CEDAW – what have budgets got to do with it?

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First published on the Women’s Resource Centre Tumblr

cedawNext week the government comes under review by the UN to see whether they are complying with the catchily-named Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The government must report to the committee about the steps they have made towards women’s equality in key areas such as health, employment, education, representation, social and economic benefits, sex role stereotyping, trafficking and marriage and family law.

Just three weeks prior to this, the Chancellor announced his spending review for 2015-16 detailing government spending cuts and increases in advance of the 2015 election. But how and why are CEDAW and the government’s economic policies connected?

How governments spend and raise money have different implications on women and men. When the some of the Women’s Budget Group, a network of over 200 academics and experts, met to discuss the Chancellor’s spending review, it was clear his announcement held significant disadvantages to women.

Though CEDAW makes no specific references to public expenditure, it does ask the government to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against and ‘ensure the full development and advancement of’ women (Articles 2, 3). They must achieve this not only through active government policy to improve gender equality but also to ensure that their policies don’t unintentionally discriminate against women.

One of the biggest losers in the spending review were local governments who have already had their budgets aggressively slashed and now face another year of austerity with their spending reduced by a further 10%. Local authorities fund essential services to women and women’s organisations. Programmes like Sure Start and the Supporting People Programme which funds many sexual and domestic violence support services have already faced cuts of around 11%. Women and children rely on these services more than men, so cutting them has a detrimental impact on women and thus means the government is not in compliance with the convention.

Article 11 of CEDAW states that governments should ‘eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment’, and should ‘enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities…in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities’.

The closure of 401 SureStart centres since the coalition came into power and the prediction that each ‘average council’ will be required to close a further 5 more has huge implications for carers and especially women who tend to do the bulk of childcare. As childcare costs increase many women will be forced to reduce their working hours or give up their jobs entirely if it no longer makes financial sense to work. This clearly is not in compliance with CEDAW.

In order to comply with CEDAW, economic policy should support women’s rights to (paid) work, on equal terms with men. This work should also be decent work. The Chancellor claims that with each public sector job lost, three new private sector jobs have been created but there has not been any corresponding economic growth. This can only be because these new jobs are lower paid, more precarious and part-time when rising costs of living and stagnant wages mean most people need full-time employment. Not the decent work the Commission will be looking for.

Cuts in public sector spending will see more women pushed out of the public sector into low-quality jobs. And for those who stay in the public sector, loss of pay progression (another of the Chancellor’s announcements) will harm the lowest paid workers and entrench existing gender pay inequalities.

If women suffer disproportionately when a budget deficit is reduced by cutting the level of public expenditure then it will fail to comply with CEDAW Article 2 where governments must ‘embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation’.

But the economic policies planned for 2015 will have more negative consequences on women than on men. Take, for example, the ringfencing of the NHS budget for 2015-16. It sounds like good news right? But the health service is already in dire straits being required to make £20bn worth of savings by 2015. These cuts have had a dramatic impact on health services that are vital to women. Many services such as neo natal services, midwives, health visitors and birth centres have already been lost.

Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women are at particular risk with the loss of translation and interpretation services which are essential for ensuring they receive the privacy and treatment they need.

The cuts to NHS staff are also gendered as the public sector employs more women than men, for example women make up nearly 90% of all qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff. Between 2010 and 2012 there has been a loss of 6,082 qualified nursing staff nationally. The numbers of female medical and dental professionals (excluding other doctors in training) in lower grades have also reduced each year since 2010.

It may seem obvious, but the Treasury has also failed to recognise another important impact of reduced health and social care services on women. Given that women are more likely than men to act as carers to people with long term illnesses or disabilities, including the elderly, cuts to state funded health and social care services will only increase the ‘care burden’ on women further.

The Women’s Budget Group have been campaigning for the Government to assess the impact of its economic policies on women for years. Gender budgeting, a process by which gender equality is considered at all points of the budget-making process, has been a useful tool for many countries to improve their compliance with CEDAW.

In fact, the Committee has lauded some countries for their gender budget analysis. For example in reference to Luxembourg in 2000, the Committee ‘welcome[d] the [Women’s] Ministry’s interest in, and support for, proposals to conduct a gender analysis of  the entire State budget.’ And suggested it would ‘contribute to a better understanding of the way in which women and men benefit from governmental expenditures in all areas.’

And in 2002, when reviewing Fiji’s report, the Committee ‘commend[ed] the efforts of the State party to strengthen gender mainstreaming and monitoring through the gender budget initiative, and a gender audit project.’

One of the Chancellor’s ‘good news’ announcements was that he will be investing in a huge physical infrastructure programme of rail, road and nuclear power. Investment in physical infrastructure will obviously herald more jobs. But these construction jobs are mostly likely to be filled by men… meaning more jobs for the boys. Unless the Chancellor is also willing to invest in the education and training needed to get more women into the construction industry, it is clear few women will benefit from this expenditure.

Article 11 states that governments should ensure that women have ‘the right to the same employment opportunities’ as men. Creating new jobs in industries that are male dominated does not live up to these demands.

Had the Treasury done as the Women’s Budget Group suggested and gender-proofed their budget they would know that investment in social infrastructure – schools, hospitals and care homes is a much better deal. This sort of spending creates more jobs – especially for women – than construction, would respond to an urgent and expanding social need and would provide a larger stimulus to the economy.

In 2000 the Committee asked the Austrian Government to ‘ensure, on a regular basis, the evaluation and assessment of the gender impact of the federal budget as well as governmental policies and programmes affecting women.’ We have been asking the UK government to do the same and their failure to do so has resulted in discriminatory economic policies.

The Chancellor may be about to invest in a huge roads programme but this spending review will still leave millions of women on the road to unstable employment and poverty.




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