WED 19 - 6 - 2019
Date: Mar 15, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
No gender equality without quality public services
Rosa Pavanelli
Austerity. From the left to the right, governments have only that one word on their lips. From Jordan to Morocco, many countries from the Middle East and North Africa region have embraced austerity measures, giving a growing number of citizens the feeling they are being left behind and provoking a crisis of representation and legitimacy.

Demanding budget cuts, which in practice have a direct impact on public services, is not only the bedrock of populism, authoritarianism or social unrest. It is also a frontal attack on women’s rights. Because women tend to be more dependent on public social services, which have the capacity to shift the unpaid care burden that falls disproportionately on their shoulders.

Cleaning, cooking and looking after dependent family members children, elderly people and people with disabilities - are still “women’s affairs.” Little girls are also responsible for fetching water when their brothers go to school. In Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Palestine, women report doing at least five times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men.

Women and girls are also the most impacted when countries offer poor basic facilities. Girls are left to fetch water and firewood as their brothers go to school.

This disproportionate situation means that women and their daughters have fewer opportunities for education, training and work, making their economic empowerment very difficult.

Even when women manage to work, they are often trapped in low-paid, poor-quality jobs, frequently in the informal sector. In Egypt, for example, 58 percent of women are in “unprotected” employment, compared to 40 percent for men. Many of them lack social labor protection and decent working conditions, with consequences for current and future income (fewer rights to pensions etc.).

As a result, in most countries, women are less likely than men to receive a pension in their old age. In Saudi Arabia, only 2 percent of women compared with 44 percent of men contribute to a pension scheme. In Egypt 62 percent of men receive a pension, compared to only 8 percent of women. In Jordan, the proportions are respectively 82 percent for men and 12 percent for women.

Women’s access to social protection, quality public services and infrastructure is now a priority of the international community.

It is actually the main topic of the United Nations 2019 Commission on the Status of Women that is taking place in New York from March 11 to 22.

This meeting is not just a bureaucratic one like the others; its conclusions will define the gender equality policies that countries aim to implement in the years to come.

Nearly 200 trade union women and men from around the world will be attending as part of a global union delegation and taking an active part in the proceedings. The delegation welcomes many aspects of the report prepared by the U.N. secretary-general, ahead of the meeting, especially because of its emphasis on a universal and rights-based approach. However, at Public Services International, an international trade union federation dedicated to promoting quality public services, and part of the global union delegation, we jointly call on governments to translate these principles into concrete strategies and policies to eliminate gender inequalities.

It is urgent to reform the global international fiscal system to put an end to all tax avoidance mechanisms. When corporations do not pay their fair share of taxes, there is less money to invest in public services, sustainable infrastructure and social protection, which are the key drivers of gender equality. Annual tax revenue lost by developing countries due to trade mispricing alone is estimated at between $98 billion and $106 billion, nearly $20 billion more than the annual capital costs needed to achieve universal water and sanitation coverage.

We also want to highlight the essential and primary role of the states as the guarantors of the human rights of all women and girls. Whenever private companies have wanted to take over basic public services and infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, or health and education facilities, this has always resulted in deterioration in quality, especially for the most vulnerable.

In these troubled times when xenophobia is exploited by many unscrupulous political leaders, we also call on the representatives to commit to policies addressed to all women, including women migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

According to U.N. Women, there are 1.3 million female domestic workers in the Middle East, making up 32 percent of all paid female employees. Many of these workers are migrants and are not protected by labor laws, making them particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Without voluntary policies such as these, it will be impossible for most of the countries to meet their renewed commitment to gender equality and human rights through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Women will still struggle to remain in the labor market and secure social protection entitlements through employment. They will not find time for rest, leisure or political participation either. Universal, rights-based quality public services are a feminist issue.

Rosa Pavanelli is general secretary of Public Services International.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 15, 2019, on page 6.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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