Senior lecturer in Economics at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (The UWI), Dr Marlene Attzs, suggests that it might take as many as ten years for the Institute for Gender and Development Studies and like-minded organisations to develop a Gender Justice Scorecard for Trinidad and Tobago, one of the objectives of the institute.
Opening a Pre-Budget Forum titled Budget for Gender Justice: Make Households Matter to the House, last week at The UWI's Learning Research Centre, head of the institute, economist Dr Gabrielle Hosein, said the institute had begun developing a Gender Justice Scorecard. A handout circulated at the forum said the goal of the scorecard will be to provide "a gendered analysis of national fiscal policy and its implications for peace, security and empowerment within households, highlighting how the national budget process and budgetary allocations have differential and inequitable impact on women, men, girls and boys in a time of economic crisis."
It added that by stimulating wider engagement with "gender-sensitive budgeting, the scorecard will also support Central Statistical Office (CSO) capacity building for better governance, and will provide an example of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 4 - Health; Goal 5 - Gender Equality; Goal 8 - Reduced Inequalities and Goal 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions."
However, Attzs said such an objective might risk being impeded by a lack of relevant data or gender analysis of economic developments in the country, observing that it was important for policymakers and researchers to have the kind of data to help them make informed decisions and recommendations. "The issue of data paucity cannot be ignored. We are essentially feeling our way in the dark, trying to make decisions, trying to mainstream gender, trying to develop things like the gender scorecard, trying to achieve gender justice, but we don't have the data to support the path that we want to take."
By way of illustration, she showed a slide of a table on this country from the World Development Indicators which she said she had downloaded "in the last 24 hours" so that it was as current as possible. The table showed that information broken down by gender in a number of key areas was either missing or incomplete. She said the table was informative "in a perverse way" because "if we don't have data then we can't make policy decisions that help us achieve the desired outcomes". She said "essentially, we treat Ministries and budgetary allocations as if they are operating in silos and not really understanding and recognising that if we are to achieve the empowerment, or that greater gender balance in terms of how our men and our women develop and how they access services and how they ultimately become empowered.”
She said the society was talking about improved access for women to various programmes so that they could improve their lives and become more empowered and more active participants in the economic space, "but we don't have the dis-agregated sets of data to allow us to see what touch points of intervention are required to help us to achieve that particular outcome."
Hosein referred to a number of calypso classics such as Singing Sandra's Crying, Shadow's Poverty is Hell, Sparrow's Capitalism Gone Mad, and Brother Resistance's Ah Cyar Take That, which all chronicled the hardships of poverty, saying these songs "all spoke to everyday life and the stresses of providing care for children and the elderly as well as the effects of violence on families, the pressures of unemployment, under-employment and informal work and an inability to make ends meet."
Hosein said the project being undertaken by the institute was to provide data to respond to the cries of the calypsonians and to empower civil society advocacy for State accountability to these realities. She said the global political economy must be held accountable at a time of economic and ecological crisis, adding that "the current global and national economic models cannot solve this crisis because neither oil nor gas will get the country out of the economic and ecological crises it faces." She said, "its permanence makes focusing on the insecurity it causes a matter of urgency. At the very least national fiscal policy and planning must be held accountable for how it addresses the causes and effects of this crisis on everyday life. "
She said that the country's "big dreams" for development, peace and sustainability also require gender justice and where gender justice exists, ideas about womanhood and manhood do not reproduce discrimination, denial of rights and vulnerability to harm and inequitable access to power and resources. "States, communities and individuals all actively committed to transforming these into just opportunities, outcomes, norms and relations from women, men, girls, and boys.
She said that according to UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women which became operational in 2011, gender budgeting is not about creating separate budgets for women or solely increasing spending on women's programmes, rather it looks beyond the balance sheets to investigate whether women and men fare differently under existing expenditure patterns. She said it calls for adjusting budget policies to advance gender equality and more equitable distribution of the gains of economic development, adding that it is a step toward greater public transparency.
The idea is not a new one. Hosein said that as far back as the 1970s, "Caribbean feminists showed how structural adjustment policies impoverished families and communities. Two decades later, they began to push for gender responsive budgeting with organisations like the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, and the Women's Institute for Alternative Development, taking the lead. Two decades later, we continue to build on that legacy. Our goal is to press forward national conversations about the everyday life of this current crisis and its different impact on women, men, boys and girls. It's the differential impact that makes commitment to and advocacy for gender justice so key. Our goal is therefore to begin to provide gendered analyses of the national budget process and budgetary allocations and their implications for peace, security, empowerment and gender equality as experienced in everyday life and in our households.
Hosein said that over the next three years, the institute will be working to produce a gender justice scorecard which will aim to access five sectors in terms of gender responsive budgeting: labour; social services; health; education and agriculture. "And we have a special focus on cross-sectoral concerns related to gender-based violence and the care of the economy. We hope that this will help to empower citizens to advocate for greater fiscal accountability to people's lived realities, to influence the budget process and to press governments to meet international commitments, among them the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of violence against women and the Sustainable Development Goals 2016 - 2030."