Education International
Education International

Cutbacks in public services set back social progress and equality

published 23 June 2011 updated 27 June 2011

On 23 June, UN Public Services Day, trade unions around the world are demanding a clear commitment to the right of all people for quality public services that promote gender equality. Across a range of indicators women are shown to be bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis, particularly with cuts in public services.

Women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work, produce 50 per cent of the food, but earn only 10 per cent of all incomes and own just one per cent of property. Ingrained discrimination and structural disadvantage give women restricted access to services and social protection which help to cushion against the most egregious shocks of economic crises. Cuts in public services have meant that women have fallen further into disadvantage and exclusion, and are burdened with a disproportionately larger share of the damage.

Cuts in teachers’ jobs and salaries mainly affect women, not least because women represent a majority of the teaching force. Cuts in education budgets, increased school fees and rising poverty mainly affects girls, since they are often the first ones to be taken out of school when fees are unaffordable or children’s labour is needed in the household, or as an additional source of income.

UN Women’s Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, said: “It is not just women who pay the price for this discrimination. We all suffer for failing to make the most of half the world’s talent. We undermine the quality of our democracy, the strength of our economies, the health of our societies and the sustainability of peace.”

With global military expenditure in 2010 estimated at US$1,630 billion – its highest-ever level – governments have used the economic crisis as a ruse to roll back public services and development aid. The Millennium Development Goals seem more out of reach than ever, even though it would take between US$35-76 billion per year until 2015 for the international community to meet its commitments.

EI believes that quality public services are essential for the social and economic development of nations, for the well-being of its citizens, and for achieving fairness and equality.

EI Deputy General Secretary, Jan Eastman, said: “Public health care can prevent needless deaths of thousands of women in pregnancy or childbirth each year. Public education for all can lower the number of illiterates, two thirds of whom are women. Public care centres can protect women from rape and violence and provide support for victims. Public child care allows women to take up employment and develop their skills and confidence. Public institutions enforce equality and equal pay laws, to finally overcome the gender pay gap which still persists in every single country of the world. Cutbacks in these public services are cutbacks in social progress and equality.”

At the EI Women’s Caucus taking place on 21 July, before the EI World Congress in Cape Town, teacher unionists from around the globe will discuss strategies to make governments realise international commitments and laws for women’s rights and gender equality.