In response to the  call by the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights for contributions on the impact of economic reforms and austerity measures on women’s human rights, WILPF made a submission drawing from WILPF reports on Ukraine, Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The submission is organised in three sections:

1) examples of the negative impact of austerity measures on women’s human rights in the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Ukraine and Greece;

2) references by UN human rights bodies with respect to women’s human rights and economic reform policies and international human rights obligations of both Member States and international financial institutions (IFIs);

3) WILPF recommendations to prevent economic reform policies from having a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on women.

Restricting women’s meaningful political participation: The far-reaching implications of impeding women’s economic and social rights

The Independent Expert invited stakeholders to provide analysis about the impact of economic policy reforms on, inter alia, the political participation of women. The ability for women to participate and influence the decision-making processes is intimately linked and interdependent with their ability to enjoy economic and social rights. The failure to allocate sufficient resources and funds to cover social and economic rights has been perhaps the most serious and persistent obstacle to women’s participation over the past 15 years. Only two percent of aid to peace and security for fragile states in 2012-2013 targeted gender equality; and Member States have begun only limitedly to integrate gender equality into national budgets, with significant cuts in public health and social services-related expenditures. Cuts in social services will disproportionately affect women because in general women are more dependent on public resources to support their productive labour. In addition, austerity measures affect the economic independence of women, confine them to traditional gender roles and tend to not only aggravate economic violence against women in intimate relationships but also tend to prevent them from being part of an active civil society community.

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Particularly, WILPF research shows how conditionalities, linked to the funding by international bodies such as the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), contribute to the feminisation of poverty, and the deepening of gender inequalities within the family and society as a whole. This is because firstly, women are among the primary beneficiaries of pro-social spending. For example, cutbacks in public health and social service expenditures rely on shifting the burden of care to women. Gendered social norms mean women are expected to compensate for reduced state support by spending more time to care for sick and elderly family members. This, in turn, also reduces the amount of time available for remunerated work. Secondly, due to the feminization of care in both paid and unpaid work, women tend to be employed in the sectors where most job cuts are taking place.

When analysing the impact of economic reforms on women, it is imperative to remain cognisant of the intimate interrelationship between achieving human rights, in particular economic and social rights, and austerity measures that often come along with IFIs conditionalities. Be it through pension cuts, cuts in fuel or transportation subsidies or cuts of public sector personnel: women’s opportunities for equal participation in the society are immediately threatened. Women will not be able to participate in social, political and economic processes and changes if they struggle to meet the most basic needs for themselves and their families.

Undertaking a gendered and human rights-based analysis of the impacts of macro-economic reforms imposed by IFIs and developing gender-sensitive budgeting are therefore essential to address barriers to women’s participation. Such analysis should include: building in gender analysis of how legislation, policies, programmes and schemes meet the socio-economic, political, and other rights of women; identifying the adequacy of budget allocations to gender sensitive policies; and evaluating the impact of these actions on women and men in all of their diversity.

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