#MeToo: Why are eco­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ers silent?

It’s time pol­i­cy­mak­ers view gen­der jus­tice as a bud­getary pri­or­ity, in or­der to cre­ate a safe work en­vi­ron­ment for women

The Hindu Business Line - - THINK - LEKHA CHAKRABORTY

When #MeToo rev­e­la­tions hit the global con­science as a com­pelling case for strength­en­ing women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment, one cru­cial ques­tion that re­mains unan­swered is what ex­actly the macroe­co­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ers of our coun­try think about it.

Can macroe­co­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ers be in­dif­fer­ent to such is­sues, dis­miss­ing them as ones that have to be ex­clu­sively dealt by leg­isla­tive fiat? This con­spic­u­ous ab­sence of macro pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the de­bate may be be­cause of the fact that so­cial move­ments on women’s rights and gen­der jus­tice are hardly recog­nised as an eco­nomic is­sue — when it is in­deed a “com­pelling eco­nomic is­sue”.

It en­cap­su­lates the un­healthy power re­la­tions (it has many lay­ers to an­a­lyse, when a man in power as­serts sex­ual favours from his col­leagues as his “rights” and when he cru­elly trans­gresses) and as­so­ci­ated eco­nomic costs.

The ha­rass­ment af­fects the pro­duc­tiv­ity of a woman in mul­ti­ple ways through day-to-day trauma in her work sta­tion. If the fastest and the smartest way to boost­ing eco­nomic growth is through strength­en­ing women’s labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion, dis­miss­ing #MeToo rev­e­la­tions as “non-eco­nomic” or “pri­vate” would be un­wise and can re­sult in ad­verse macroe­co­nomic con­se­quences.

Macro pol­i­cy­mak­ers, in gen­eral, be­lieve that ‘gen­der is­sues’ are not their cup of tea. Re­searchers — both men and women — are di­vided in their stance about gen­der in eco­nom­ics. It is a tug of war be­tween the hard-core qual­i­ta­tive world of “com­pelling story telling” ver­sus rig­or­ous quan­ti­ta­tive mea­sure­ment of gen­der in­equal­i­ties.

It has been a strug­gle for fem­i­nist econ­o­mists to push the fron­tier of em­pir­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion from a marginalised treat­ment of ‘gen­der’ in eco­nom­ics, to “gen­der main­stream­ing”.

Bud­get bi­ases

To put it up­front, for in­stance, even bud­gets are not gen­der-neu­tral. To be pre­cise, how na­tional and sub­na­tional bud­gets of a coun­try ad­dress sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women at work and vi­o­lence against women, is a cru­cial ‘hu­man rights’ An eco­nomic is­sue

ques­tion. How a coun­try ef­fec­tively trans­lates the gen­der com­mit­ments into bud­getary com­mit­ments is some­thing which we can­not af­ford to post­pone any fur­ther.

That bud­gets can be a pow­er­ful pol­icy tool to tackle gen­der in­equal­i­ties was first high­lighted in the study on ‘gen­der di­ag­no­sis and bud­get­ing’ by Na­tional In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Fi­nance and Pol­icy (NIPFP) in 2000.

Prior to that, the me­dia de­bates on gen­der is­sues in bud­gets were broadly con­fined to whether Fi­nance Min­is­ter(s) had re­ferred to “tax cuts in cos­met­ics”. Fi­nance Min­is­ter(s) would pre­fer to fo­cus only on their ‘core’ re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing ‘deficits’, ‘medium-term fis­cal frame­works’, and other ‘macro-fun­da­men­tals’.

Given the gen­der bud­get­ing frame­works within the Min­istry of Fi­nance, it is cru­cial to gauge the Fi­nance Min­is­ter’s thoughts on #MeToo rev­e­la­tions — from the per­spec­tives of women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment.

Low labour par­tic­i­pa­tion

Given the abysmally low lev­els of women’s labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion in In­dia, it will be un­for­tu­nate if macro pol­i­cy­mak­ers con­sider that #MeToo rev­e­la­tions have noth­ing to do with the plan­ning and bud­get­ing poli­cies to en­sure women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment through ju­di­cious pub­lic poli­cies. #MeToo cases are the re­sult of an ac­cu­mu­lated ne­glect of women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment along with the fail­ure of “rule of law”.

How much a coun­try spends on women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment is a com­pelling ques­tion, more than ever be­fore.

The NIPFP has shown that the es­ti­mates of specif­i­cally tar­geted pub­lic spend­ing for women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment by the gov­ern­ment has been only less than one per cent of the en­tire Union Bud­get.

The NIPFP re­searchers also flagged that this one per cent came from as high as around 40 specif­i­cally tar­geted pro­grammes de­signed in var­i­ous sec­tors — in the De­mand for Grants — for women. The ‘too many pro­grammes with too lit­tle money’ prob­lem de­mands both an ur­gent con­ver­gence of pub­lic spend­ing in tack­ling gen­der in­equal­i­ties and sig­nif­i­cant bud­getary pro­vi­sions.

Since over 94 per cent of work­ing women are in the un­or­gan­ised sec­tor, en­sur­ing macro poli­cies to safe­guard the safety and se­cu­rity of women in this sec­tor is cru­cial for their eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment.

What In­dia needs are “ex-ante” poli­cies to ad­dress the high rates of sex­ual ha­rass­ment faced by women at work in for­mal and in­for­mal sec­tors, in low-wage and high-wage sec­tors; and ob­vi­ously not the “ad hoc” and “ex-post” in­ter­ven­tions.

The author is As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor, NIPFP. This ar­ti­cle is ex­cerpted from her blog on the NIPFP web­site. The views are per­sonal

Gen­der jus­tice

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