GOVERNMENTS AROUND THE WORLD are putting women and girls in danger of unprecedented levels of poverty as a result of austerity policies introduced to recover their economies from the pandemic amidst the cost-of-living crisis, according to a new Oxfam report.

The Assault of Austerity: How prevailing economic policy choices are a form of gender-based violence says that with four out of every five governments worldwide now locked into austerity measures, more than 85 per cent of the world’s population are projected to live under austerity in 2023, with women disproportionately affected. 1.7 billion women and girls already live on less than $5.50 a day and it is expected that this figure will significantly rise as this next austerity wave hits.

The report shows how women are impacted by cuts to services, social protection and infrastructure twice: first directly, through rising prices or loss of jobs; and then indirectly, because they are made society’s ‘shock absorbers’ and expected to survive and take care of everyone when the state steps back. For example, the research found that more than 54 per cent of the countries planning to further cut their social protection budgets in 2023 already offer minimal to no maternity and child support.

Mona Mehta, Oxfam’s Gender Justice Lead said “Women are at the sharpest end of austerity, whether through public sector employment cuts – where women make up the majority of the workforce – or reduced access to sexual health and domestic violence support. Women workers also have the most precarious employment, which will inevitably increase. Austerity is a political choice – there are alternatives. A progressive wealth tax of between two per cent and 10 per cent on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.1 trillion more than the annual average savings that governments are planning through austerity.”

Despite soaring food price inflation and with more than 60 per cent of the world’s hungry being women, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) told nine countries, including Cameroon, Senegal and Surinam, to introduce or increase value-added tax which often applies to everyday products including food. This affects women the most as they struggle to balance household budgets and feed their families. An examination of the relationship between IMF programmes and inequality and poverty in 79 low-income countries reveals that stricter austerity is associated with greater income inequality and higher poverty rates.

According to the UN, more than one in every 10 women and girls aged 15-49 were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner last year. Yet to save money during lockdown, 85 per cent of countries shut their emergency services for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). Just two per cent of the annual $2 trillion global military spend could finance prevention and treatment programmes to help end GBV in 132 countries by 2030.

Mehta said: “Austerity is a gendered policy that unfairly discriminates against women. It permeates their daily lives, everything from incomes and care responsibilities to the safety and freedom from physical violence in the home, at work or on the street.”

Oxfam is calling for governments to:

  • End austerity and instead introduce progressive taxation, where taxes are invested into universal social protection and public services, including sexual health and domestic violence support.
  • Put women, girls and non-binary people at the heart of budgeting to help deliver equity.
  • Fully implement the International Labour Organisation’s labour standards, including for women in the informal and care economies.
  • Urgently cancel debt and provide debt-free financing for lower income countries.

In addition, Oxfam is calling on the IMF to stop pushing painful, failed austerity measures, and to suspend austerity-based conditionality on all its existing loan programmes.

* Read The Assault of Austerity: How prevailing economic policy choices are a form of gender-based violence here.

Source: Oxfam UK