Women's groups across New Zealand are calling on Treasury to reverse its decision and apply a gender lens to the Budget.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Treasury had turned down a proposal by Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter to put a gender lens across Budget spending allocation, which Genter argued would ensure fairer outcomes for women.

Women's groups have now come together to jointly criticise Treasury's decision saying it's simply "not good enough".

"Applying a gender lens to government spending would go some way to redressing this
economic imbalance, and Treasury's decision threatens to stall progress on this and undermine the government's objective to promote gender equality. Our own mana wahine, Prof. Marilyn Waring has been calling for unpaid labour to be recognised for decades," Dellwyn Stuart, CEO of YWCA Auckland, said in a statement.

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According to Lisa Lawrence, NZ National Council of Women president, the Government's response goes against the expectations of the UN's Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

"The recommendations of the last NZ CEDAW report explicitly challenges the Government to overtly address the machinery of the public sector and its contribution in this important area to gain equality. Our Government can do better in its focus, and it should. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on how assumptions connected to gender, and gender roles play a part in the workforce and economy," Lawrence said.

She highlighted the fact that PPE gear is designed for 1.8m males and that unpaid childcare work became a fulltime job during the pandemic.

Lawrence also pointed out that low-paid female-dominated jobs such as cleaners, supermarket workers and care workers had been deemed "essential" during the pandemic.

"New Zealand women suffer from both gender and ethnic biases. The slow archaic approach within Government and Treasury to gender equity and equality is disrespectful and unacceptable," said Dr Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner.

Sumeo calls for quotes and targets for women in government procurement and for the Government to "ensure from here on that the national budget benefits all Kiwis by applying gender and ethnic lenses".

"The time for equality and equity is now."

Gender lenses have been applied by overseas governments over the years as a way to work towards equality between genders.

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Leonie Morris, manager of the Auckland Women's Centre, highlights New Zealand's gender pay gap and the high rates of violence against women as two reasons why the Government should be more actively engaged in ensuring equality.

"Every tool needs to be employed to improve the position of women and using a gender lens on budget bids has proved to work internationally," Morris said.

"Treasury must use this tool immediately starting with the $20 billion yet to be allocated from the Covid-19 recovery spend. When this analysis is not done decisions can, and have regularly, been made about spending that disadvantage women, such as unpaid labour not being counted as work by Crown entities; and inadequately funded childcare. This is how women are pushed to the margins by a system that ensures they remain there."

Family Planning CEO Jackie Edmond added her voice to the call to government, saying a gender lens would ensure government spending did not disadvantage or ignore issues unique to women.

"So many of these organisations are run on goodwill and staff commitment – we need to acknowledge this and move to a fair funding model. A gender lens would help us achieve this," she said.

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"Without a gender lens across the budget we can't expect any positive change for
women and girls," said Angela Meyer, co-founder of Double Denim and Ace Lady Network.

"History has shown this to be true. A gender lens should not be something that is feared but encouraged. We want better outcomes for all New Zealanders and given the dire state of many women and girls in New Zealand surely looking at where the money is spent is an important part of that. Follow the money. I'd like to ask Treasury what they are so afraid of?"

The Treasury memo obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act (OIA) justified the rejection of Genter's proposal saying it would not significantly alter the outcomes of allocations:

"The Treasury's experience of previous Budgets shows that adding additional analytical requirements to the Budget process likely has little impact on the quality of the bids."

It went on to say that there was a risk that Government departments may treat a gender lens as a "compliance exercise".