There is no such a thing as “gender-neutral” fiscal policy design. This was one of the main messages of a presentation prepared by AWID and shared at a consultation convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty last September. Tax and fiscal policies, their links to poverty and human rights will be addressed by the Special Rapporteur in a report to be delivered at the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council, next year. AWID’s submission focused on the connection between fiscal policy and gender equality.
The human rights framework provides a clear and universally recognized foundation for the design, implementation and monitoring of fiscal and economic policies. Such a framework is crucial not only to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights for all – particularly economic, social and cultural rights – but also to ensure the burdens of economic crises no longer disproportionately impact the most marginalized or vulnerable in society, particularly women.
But, how to align fiscal policies with gender equality commitments recognized in human rights law? The submission provides some ideas. Above all, the reliance of fiscal policies on economic assumptions that systematically underestimate women’s contribution to the economy, and ignore the unpaid care economy, should be abandoned. The unpaid care economy is used to refer to the portion of the economy that comprises women’s essential work for the good functioning of the market or the so-called productive economy and for social wellbeing.
In spite of how vital such contribution is to the economy, it tends to be invisible, as evidenced in the fact that large part of women’s work is still not counted in national economic statistics and thus is not taken into account in policy decisions.
The assumption that types of work traditionally done by males is more important, often translates in women’s unemployment being higher than that of men, while simultaneously decreasing women’s access to social benefits due to cuts in social provisions. That assumption can also manifest itself in the focus of fiscal stimulus packages which, by targeting heavily male-dominated sectors such as infrastructure, particularly energy and transport, can further marginalize women.
This assumption can also mean that fiscal and development policy-makers consider access to services to be an entitlement of people who ‘contribute productively’ to a society – meaning they participate in the formal, paid, market-based economy. As women are over-represented in the informal and unpaid economy, this notion would feed a perception that women are passive recipients of those services, more a burden than a help in the economy, and lead to their marginalization from access to essential services.
There is hardly an agency or government that would claim not to care about mainstreaming gender in its policies. AWID ‘s presentation shows that, without some fundamental rethinking of the assumptions driving policy, especially fiscal ones, mainstreaming will remain a distant target.