On feminism and the numbers game – from monetary policy to the OECD’s SIGI

Event: Investing in Peace- the Lethal Consequences of Arms

Event: Investing in Peace- the Lethal Consequences of Arms

“Tax policy is a feminist issue” – Radhika Balakrishnan

One of the greatest challenges that faces the realization of gender equality (and therefore the prevention of violence against women) is a lack of financial resources. We can easily call to mind the image of the under-staffed and poorly resourced government women’s department, struggling to fulfill their mandate of support and mainstreaming, despite being essential to the success of any government department. Or the image of the over-worked women’s civil society organization, working long hours, for little or no pay, to achieve indelible and incremental changes. Across the spectrum of gender work it is clear-  advocating for gender equality we face vast challenges, yet scant resources are provided to achieve our ends.

Today at CSW, across sessions ranging from de-militarisation, economic justice to ending gender stereotypes, some very strong advocates bought with them a very strong call: show us the money!  From exposing the imbalance of military spending versus social spending- grappling with taxation, revenue, budgeting and monetary polices, and developing feminist analysis- to using robust data to really demonstrate what we already know – that women are overlooked in all aspects of the numbers game. We as feminists, need to say loudly and proudly  tax policy, monetary policy and overseas development aid are feminist issues.

During the WILPF co-sponsored event “Investing in Peace? Violence Against Women, Militarism, and Budgeting for “Security”, Radhika Balakrishnan from the Center for Women’s Global Leadership spoke to these issues. She added a further example – that of the often quoted, yet starkly pertinent figure that, in 2011, SIRI estimated $1.7 trillion was spent on military budgets annually, excluding corporate spending. The top five spenders are the five permanent Security Council members. She argued that we cannot be effective in dismantling this grossly unjust distribution of public resources, unless are willing and able to speak to the economic system that has given rise to it.

In addition to the numbers game, at a session entitled “Women’s Economic Empowerment as a Tool for Combating and Eliminating Violence Against Women”, which largely focused on smaller scale interventions, a delegate from Burundi asked “isn’t it time to think larger than working with small banks on micro finance, shouldn’t we be calling for an international banking framework”. She stipulated should be radically different from the IMF or World Bank, and capable of holding institutions to account for their part in creating inequality.

The last, and a favourite addition to the number game today came from an OECD representative who showed us some amazing data from the Social Institutions and Gender Index, which was developed to attempt to show what most data cannot – the gender dimension. For example, we might get data on low education levels for women, but the data does not usually tell us how many of those women experienced violence or forced marriage, or how this relates to the overall picture. And so the SIGI was devised. It focuses on areas of inquiry, with a total of 14 indicators that reveal a lot about what needs to be done to really prevent violence against women. The 5 areas of inquiry are: discriminatory family code, restricted physical integrity, son bias, restricted resources and restricted civil liberties. The data shows that despite the fact that every single region in the world has introduced legislation to prevent violence, violence continues to be three times as high (and even so, only unreported) in countries in which violence is more accepted, showing that social, legal, economic interventions are all part of the primary prevention picture.

So while we might know many of these things this call to action is essentially showing us that just like we need to engage in the hard military power debate as WILPFers, we also need to start using the numbers, that’s where it counts.

Stay tuned on more about the awesome Asia Pacific women’s organizations lobbying for regional support.

– May Maloney and Sharna de Lacy