The 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (March 6-17) opens at the UN headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías
  • Opinion by Dana Abed (Beirut)
  • Interpress service
  • The writer is Global Campaigns Strategist for Gender Rights and Justice at Oxfam International.

But what should have been discussed were the fundamental issues of equality in education. As more than 85% of the world is living under austerityand with 70% of the countries cut funding Access to education for women and girls is devastated by the lack of public funding.

The gap between boys and girls in terms of school enrollment continues to be large and quite worrying. Data consistent shows – especially in low- and middle-income countries – that girls from poor families are the children most likely to be and remain out of school.

And the cost of education is one of the main barriers to access – raising the question of affordability when it comes to technology integration.

While technological innovation has the potential to support the governance of teaching and learning, we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of digital inequality, the possibility of increased fees and the privatization of education.

This is in addition to the existing risks associated with the use of technology, including online violence and abuse and the lack of digital protection for girls, further locking girls out of their right to education.

Austerity measures, cuts in public funding and privatization severely limit the goal of public education. In a Report published last November, Oxfam found that austerity is a form of gender-based violence.

And during CSW67, we emphasized that access to high-quality public education is fundamental to gender equality and the realization of women’s and girls’ rights.

Oxfam does not argue that austerity measures are designed to harm women and girls, but when policymakers design those policies, they tend to ignore the specific needs of women and girls and turn a blind eye to the disproportionate impact these policies have on our communities.

We have come to this conclusion by gathering evidence from around the world, which showed that governments are not prioritizing the needs of women and girls. For example, more than 54% of countries planning to reduce their social security budgets in 2023 have minimal or no maternity and child benefits.

In their misguided attempts to balance their books against a looming global economic crisis, governments are treating women and girls as expendable. Women, especially those from marginalized racial, ethnic, caste, and age groups, are inherently discriminated against in terms of economic and social opportunities and access to available public resources. Further cuts to inequality-fighting public services mean that these groups are hit hardest.

Cuts to both the public wage bill and public health and social care services – measures that women and their families rely on to survive – mean that women and girls will bear the brunt of this austerity as health, education, feeding the family, paying the bills, caring for children and the elderly fall most heavily on them.

For example, reducing wages in the public sector – especially in sectors such as health where women represent 90% of the workforce or education where they represent 64% of the workforce – will directly affect job security.

We must resist austerity and should instead properly tax the richest companies and people. A progressive tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.1 trillion more than the savings governments currently plan to make through their austerity cuts.

With such funding, governments could adopt feminist budgeting in all sectors that puts women and girls in all their diversity at the center of decision-making, including ensuring access to quality and public education.

Feminist movements have been pushing for bold alternatives to our neoliberal, capital-oriented economies for years, and Oxfam is raising its voice with them. The integration of technology in education needs to be seen from an intersectional lens, taking into account barriers to access for girls and low- and middle-income countries, and should not add an additional cost to the education bill.

We must stand in solidarity with the women’s rights and feminist movements by demanding that our leaders stop trading gender-based violence with austerity as the solution and support more feminist progressive representation beyond identity politics.

We must resist creating societies that prioritize the needs of the most privileged at the expense of everyone else—and instead work to create communities and policies that reflect our diverse backgrounds and identities.

IPS UN agency

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