Sixty-eighth Session,
12th Meeting (AM)

Gender-Responsive Budgeting, Greater Investments in Social Services Vital for Empowering Women, Speakers Stress, as Commission on Women Continues Session

Transformative care-led strategies, gender-responsive budgeting and greater investments in social services are vital for empowering women and promoting gender equality, panellists told the Commission on the Status of Women today, highlighting the need for changes in the international financial architecture.

The Organization’s largest annual gathering on women’s empowerment, the Commission brings together experts, activists and Government representatives.  This year’s session runs from 11 to 22 March.  The interactive expert panel held this morning focused on the priority theme for the session:  “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”.  (For background, see Press Release WOM/2231.)

Opening the meeting, the Vice-Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women said that the world is grappling with intersecting emergencies that have intensified poverty and inequality, the impact of which is not borne equally.  She further introduced the six panellists, who shared analysis and proposed recommendations for ending poverty in all its dimensions.

Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex, United Kingdom, criticized current finance-led development strategies for prioritizing profitability and gross domestic product (GDP) growth over social and environmental well-being and for subordinating human rights to fiscal rules.  Against this backdrop, she advocated for transformative care-led strategies and proposed three steps.

First, reinvigorating gender-responsive budgeting “that goes beyond a narrow focus on public sector financial management”.  Instead, it should encompass all spending on public services, infrastructure and social protection, while involving parliamentarians and community and women’s organizations in budget processes.  Second, she advocated for reclaiming public services for “democratic public service partnerships” between Governments and citizens.  And third, she called for strengthening regulation of markets and multinational corporations to ensure finance serves people rather than the other way around.

In a similar vein, the second panellist, Attiya Waris, UN Independent Expert on foreign debt, other international financial obligations, and human rights, pointed to loopholes in financial transactions, leading to the unchecked movement of funds in new forms of currency and reducing the revenue circulating in domestic economies.  She noted that there is no global body or multilateral agreements pertaining to disputes or settlements relating to such flows.

“The good news”, she said, is that the international financial architecture is presently facing an “extreme amount of scrutiny”.  On that, she pointed to the resolution being debated at the General Assembly this afternoon by the Economic and Social Council on a multilateral tax convention to ensure equitable tax sharing across jurisdictions.  As well, she called for more voices to address the persisting deadlock on a pandemic treaty on providing financing in case of the next emergency, pointing out that women are at the forefront of such disasters in the developing world.

Ragui Assaad, Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, United States, outlined policies and programmes to economically empower women and address women’s poverty, noting that women are excluded from the labour market due to social norms as well as gender division of labour within the household.  The Middle East, North Africa and South Asia have low female participation rates despite closing or even reversing gender gaps in education.  As well, women contend with the gender segregation of jobs, leading to overcrowding in certain occupations and depressed wages.

Against that backdrop, he called for investments in social programmes, including education and health, to improve necessary services and create employment opportunities for women in the short-run.  Further, he underlined the need for flexible, part-time work, and affordable and quality childcare to enhance women’s participation in the labour market and decrease their unpaid care-work burden.  Finally, he called for cash assistance programmes targeting women, as well as multifaceted asset-based “ultra-poor graduation” programmes.

Dulce Patricia Torres Sandoval, representative of the Continental Link of Indigenous Women of the Americas (Mexico), emphasized the need for Indigenous women to speak for themselves in global policy discussions and advocate for holistic approaches to addressing poverty, which is “multidimensional and stemming from social, structural, racist and colonial factors”.  Stressing the importance of recognizing and fairly compensating Indigenous Peoples for their contributions to economies, she said they should demand “expanded equitable treatment in the distribution and redistribution of the results of economic activities”.  For that, she recommended allocating sustainable budgets and using data that reflects the economic situation of Indigenous women, youth and children.

Likewise, the last panellist, Laura Nyirinkindi, Vice Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls, underscored the importance of collecting and disseminating disaggregated gender data related to poverty and inequality by States and financial institutions.  She called for gender-responsive laws and fiscal policies to address structural discrimination.

Emphasizing that poverty is not just about a lack of income or wealth but “results from systematic failures that perpetuate exclusion and discrimination”, she stressed that these inequalities are underpinned by patriarchy, racism, colonialism and environmental destruction.  Highlighting the impact of intersecting crises on women and girls, she pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the most significant increase in inter-country inequality in three decades.

