Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is the SA 2012 national budget gender blind?

On the 22nd of February the South African Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan delivered his second national budget speech. Most experts show positive attributions to the South African 2012 budget speech. Despite positive progressions made with regard to the largest categories of expenditure allocations being directed toward education, health and social assistance, there remains a gender blind focus to the direct allocation of funds. The national budget speech delivered does not directly recognise and address women and men’s experiences, needs and financial issues as fundamentally different. Therefore, the budget does little to economically empower South African women and to achieve gender equality. An analysis by Gender Links notes that if gender is not made explicit in policies, the differential impact on women and men and conversely the policies required to correct this, will be lost.

During Gordhan’s all-inclusive budget speech, only once, when discussing financial sector development were women noted, where Gordhan confidently states that financial institutions should recognise the important role of women in the economy through clear reportage. He fails to do this much in his very own budget address to the public. He goes further to state that this progress needs to be more transparently reported. This very clearly illustrates a lack of focus on issues facing women in South Africa with regard to economic empowerment.

According to the budget speech, total public spending will reach R1.1 trillion in 2012/13, representing some 32 per cent of GDP. However, Gordhan does not directly address how issues affect men and women differently, or how the budget will appropriate funds to address the triple threat of unemployment, inequality, and poverty that affects South African women much more greatly than it does men. Women often bear the brunt and burden of AIDS and health-related circumstances, therefore appropriations should be made in the budget that recognises this. Budgeting in a democracy means that social and economic needs must be balanced according to the definitive needs of the populace based on the unique issues they address. Infrastructure and job creation commitments are not what is needed; rather, insight into the South African populace and the gender-based inequities we face as a nation needs to be ascertained and addressed. According to Johanna Kehler, “women's realities in South Africa are still determined by race, class, and gender-based access to resources and opportunities”.

All infrastructure is not equal, and getting the balance right between hospitals, schools, and the like is essential. Sufficient support is required to ensure that effective participation in infrastructural bidding processes is equitably distributed across provinces and people. In terms of job creation, the minister does not detail how women who are currently underrepresented in the employment sector will benefit. If care work and informal trade are formalised, they will create jobs and many women who currently dominate this sector will benefit. The implementation of systematic policies and remuneration packages for care work activities would empower women who largely dominate this sector; and thus society as a whole. As Gender Links quite pertinently points out, women are being placed in a poverty trap through their denial to economic empowerment. This further marginalises women economically and will also further perpetrate violence against women who are unable to exit unhealthy relationships due to economic dependency on men. This is contrary to the 2015 goals set-forth in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which South Africa is signatory to.

The 2012 national budget shows a familiar emphasis on tackling issues related to education, unemployment, income growth and poverty reduction, economic growth, health expenditure and social assistance, yet it implicitly assumes a gender-blind focus. No clear targets are given, and it remains unclear as to how budgetary allocations will improve the particularly economic vulnerability of women in the country. Only once it is recognised that women’s economic empowerment is integral to the general empowerment of the South African economy, will the triple threat of inequality, poverty and unemployment be sufficiently tackled. We have much room for progress in a nation where women, who amount to half of the population, are only mentioned once in a national budget speech. The important role of women in the economy can only be recognised once women are recognised as the ones often carrying the financial burden in South African households. Gender disaggregated data on the beneficiaries of the budget need to be clearly outlined. The Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance wisely finds that budgets have the potential to transform gender inequality by acting as a tool to promote women's social and economic rights in order to break the vicious circle of poverty. So the budget speech has seen rave reviews for covering all aspects of governmental allocations… but how does this affect women?

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