Women’s budget declaration more a first step than a revolution

We are told that this budget, more than most, is for women.

Commonwealth Treasury

Certainly for the first time in years, it came with a women’s budget report printed as part of the budget documents rather than as a glossy brochure.

The statement reported on the effects of the COVID pandemic on women and government actions in the areas of women’s safety, women’s economic security, and women’s health and well-being.

While welcome and a step up from what has happened before, it has fallen far short of true gender-responsive budgeting, which is about the whole budget process and everything the government does.

When Australia led the way in the 1980s, the analysis took place within each department.

Sometimes he would change or stop decisions before they left the service.

The process has been hardwired into the budget cycle so that no spending proposal can move forward unless it is accompanied by a clear statement spelling out their gender implications and effects on equality.

Read more: Each budget included a gender impact statement. We need it

The approach applied to all measures, whether they were explicitly gender-oriented or not.

Not yet what it could become

The 2021-2022 Women’s Declaration identified A $ 3.4 billion in spending related to women and gender equality, a mere fraction of 1% of total budget spending.

Much of it was sketchy, or too small to have much impact.

Funding of $ 200,000 for Working Women’s Centers, “to support the continued provision of free information, advocacy, support and advice on work-related issues, including sexual harassment in the workplace,” will probably not be enough to keep the doors of the current centers open, let alone resuscitate those who have been forced to close.

Read more: Modeling finds that investing in child care and senior care almost pays off

While such measures are useful, they do not address the root causes of labor market segregation and the partial exclusion of women from higher-paid, male-dominated sectors such as science, technology, industry, etc. engineering and mathematics.

The additional funding for child care and senior care in response to the royal commission will help employment in female-dominated industries, but it was accompanied by little that would raise wages in those industries.

Read more: Two experts on what the $ 1.1 billion for women’s safety can achieve

Modeling commissioned by the Australian National Foundation for Women found that increasing wages in these industries would provide an economic boost big enough to be nearly amortized.

The increased funding for violence against women is welcome, especially new funding for legal services for women fleeing violence, which has been cut in recent decades.

It is also welcome that the proposal to allow women to eat from their superannuation when fleeing violence has been replaced with a grant of up to $ 5,000.

Missing strategy

What is missing from this first relaunched women’s budget statement is a strategic approach to the drivers of inequality.

Since 2014, when the Abbott government stopped issuing a policy statement on women, the Australian National Foundation for Women has stepped in to conduct independent expert analysis.

This year’s analysis is likely to find that the budget has done nothing enough to close gender gaps, reduce care gaps, or effectively address violence.

Read more: Fewer helmets, more tender hearts: the budget is geared towards women and care

But nongovernmental organizations can only provide an external perspective: the government owns the data and is the organization responsible for building an evidence-based budget strategy that moves towards gender equality.

It did this already in the 1980s, using a whole-of-government approach.

This year’s statement can be seen as a down payment for the next steps, but the government needs to start those steps now. The next budget, regardless of who issues it, must establish a roadmap for gender equality.

Dorothy H. Lewis