Echoing that theme, Zofia Łapniewska, Associate Professor in feminist and ecological economics at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, underscored that robust financing is essential to ensure implementation of gender-responsive policies and fight poverty.  Despite much promise, social advancement and mobility across generations is rare, she noted, pointing out that girls born today would suffer a citizenship penalty if they are born in a poor part of the globe, and would additionally inherit their parents’ socioeconomic status.  “These two types of punishment explain as much as 80 per cent of the inequality among citizens of various countries globally,” she added.

Pointing to the causes behind extreme inequality in the Global South, due to, among other factors, such States’ needing to respond to challenges related to unsustainable trade and debt, she called for an expansion of fiscal space and raising more funds to invest in social infrastructure.  This would entail progressive taxation measures on income, harmonizing and adopting a global common corporate tax base as well as raising wealth and inheritance taxes.

When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, several delegates expounded on measures and policies taken by their respective countries to address the feminization of poverty and improve women’s access to labour markets.  Among them was the representative of the Philippines, who outlined sustainable livelihood programmes, including livelihood grants and incubation services to help women starting their own business to expand into formal enterprises.

A number of speakers emphasized the need to tackle gender-based violence, including an observer for the European Union, who noted that financial dependence was a risk factor in gender-based violence and drew attention to the Spotlight Initiative, a €500 million collaboration between the bloc and the UN to eliminate violence against women and girls.  Meanwhile, Cyprus’ delegate noted significant strides made by her country in this regard, including in setting up a National Coordinating Body to Prevent and Combat Violence against Women and the establishment of specialized support services for victims of gender-based violence.

The delegate of the United States, stressing that worker empowerment contributed to resilient democracy, a strong middle class, and national and economic security, asked what specific steps could be taken to support and empower workers and foster an inclusive labour market that addressed the barriers to women’s participation in the workforce.  The representative of Finland, in turn, asked how to ensure that gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting are maintained during times of crisis.

The issue of unpaid care work and lack of access to affordable social services for women was raised by several speakers.  The representative of Kenya voiced concerns about the impact of poverty on access to education for girls, who become prone to the risk of early marriages and unpaid care work.  Echoing that theme, the representative of Oxfam said that the global value of unpaid care by women amounts to $10.9 trillion annually. 

Turning to the solutions to poverty eradication, the representative of NGO Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women emphasized gender-responsive budgeting, while the speaker for the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, a non-profit institution operating in Latin America, called on Governments and financial institutions to abandon gender blindness and invest in women, which could yield benefits of up to $172 trillion worldwide.

Responding to comments and questions, Ms. Elson welcomed all the positive measures outlined by speakers, pointing out that countries could learn from one another in a forum such as the Commission.  She also emphasized the need for ensuing deliberations to address “systemic issues” with renewed urgency, including the lack of resources through taxation and the lack of support for labour rights to counter the power of big corporations and the global rich.

Ms. Waris, recalling States’ recently emphasizing to the Human Rights Council that debt must not be allowed to compromise human rights, added that the concern should be carried into the Commission’s discussions.  “We cannot allow financial infrastructure to compromise human rights,” she added.  She also called for concerns such as unpaid care work, barter trade and other forms of informality to be considered in discussions over a multidimensional poverty index.  As well, she emphasized that envisioning a “human rights economy” was the only way to break out of the continuing crisis.

For his part, Mr. Assaad stressed that investing in care work was not just essential human development with tremendous returns.  Reducing the unpaid care burden could allow women to participate in the economy as income earners.  As well, women must be provided opportunities to participate in self-employment.  Further, he called for enhanced opportunities for women to earn an income from home, through microcredit or assets transferred to them, adding that they could be provided coaching and supplementary income.

Ms. Torres emphasized the importance of civil society organizations’ participation in this meeting, highlighting that while there are women leaders, they often do not make decisions.  She stressed the need to guarantee economic rights and ensure participation in decision-making at all levels for Indigenous women.

Similarly, Ms. Nyirinkindi called for equal representation and opportunities for women in labour unions and collective bargaining.  She also recommended the creation of independent and transparent mechanisms to protect women’s rights to decent work, which should be gender-responsive and provide transformative responses.

Concluding the panellists’ remarks, Ms. Łapniewska, noted that such discussions lay the groundwork for the future.  She added that the economy is a human-created system and can be changed, suggesting that the exploitation of nature and women for profit can be stopped.  She further proposed that at least 50 per cent of the budget should be spent on women, as they make up 50 per cent of societies worldwide.

For information media. Not an official record.