Austerity is gender-based violence – this is why

Austerity is gender-based violence – this is why

Four out of every five governments around the world have implemented austerity measures, according to a new report by Oxfam.

Austerity is the economic policy governments introduce to save money and reduce inflation, by cutting funding for public services like healthcare, education and welfare. It often follows overborrowing – remember the 2008 recession when the banking sector collapsed and governments stepped in to bail it out? In the UK this was followed by a decade of brutal cuts that are still felt deeply today, with a severely underfunded National Health Service (NHS) barely able to cope when the pandemic took hold, a huge increase in the reliance on food banks and the greatest inequality out of any European country. 

Austerity is a policy that never works other than to alleviate banks and investors, who inevitably respond by paying themselves hefty bonuses. It causes untold harm to the least protected in society, directly and indirectly, through cutting the health expenditure and social protections that women, non-binary people and those who experience intersecting inequalities based on race, ethnicity and sexuality, need the most. 

In very recent times we have seen how women and girls have been most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, yet policymakers continue to choose austerity, despite economists stating time and time again that during times of hardship it is increasing investment, not austerity that is needed to stimulate the economy. Instead we see further squeezing of the purse strings and cutting back on essential services that are already flatlining. 

Oxfam’s report highlights that women worked an additional 512 billion unpaid hours in 2020, and that one in every 10 women and girls have faced sexual and physical violence from an intimate partner in the past year. During the pandemic 85% of countries shut their emergency services for survivors of gender-based violence while incidents of domestic abuse increased to alarming levels. These services, historically underfunded, have hardly recovered (one UK mental health line has had so many enquiries it has stopped adding people to its waiting list.)

Additionally we know that globally, women are much more likely to live in extreme poverty and experience food insecurity than men. The climate crisis is also affecting women disproportionately, with one of many examples being the rise in sexual assaults against women as their journeys to obtain water or food are lengthened during periods of drought. 

Oxfam’s Head of Gender Justice and Gender Rights, Amina Hersi, rightly calls austerity a form of gender-based violence. “Women carry most of the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of these cuts to crucial public services because they rely on them most,” she says. “The road to post-pandemic recovery is being built upon the lives and sweated labour and security of women and girls.” 

Austerity is the choice most governments are making, but it is not the right one. Instead of continuing to harm populations that need essential public services, they could implement a tax on billionaires to help fund healthcare, welfare and emergency services for survivors of gender-based violence. Until the decision to impose austerity is reversed there will be blood on the hands of every politician who decides that the lives of women and girls are expendable. 

Leila Hawkins



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Featured image: Demonstration against austerity, 20 June 2015. Photo: Peter Damian / CC BY-SA 3.0

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