Covid-19 crisis: Key ingredients for a feminist recovery
In this second part of our blog series on Covid-19 from a feminist perspective, we look at what needs to be considered when designing policy responses to the Covid-19 socio-economic crisis.
As we saw in Part 1 of this blog series, Gender blind policy responses to the Covid-19 health, social and economic crises will only reinforce pre-existing gender inequalities. For Eurodad, the fundamental shift needed in the global economy and financial system should be a feminist shift.
With this in mind, we would like to outline some elements to consider when designing and implementing policy responses to the Covid-19 socio-economic crisis that we believe could contribute to this feminist shift:
1. A systemic resolution for debt crisis
Decades of austerity policies and greater involvement of the private sector in public services have resulted in a structural under-investment in public health and social protection systems. As a consequence, public systems are ill prepared to face the challenges of the current health and social crises.
As Eurodad research recently pointed out, there is a clear overlap between vulnerable public healthcare systems and debt in developing countries. Hand in hand, rising debt levels in the global south, further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, have already been undermining governments’ capacity to deliver gender-responsive public services.
In the current context, financing pressures are escalating and emergency support is being delivered mainly in the form of new loans, contributing to unsustainable debt levels. Despite the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rhetoric in support of the use of expansionary fiscal policies in response to Covid-19, austerity measures are in fact alive and well in most of the IMF’s Covid-19 lending agreements. In addition, the responses to the debt crisis provided so far by the G20 and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have been falling painfully short when compared to the scale of support needed. This poses a clear threat to advancing women’s rights and gender justice.
A feminist macro response to the Covid-19 crisis necessarily needs to provide a more ambitious debt cancellation for all countries in need from all creditors, but it also needs to see a significant advance towards a more comprehensive approach to debt crisis resolution. In this regard, the creation of a systematic, comprehensive and enforceable process for sovereign debt restructurings, through the UN, is more urgent than ever.
Additionally, there’s a need for a new approach to debt sustainability – one that moves beyond a narrow focus on repayment capacity to consider human rights, public service needs, gender equality, climate vulnerabilities and other Agenda 2030 needs at its core. All in all, debt should never be considered sustainable if its repayment is putting women’s rights, social justice or environmental sustainability at risk.
2. Development finance with a feminist approach
A feminist approach to development finance is key when it comes to rebuilding public systems in a post Covid-19 era, as it will allow for an efficient and equitable response that specifically deals with gender inequalities. In the short term, donors and IFIs need to provide unconditional concessional finance in an ambitious way and in a form that neither creates an aggravated situation of unsustainable debts in the future nor compromises international public finance reaching partner countries (for example with issues related to tied aid or the reporting of in donor refugee costs or debt relief as official development assistance).
In order to build a feminist response, this new finance – together with further long-term finance for recovery and reconstruction – should be free of economic policy conditionality. In order to be able to address the underlying systemic drivers of the crisis, including gender inequalities, IFIs will need to shift development finance agendas away from austerity measures and market-friendly reforms – including privatisation, deregulation and trade liberalisation – which have contributed to countries’ vulnerability to exogenous economic shocks.
The funds should be used according to countries’ needs, and contribute towards mitigating the economic and social impacts of the global and local outbreak of Covid-19 with feminist public policies. Moreover, if we wish to advance, globally, towards a more caring and green economy, donors must fulfil their longstanding commitment to mobilise 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for aid. These funds must align with the internationally agreed development effectiveness principles.
3. Fair taxation is feminist taxation
Increased efforts in domestic resource mobilisation are also a critical component of the response needed in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. For that, it is crucial to address tax avoidance, evasion and illicit financial flows, and the related problems in global tax governance. While there’s a push for tax breaks as part of national stimulus packages and the tax revenues worldwide will be heavily affected, the need to maintain and even increase government tax revenue is vital in order to protect and enhance gender-sensitive public services.
Reinforcing progressive tax measures provides a key tool to increase government revenue while reducing inequalities, including gender inequalities. Progressive taxes must be complemented with progressive spending, which ensures that the revenue reaches those most in need, including the most marginalised and vulnerable. Therefore, transparent and accountable budgeting practices, including gender-responsive budgeting, will be essential.
As we have seen in Part 1, we must not simply “return to normal”, because “normal” was the problem. It is time to leave behind perspectives that value the wealth of a few and measure growth in macro indicators, over and above the well-being of the many, and putting profits over people. The solutions lie in a “people and planet first” feminist approach, which aims to address the underlying systemic drivers of the crisis, including the sources of inequalities. Responses to the crisis should focus on structural changes that enable us to build back better – meaning more equal, more caring, greener and cleaner economies in the future.
Read the first part of our blog series on Covid-19 from a feminist perspective, where we look at how the pandemic is impacting women and girls and deepening gender divides