The future is equal
Governments around the world are putting women and girls in danger of unprecedented new levels of poverty, peril, overwork, and premature death as a result of near-universal “slash-and-burn” efforts to recover their economies from the pandemic and tame inflation.
A new Oxfam report today, “The Assault of Austerity”, says that four out of every five governments are now locked into austerity measures, cutting public services like health, education, and social protection rather than pursuing wealth taxes and windfall taxes. More than half of these governments already fail their women and girls, by failing to provide or barely providing gendered public and social services. They are treating women and girls as expendable.
“Women carry most of the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of these cuts to crucial public services because they rely on them most. The road to post-pandemic recovery is being built upon the lives and sweated labor and security of women and girls,” said Oxfam Head of Gender Justice and Gender Rights, Amina Hersi. “Austerity is a form of gender-based violence.”
Austerity is not inevitable, it is a choice: governments can continue to cause harm by cutting public services, or they could raise taxes on those who can afford it. A progressive wealth tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires can raise almost $1 trillion more than governments are planning to save through cuts in 2023.
“This absence of systemic data about the economic violence being perpetrated upon women and LGBTQIA+ people means that governments are making their economic decisions in the dark,”
Recent reports from UN agencies show that women and girls are already living in dire situations and Oxfam believes that austerity policies are contributing to:
With more than 85% of the world’s population projected to live under austerity measures in 2023, this already horrific situation will get worse, even as governments’ priorities are clearly elsewhere: 2% of what governments spend on military is enough to end interpersonal gender-based violence in 132 countries.
“Austerity policies blend patriarchy and neoliberal ideology to further exploit the most oppressed within society and deliberately dismiss their needs,” said Hersi.
“It is not just a gendered policy, it is also a gendered process in its ‘everydayness’ – the way it permeates the daily lives of women specifically, in their incomes, their care responsibilities, their ability to access services as essential as health, water, and transportation, and in their overall safety and freedom from physical violence in the home, at work, and on the street,” Hersi said.
Austerity is a form of gender-based violence.
The report shows that women are impacted by cuts to services, social protection and infrastructure twice: first directly, through rising prices or loss of jobs; and then indirectly, because they are made society’s ‘shock absorbers’ and expected to survive and take care of everyone when the state steps back. For example, despite the terrible impact of food price inflation, and with more than 60% of the world’s hungry being women, the IMF told nine countries, including Cameroon, Senegal and Surinam, to introduce or increase value-added tax which often applies to everyday products including food.
The report says that governments are pursuing their economic policies in a vacuum of gendered data. Less than half the data needed to monitor the fifth Sustainable Development Goal to achieve gender equality is currently available. Only about 35% of reported health-related data is segregated by gender, and the data is even scarcer for non-binary and queer people who are almost invisible in data collection and surveying.
“This absence of systemic data about the economic violence being perpetrated upon women and LGBTQIA+ people means that governments are making their economic decisions in the dark,” Hersi said.
“Women are being gaslit by a false choice between the state either providing social and public services or repaying debt and attracting investment and growth. It doesn’t have to be,” Hersi said. Governments should adopt human-centred, feminist economic policy choices to tackle inequalities and support the well-being of marginalised gender, racial and ethnic groups across all countries, the report says.
Oxfam calls all governments to end austerity and instead seek alternatives such as feminist budgeting and progressive taxation, where taxes are invested into universal social protection and public services, putting the specific needs of women, girls, and non-binary people at the heart of policy-making. It calls for decent work through the full implementation of the International Labour Organization’s labour standards, particularly for women in the informal and care economies.
Oxfam calls on the IMF to stop pushing painful, failed austerity measures, and to suspend austerity-based conditionality on all its existing loan programmes. It also calls on rich countries to urgently advance debt cancellation and debt-free financing for lower-income countries.
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Women and girls “expendable” in misguided slash-and-burn policies of economic recovery – Oxfam International
The future is equal