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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Commentary

Alas, women neglected again

Dr Gabrielle Jamela Hosein
Dr Gabrielle Jamela Hosein

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 345

motheringworker@gmail.com

DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN

FINANCE MINISTER Imbert caught my attention with the words “gender issues” in the 2020 budget speech.

Over the last three years, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, UWI, has been amplifying the women’s movement’s call for gender-responsive budgeting (GRB). We’ve been collaborating with state agencies, and hoped that the Ministry of Finance would step up to lead this process. Leading from the top is absolutely essential for nothing happens in fiscal policymaking, good idea or not, unless the Finance Minister says so.

So, Imbert got me excited. Thus far, he didn’t seem to understand gender or its relevance to budgeting, throwing responsibility over to Planning, and making fiscal decisions about cuts to tertiary education or spending on construction as if these wouldn’t differently affect women and men’s access to income and opportunity, or at least as if he didn’t care to know what their impact was.

A turn to gender-responsive budgeting could put TT on the map with countries such as India, Austria, Canada, and the Ukraine. I was almost ready to congratulate the minister as much as he congratulates himself.

Alas, not a word about GRB.

Rather, what followed in the speech is a good example of superficial take-up of “gender issues,” which reduces gender to women and women to welfare, and provokes both backlash to feminism and misrecognition of valid women’s needs.

Following his speech, commentators felt compelled to champion the fact that “single fathers” and men need access to daycare facilities too. Implicit in this is the assumption that men need champions of “men’s rights” the way that the women’s movement appears to have successfully fought for recognition of women’s issues. Implicit in the public emphasis on exclusion of men’s issues is the assumption that the vast range of women’s issues were wholly solved in two meagre proposals.

In contrast, the fact is that Caribbean feminists have always argued that safe and affordable daycare facilities need to be available for poor families and “single” parents. They have also, always, followed data on experience on the ground when making recommendations regarding the different needs of girls, boys, women and men.

If you jump up clutching straws without knowing this, however, you’ll get headlines for appearing to right a wrong against men, rather than wrongful take up of what the women’s movement has instead been advocating all along.

It’s so ironic, even the invisibility of women’s issues and advocacy remains invisible. The role of male allies in highlighting this – rather than a separatist male-centred politics – remains as urgent and necessary as ever.

However, haste to give primacy to “discrimination” against men means that the much-sought-after “male voice” is unlikely to use his widening platform as an opportunity to insist on solidarity with and greater visibility for women’s historical call to count and value the work of raising families, to support low-income homes with accessible daycares and after-school centres, to think about the economy in terms of work-family balance, and to find solutions that encourage men and women to more equally share the labour of family and community care.

“Single mothers” carry an unequal burden of time, care, educational, emotional and financial responsibility for children, and are the poorest and most vulnerable category of families in the region. Providing free or affordable day care would profoundly impact their lives by enabling them to earn a living or pursue additional education knowing that their children are safe.

It would profoundly protect children too, as children’s risk to child sexual abuse and neglect is made worse by being left in the wrong hands when better options are unavailable.

However, such day care should be available to all low-income families. Low-income couples may also need such support, particularly if they have elderly or ill parents they are also looking after. Even poor women in partnerships may stay home with their children, partly because child care is so risky and unaffordable, ultimately undermining their own earning power in the future. Fathers with primary responsibility also face challenges to their ability to work while securing reliable child care.

This has been the women’s movement’s position all along. Men may feel they are excluded in the budget, but the reality is that women’s issues have never received sufficient recognition in state policy and budgets and still do not today. A gender-responsive budgeting approach would solve this problem and build solidarity. Truth is, when it came to gender, disappointment soon replaced excitement as I listened to the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

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