Over the course of our work the Women’s Budget Group has faced tensions in a number of areas. We know from talking to sister organisations around the world that many of these questions are faced by other organisations too. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions – what you do will depend on the context you are in.
Policies to improve lives as they are now, or policies for transformation.
One of the key questions is ‘do we have policy around gender roles as they are, or in order to promote a change in gender roles?’
For example, on the issue of parental leave, the WBG was slightly out of step with other women’s organisations who mostly focused on extending women’s period of leave and thought that this was a higher priority than extending paternity leave for men. WBG believed that maternity leave should be extended, but that if this was done without extending paternity leave this would reinforce traditional gender roles. WGB was in favour of policies that would encourage a greater sharing of caring responsibilities, which required extending leave for men as well as women
Focus on ‘women’s issues’ or applying a ‘gender lens’ to all issues
You don’t have to start with the things that are most obviously associated with women. Indeed the whole point of GRB is to analyse the whole budget with a gender lens – though you obviously have to start somewhere. WBG always commented on overall tax system, not what are perceived to be women’s issues, such as childcare or education. For example, transport is not commonly seen as a women’s issue, but it does have a gender aspect, as women generally rely more on public transport than men
Expertise vs inclusivity
Everyone has the right to talk about the economy. Often, we are seen as ‘experts’ which on the one hand has benefited our work, because it means policy-makers listen to us. On the other hand, it meant that WBG hasn’t been seen as an inclusive organisation. It is important to remember that there are different types of expertise and that all these different types are valid, some people bring expertise in economics, others in the way in which policies effect women’s lives in practice
Different ways of working
One of the points of tension we found is that people have different ways of working. Academics work to longer time scales, aren’t used to that thing of responding quickly to journalists or politicians. And they can get frustrated by women’s organisations who want to simplify findings in a way that might be misleading
Insider and outsider strategies
There are tensions between insider and outsider strategies. At times we have worked behind the scenes, at others we have acted as an external critic. Working behind the scenes has allowed us access to decision-makers and greater influence over policy, but can mean that the organisation becomes unwilling to challenge those it is trying to influence. External criticism can be used to hold the government to account, but can mean that an organisation is seen as supporting the opposition, making it harder to have direct influence