Transforming Gender Inequality through the budget

Transforming Gender Inequality through the budget

Date: December 14, 2011
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Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Xavier Luc Duval presented his budget for the year 2012 at the National Assembly on Friday 4th November 2011. In this world economic crisis, Duval managed to propose action to transform gender inequality.

The 2012 budget is in line with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development targets as well as the Millennium Development Goals. Listening to the two hour budget speech on television was something that I quite enjoyed for the first time. I felt that the Minister of Finance was talking to me. He talked the language of the people and he made these figures sound so meaningful that I could have listened to him for another two hours. I could relate with the figures as each one of them has a story to tell. Gender is mainstreamed from beginning to end with a few specific focuses on women and children. It is now for women to seize the opportunity and see to it that justice is done especially in big enterprises where women are absent.

Although education is free in Mauritius and both girls and boys have the same access to education, very often girls are at a disadvantage as they have to help with household chores. The Chapter on “Shaping the Education, Training and Skilling for the 21st Century” puts in place “Summer School Programme” whereby slow learners and those who are behind with the curriculum can catch up. They will also be provided with hot meals. This measure is consistent with MDG 3 which is to achieve universal primary education as well as the SADC Protocol which highlights retention in primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational and non-formal education. Duval goes further by offering child minding after school hours so that mothers do not have to worry about their small children while at work.

With the provision of Rs.500,000 (approx. $16,667) for the upgrading of all Government Schools, we hope that Minister of Education, Dr.Vasant Bunwaree and his officers will see to it that schools become a clean and safe place for our children as well as making sure that there are adequate and separate toilets for girls and boys. Girls have different needs and cannot use the same toilets as boys.

Economic Empowerment of Women
There are more and more women now joining Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which give employment and provide a living to 250,000 men and women. The budget ensures that women have equal access and opportunities in trade and entrepreneurship as per article 17 of the SADC Protocol. Duval points out that the lack of income for the entrepreneur in the first year is an impediment and to encourage those who need help, he will give them Rs20,000 (about $667) monthly towards living expenses. They must of course have innovative proposals in line with Mauritius Business Growth Scheme which also offers further assistance and opportunities.

It is a well-known fact that when a woman wants to start a business nobody can stop her although she has no infrastructure. Nearly every day the media reports on women doing their businesses in small rooms converted into factories. At least now with the provision for the construction of additional 175 units in industrial states for SMEs, women will no longer have to work in their homes. But they must make sure that they get their share of the cake.

More women will now be able to apply for loans as the interest rate has been brought down from 14% to 8.5%. Indira Seebun, Director of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority pointed out that “institutions must apply these measures”. But she too must make sure that women will benefit from these measures although she has committed herself that entrepreneurs will receive proper training in their respective fields.

With the facilities that companies will give for crèche, kindergarten through their Corporate Social Responsibility, women will be encouraged to join the work force. Furthermore the extension of the pre-primary education grant will also encourage them to work as their children will be taken care of. As an incentive for needy mothers who must work, they will receive Rs.1,500 (approx $50) per month to send their children who are under three to a crèche.

The budget also makes provision for the Commission for the Democratisation of the Economy to work with relevant Ministries to implement a pilot programme to empower vulnerable women through small scale farming projects.

Violence against women and children
The prevalence of Gender Based Violence (GBV) remains very high and is a great source of concern in Mauritius. In a bid to prohibit all forms of GBV, the SADC Protocol stipulates that legislation must be enforced. Although the budget makes provision for a Victim Assistance Scheme including sexual offences, there is no mention of shelters for victims. It is also about time that the Sexual Offences Bill be passed.

Duval must be congratulated for the bold decision of creating six shelters for vulnerable children as well as the recruitment of 20 support officers for the Child Development Unit. Rita Venkatasamy, Director of Centre of Education for Mauritian Chidren (CEDEM), an organisation which caters for vulnerable children knows what she is talking about when she says that “putting children in shelters is a daily struggle”. Children are not subject to violence only from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Measures must be taken so that vulnerable children get a 24 hour service.

It is a well-known fact that there are more women than men living in abject poverty. The construction of 1000 houses and free land for owners of the former Central Housing Authority will be a great relief to women.

Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation
Duval must be commended for putting in place an implementation team with a time frame. We hope that the team will report to the nation by giving gender disaggregate data on beneficiaries of the budget.

Budgets have the potential to transform gender inequality. The 2012 budget talks with the heart. If we all join forces, the 2012 budget can be a tool to promote women’s social and economic rights and break the vicious circle of poverty.


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