The Federal Budget is the Government’s most important policy tool, but it doesn’t do much for gender equality. In the days of a she-cession, it needs a feminist overhaul and focused attention on young women, writes Romy Listo of Equality Rights Alliance, a National Women’s Alliance led by YWCA Australia.
The Federal Budget is not known for being the most interesting or inspiring occasion in the year. Mostly they seem like jargon-fests with a heavy side of political spin. Yet they have an enormous influence on our day-to-day lives, including how Australian society progresses on gender equality, which is goal #5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The decisions in the Budget can influence where you can afford to live, and whether you can afford to own a home (through policies on negative gearing and housing investment), how you pay your rent when you’re doing it tough (through income support payments and rent assistance), and how you get to work or study (infrastructure investment). As ridiculous as it is, Budget decisions can even be unwanted guests in your sex life (through funding of contraceptives under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme).
This year the Budget has never been more important – it will mark out the flavour of the planned COVID-19 economic recovery. More than that, it will deepen or address the existing social inequalities that the pandemic has exacerbated, for many years to come.
We already know that young people and women are among the hardest hit by COVID-19 through the loss of jobs, hours of work, and access to the support of free childcare. In our homes, women are doing more care and unpaid work, young people are moving back with their families and hiding who they are to stay safe and some women are experiencing violence from their partners in new ways and at increased rates.
The Budget also has a long-standing history of omitting some fundamental aspects of different people’s identities and lives – gender, race, and disability, to name a few. It’s the biggest statement on how the Government will spend money and its most important policy tool, but the Budget is lagging in progressing intersectional feminism.
A perfect example of how budgetary and policy measures lack a gender lens is in the changes to university course fees announced by the Government earlier this year. As part of their response to both demographic change and the impacts of COVID-19, the Federal Government has put forward changes to tertiary funding that mean course fees for subject areas like humanities and communications will double, while areas like mathematics and agriculture, which the Government considers will have higher employment prospects, will decrease.
But when gender patterns in enrolment are taken into account, women account for two-thirds of the students in the university courses facing the biggest increase in fees. This means that more women will graduate with a higher HECS debt, while also facing a recession on graduating, gender pay gaps and other structural barriers to economic equity. These barriers are even more significant when they intersect with other forms of discrimination.
At a time when we’re actively losing ground on gender equality, a biased, bloke-based budget is the last thing Australia needs!
This is why we’ve teamed up with YWCA Australia and animator Ai Ikeda to put together a short animation explainer on the Budget. After all, it’s important to understand the Budget if we want to have the power to imagine alternatives and drive change.
We will not achieve women’s economic wellbeing and gender equality in Australia without rethinking our approach to economic policy. Across the world, intersectional, gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) is considered the best practice approach for measuring gender and other forms of discrimination in fiscal policy, but Australia is yet to take up the challenge.
GRB is about analysing the investment required to achieve gender equality and translating gender equality goals into budgetary commitments. It involves a range of tools and techniques to model and project the impacts of revenue (money-making through tax and transfer settings) and expenditure (spending) measures on people of different genders in order to promote equity. A similar kind of approach can be applied to other markers of identity including race, disability, sexuality and class.
Australia has many of the tools needed for GRB. The strengths are there to be world leading with political will, yet sadly there’s still a gap between Australia’s potential and its practice.
Our government decision-makers are mostly made up of Anglo cis-hetero and able-bodied men. But that’s not what Australian society looks like.
Many of us have been forgotten at budget time, and we know a biased bloke-based budget isn’t what Australia needs, especially in a pandemic recovery. Women play a crucial role in the Australian economy, and they should be recognised and reflected in the Federal Budget. We’ll be waiting eagerly on October 6 to see if the Government puts its gender equality commitments into practice.
Follow @ERAAustralia and @YWCAAus on Twitter, join the YWCA #CBF (ywca.org.au/cbf) and help raise awareness on the Budget by sharing this video with the hashtag #BanBlokeBasedBudgets.