YouTubers and heavy social media engagement, the campaign petition attracted more than 500,000 signatures. The petition was used to press parliamentarians to prioritize and vote for the bill. After some small modifications, the law was quickly passed by the two houses of the parliament.

The Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (INESC) is one of the five organizations leading this campaign. Given the social isolation necessary due to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting decrease in economic activities, the organizations were worried about how low-income families, especially those without a formal job, would survive. As city after city goes into lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, they are highly likely to lose their income.

Informal workers who earn a net family income below three times the minimum wage and do not receive any other social security benefit (with the exception of Bolsa Familia) will receive the temporary aid—an estimated 30 million people, costing around US$12 billion. Each worker will receive around US$120 a month; however, that doubles to US$240 if a household is led by a single mother. Up to two people in one family can receive the benefit. The federal government has already compiled a register of informal workers, which will streamline distribution.

José Antônio Moroni, co-executive director of INESC, says this is an emergency in which the interests of civil society organizations align with those of the majority of parliamentarians. “When the parliament opens itself up to the demands of civil society, when there is an openness to building solutions and projects together with civil society, good things happen,” he says.

“We want a basic income!”

INESC and its four partner organizations have an extensive track record in working with the Brazilian Parliament. Their advocacy and networking in the parliament paved the way for them to negotiate with a broad set of stakeholders. The organizations also participate in a variety of civil society networks and movements for democracy and human rights in Brazil, creating substantial on-the-ground connections that were quickly mobilized to put pressure on the parliament.

The income-support program is a dramatic contrast to the federal government’s earlier proposal, which suggested that employers withhold wages for four months. The government withdrew the idea, however, following a strong, negative reaction. This created an empty political space for civil society to fill.

Bolsonaro himself constantly minimizes the crisis, denying the impact of the virus on peoples’ health and calling for the suspension of social isolation—thus undermining state governors’ efforts to control the pandemic. This, despite fact that at least 23 members of his entourage have been infected. Bolsonaro not only refused to remain in isolation but made a point of shaking hands with his supporters and taking selfies with their mobile phones. The president later claimed he tested negative but refused to make the results public.

Now, the pressure is on for the president to quickly implement the measure by distributing the payments. More than 26,000 emails were sent in one week to Bolsonaro and his minister of finance, saying #PayItSoonBolsonaro #PagaLogoBolsonaro

Argentina: Homelessness is vulnerable hole in safety net

Homeless man
Photo credit: Pablo Vitale

COVID-19 isn’t yet at the scale seen in the United States, Italy and Spain in Argentina, but infections have crept past 1,000 and government officials have moved quickly to get out ahead of it. President Alberto Fernández announced a total quarantine of the population of 44 million, putting in place stringent measures to limit mobility and enforce social isolation. Despite an already battered economy, Fernández was convinced the country must learn from others’ mistakes.

However, one very vulnerable group was left out: the homeless people living on the streets of Buenos Aires and other big cities. When a census was conducted in April 2019, there were 7,251 people without stable homes in the capital city. Of these, 5,412 also did not have access to shelters and thus slept on the street, making their health precarious. More than a third (38%) reported suffering one or more health conditions; in fact, the most common are respiratory in nature. In addition, 10% of people living on the street are over 60 years old, the age group with the highest risk of death from COVID-19. Yet preventive measures such as regular handwashing, disinfecting frequently touched items and surfaces, etc. are measures that can hardly be done by someone living on the streets.

IBP partner ACIJ (Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia) has long focused on this vulnerable population as one of its main areas of work. Last year, it joined a team that conducted an unofficial census of homeless people, as well collaborated on a lawsuit demanding that the city government design and implement a comprehensive public policy to protect their rights.

When COVID-19 hit and homeless people were neglected, ACIJ joined CELS (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales), other civil society organizations and public defenders to call for urgent measures to ensure that homeless people can practice adequate hygiene and have free access to health care by:

  • Suspending evictions to avoid an increase in people living on the streets.
  • Guaranteeing alternative housing solutions when public shelters are full.
  • Requiring shelter staff to regularly clean their facilities, offer the supplies needed to maintain personal hygiene and organize access to health care.
  • Educating homeless people on preventive steps they can take and how/when to access health care when sleeping on the streets.
  • Providing economic support for public and social organizations that assist people living on the streets.
  • Assuring sufficient resources (budget, facilities and logistical support) are available to implement these actions. To allow civil society to monitor the use of these resources, ACIJ also is asking for transparency in the government’s procurement system.

Pressure was brought to bear on the government through social media, and a letter with demands was presented to the Ministry of Territorial Development and Habitat, as well as the city government in Buenos Aires.

Hopefully, these activities will pave the way to longer-term improvements in services to help secure housing for those without permanent shelter. ACIJ and its partners will continue their campaign to raise awareness of the fragile conditions of vulnerable communities, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and after.

This effort is part of a long-standing commitment of ACIJ to promote respect for human rights and defend society’s most vulnerable groups. Its goals include greater transparency and better performance of public institutions, awareness among citizens of their basic rights and the channels available for receiving protection, and training professionals from diverse disciplines who are committed to public-interest issues.