Towards a feminist budget
If we stopped spending on the military, what could we achieve instead?
On International Women’s Day this year the Aotearoa section of Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) challenged government military expenditure. WILPF maintains that “well-resourced civilian agencies are better suited to perform the military’s current roles”, for example, disaster response, search and rescue, and border control. The overall defence budget for 2020/21 is $4.6 billion – not including a new $1.5 billion spend announced last June to buy five new military planes.
What could we do with this money if we didn’t have a military?
WILPF put this question to women from ten organisations including Shakti Women’s Refuge, NZ Council of Women, and Otago Mental Health Support Trust. As WILPF says: “A feminist budget aims to respond to the needs of the most marginalised in society.” The group came up with the following list of priorities to address, and suggested costed initiatives to fund in each one:
- violence against women
- housing needs
- youth and gang violence
- elder abuse
- mental health needs
- women’s rights (as in NZ’s international treaties & obligations)
- changing the structures of work
(eg acknowledging unpaid & undervalued care work)
- pay equity
- the global climate crisis.
For example, WILPF recommends $50 million could ensure “at least 10 safe, accessible and purpose-built women’s refuge houses”, while $20 million could make “public transport more accessible and cheaper” and $100 million would see “Early Childhood Care up to 5 years old fully subsidised” – and there would still be $4.43 billion left over to invest in other things.
At Te Wāhi Wāhine, we used WILPF’s list of priorities as a springboard for our own discussion. Our budget would include (but not be limited to!):
- More resources divested from government to iwi, hāpū and communities, to honour te Tiriti o Waitangi
- Pay equity for wāhine Māori including kaupapa Māori nurses who are currently paid 25% less than those working for District Health Boards
For Papatūānuku & future generations
- A feminist green new deal: we agree with WILPF’s $200 million for an “Innovation Fund for Climate Change & Resilience” – but it needs to go further: we need a package that will enable us to avoid all oil and gas, while ensuring affected workers are supported and low-carbon jobs (such as caring) are prioritised.
For gender violence prevention
- Culturally-appropriate responses to violence, for whānau Māori, refugee families and other minority groups
- Evidence-based and culturally-appropriate violence prevention campaigns in the wider community, and programmes in schools covering consent, critical thinking, porn literacy, gender roles and equity
- Enabling women with disabilities (and others) in relationships to receive government income support independently
- A child-centred family court
For maternal health
- More support for maternity mental health
- Better prevention and treatment of birth injuries
- Better resourcing for midwives, particularly in locations of acute need
- Better access to post-natal care including allied health practitioners such as physiotherapists
By investing an additional $4.6 billion every year in a vision of an equitable society rather than in the military, the wellbeing of everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand would be enhanced – and they would be safer. And isn’t that the point of defence spending in the first place.