22 February 2011
"In the context of this crisis, the single most important mantra should be jobs, jobs, jobs" - Professor Stephanie Seguino
Commonwealth women’s affairs ministers and senior officials have called for greater government resources to be allocated for gender in order to combat the fallout of the global financial crisis, which is disproportionately impacting on the livelihoods of women and the most vulnerable.
The annual New York meeting of National Women’s Machineries on Sunday, 20 February, focused on national economic strategies and financial mechanisms to enable more equitable growth at a time of increasing unemployment and public sector cuts. The meeting was convened by the Gender Section of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Opening the meeting, Dr Sylvia Anie, Director responsible for Gender at the Secretariat, stressed that women and men were being affected differently. Unemployment and under-employment, additional burdens of care and the need to devise coping strategies for survival and livelihoods have all been the product of the financial crisis, she said.
Governments have sought to respond to this by focusing on public sector cuts, which has resulted in negative impacts on employment, investment in social sectors and safety nets for the most marginalised people.
“The ongoing fuel and food crises, issues of climate change and situations of conflict have added a layer of complexity to this,” noted Dr Anie, who added that the Millennium Development Goals were being placed at “serious risk” as a result.
“But despite this, many countries, are focusing on how to obtain growth with equity,” she said.
Professor Stephanie Seguino, President of the International Association for Feminist Economics, gave the keynote address in which she stressed that employment should be the central indicator of well-being. With employment, many other forms of well-being improve and it is likely to be the most direct means to reach the Millennium Development Goals, she said.
“In the context of this crisis, the single most important mantra (and thus economic indicator) should be jobs, jobs, jobs. Expansion of jobs can reduce rising racial tensions and gender conflict, and job growth is good for business,” Professor Seguino argued.
“Greater weight should be given to fiscal policy (taxation) to control inflation and for monetary policy to generate employment growth.
“Key to both of these goals is a shift in focus away from inflation targeting by central banks and a stranglehold on sensible public sector investment that can expand the productive capacity of an economy. The resulting economic stimulus can generate rising incomes that are sufficient to pay off public debt. These strategies can also address the underlying problems of the food crisis and can, if appropriately targeted, promote ‘green’ development and growth.”
But she warned that the government and central banks cannot adequately pursue these goals without changing their composition. In particular, women and all ethnic groups must be given an equitable share of leadership roles within government, high-level civil service, and democratic representation processes.
“We otherwise risk returning to an approach that fails to prioritise the goals of well-being and equitable economic stability. The shift in representation that is more gender- and ethnically-inclusive is one of the key institutional changes that needs to occur in order to propel and guide inclusive macroeconomic strategies,” Professor Seguino concluded.
Delegates also heard from Bangladesh, the Corporation Bank of India, and Rwanda about progress towards implementing national budgets that account for the needs of both women and men and efforts to increase access to finance for women entrepreneurs.
Dr Anie said: “These case studies are inspiring examples of best practice at a time when we are searching for ways to implement inclusive and equitable economics but find that the dominant policy responses have largely sidelined important issues of gender.
“The reality is that when you fail to empower women, you not only make their families vulnerable and dependent, but you lose out on potentially valuable contributors to economic growth.”
Head of Gender, Esther Eghobamien, outlined the Secretariat’s response to these challenges, which were highlighted by ministers meeting in Barbados in June 2010. She said: “Our work plan over the next three years directly addresses these issues, with a specific focus on innovative programmes on gender and finance.”