Women's budget goes AWOL

When former MP Pregs Govender first proposed a gender-responsive budget a decade ago, she warned that without ongoing political commitment to this initiative, it would be wiped out as yet another “public relations exercise”.

Govender’s prescience was spot on. Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel’s Budget speech on Wednesday — although it doesn’t spell doomsday for women — spelt the death knell for a women’s budget.

While the government’s commitment to devoting the largest tranche of the Budget to social spending — public works, HIV/Aids, black economic empowerment (BEE), child and pension grants and justice — casts a wide net in terms of who benefits, “my gut-feeling is that it seems that gender is lost because it is the easiest one to let go of in many ways”, said Penny Parenzee, a researcher on the women’s budget at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa.

This year Manuel added a further R44,5-billion to “our [the government’s] highest-priority public service delivery programmes”. Provinces and local government — the primary delivery channels for basic services such as housing, water, electricity, education and grants — will receive R30,2-billion of this total.

Manuel pledged to increase the Pension and Disability Grant by R40 to a maximum of R740 and the Child Support Grant from R160 to R170.

“Although this should benefit women as the primary care-givers, our concern is that while in nominal terms the increase in the Child Support Grant is R10, in real terms it is only R2 — that is less than a loaf of bread. In real terms the pension-grant increase is R3,” said Parenzee. “We’re not really sure what these kinds of increases are doing to combat poverty.”

Both Parenzee and Govender said the emphasis by Manuel on improving the efficiency of the country’s courts — to which he allocated R475-million — is extremely positive.

The improvements will include the roll-out of family courts, sexual offences courts and the appointment of maintenance officers.

The Expanded Public Works Programme received an additional R3,2-billion boost for provinces and municipalities which, on the surface, will benefit women because the Code Of Good Practice for the programme requires 60% female employment.

However, “there is no breakdown of how that money is reaching these people”, said Parenzee. “The promise is short-term employment. Unfortunately, that could mean a job for a day.”

Another R6-billion has been injected into the broad-based BEE initiative, “but I have not read anything about giving rural black women entrepreneurial support,” said Parenzee.

A gender-responsive budget was kick-started in South Africa in 1995 when several female parliamen- tarians and NGO members formed the Women’s Budget Initiative (WBI). It found an entry point into the government when the country became one of four Commonwealth members participating in a pilot study on integrating gender into macro-economic policy.

That year the Budget contained an analysis of six government departments in terms of gender. The 1999 Budget contained discussion on gender issues in 10 departments.

“The crucial question now is what has happened to the women’s budget?” said Govender.

“Its stasis has very serious implications because if the Budget isn’t gendered, policy implementation happens in such a way that the impact on women versus men and rich versus poor is not considered.”

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