afrol News / Gender Links, 26 June - The recently approved national budget on the Indian Ocean island state Mauritius is seen as unique in an African context. It puts women and gender issues right at its centre of focus. Gender activists are thrilled as money finally follows policy statements.
It is not easy being a single mother. On Mauritius, where private lives become public, the traditional and conventional society usually considers single motherhood taboo, with fingers pointing and accusations of loose morals flying. Yet, recognising the reality of single motherhood, the 2008-2009 national budget announced by Minister of Finance Rama Sithanen makes concrete plans to encourage their economic independence and ability to care for their children.
The budget outlines a comprehensive programme that, among other things, offers training and re-skilling activities geared to women, which take into account the needs of mothers for flexible working conditions and childcare facilities. Although it takes two people to make a baby, very often only mothers bear the burden of care when the relationship falters, making it very difficult to both care for themselves and their children, and work towards economic stability.
For many Mauritian women, this programme is set to help them to get on their feet, while ensuring that their children are cared for. Patricia Migale (not her real name), a single mother of three children, is relieved. "I will now be able to earn a decent living without abandoning my kids. The future looks brighter now," she said.
The Mauritian programme for mothers is just one of the budget plans designed to not only support families in the short term, but also more importantly give women skills and opportunities that will help them help themselves.
For example, very often women have problems accessing finance to start or grow businesses. To address this problem, Minister Sithanen put in place a Manufacturing Adjustment and Small Medium Enterprise Development Fund to provide loans of up to rupees 100,000 (about US$ 3,600) without any collateral.
The provision for the "Women and Children's Solidarity Programme" has been doubled to Rs 50 million (US$ 1.8 million). Among other provisions, this programme ensures training for women in prison and support for children whose parents are serving sentences. He also increased the budget of HIV and AIDS so that organisations can get more grants for their sensitisation, prevention and awareness campaigns.
This includes support for Chrysalide, the only residential rehabilitation centre for female drug users, sex workers and HIV positive women. Marlene Ladine, manager of Chrysalide, though disappointed that the government did not increase the grant to her centre, is happy that the government has renewed its commitment and has kept its promises to support the centre.
While the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) talks about the eradication of poverty by the year 2015, Minister Sithanen says he wants to do it now. Over 7,000 families have been identified as living in abject poverty in 229 regions of Mauritius. Among which 5,000 children do not go to pre-primary schools for a variety of social problems. Minister Sithanen, therefore earmarked budget of Rs.395 m (US$ 14.5 million) towards the eradication of extreme poverty.
The government of Mauritius says it will make sure that these 5,000 children will attend school. They are to be provided with free transport, clothing, food and school materials, a medical check and be given hearing and glasses if need be. Both parents and children are to get social accompaniment. Parents are to benefit from employment training.
In developing these programmes, the Mauritius government is recognising that many social problems have a feminine face. Budgets are earmarked to reduce the unemployment of women, eradication of poverty, and assistance to victims and survivors of gender violence. Moreover, all these budgets come with programmes and action plans with proper monitoring and evaluation.
Economist Andre Ng said, "The measures which are envisaged are on the whole, development friendly." He welcomes the emphasis placed on the development of infrastructures such as roads, the port, the airport, water and wastewater, and on the acknowledgment that financing should be through public and private partnership.
Mr Ng goes on to mention, "the budget is explicit that the eradication of absolute poverty is being specifically targeted. The emphasis on education for children and some on life skills for their parents should ease poverty. However, success in this endeavour will depend on the availability of trained social workers and effective non-governmental organisations which are adequately financed."
This step forward in Mauritius continues the nation's progressive moves to taking a gendered approach to their national economic plans, looking at the impact that national resources can have to better the lives of both men and women in the country.
In 2006, Mr Sithanen decided to take the bull by horns when he presented his first budget as Finance Minister. His budget addressed the predicament of female unemployment who were at 35 percent of the labour force and yet 61 percent of the unemployed.
In the June 2007 budget, Minister Sithanen went further; for the first time in the history of Mauritius devoting a whole chapter to gender. "We must break the cultural barriers that keep women from taking jobs their sisters do overseas such as electricians, plumbers, tile layers, drivers, painters, metal working and gardeners. Employers also must end any prejudice against employing women in these activities," Mr Sithanen argued one year ago.
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