News ID: 196527
Published: 0502 GMT July 12, 2017

UBI could work in Southeast Asia if it goes to women

UBI could work in Southeast Asia if it goes to women
theconversation.com

The universal basic income (UBI) debate has been raging for some years, with politicians and people hotly divided over the notion of their government paying every citizen a set amount of money on a regular basis, without requiring work to be completed.

The idea of everybody, including society’s most marginalized, being able to afford their basic needs is popular with mostly libertarian and progressive politicians, and there is some empirical evidence that it can quickly increase a country’s productivity and reduce domestic inequality, according to theconversation.com.

Conservative economists, however, reject the idea, citing its ‘impossibly expensive’ nature.

Economic feasibility is a critical question for any government program, of course, and it is particularly relevant in the developing world, where UBI  has been suggested as a development tool.

One reason that Southeast Asian countries, for example, have struggled to improve gender equality (despite avowals of commitment to the idea) is increased economic insecurity, which has widened the gap between men and women and separated women from opportunities.

Might UBI be one way to both empower women and reduce hunger in the region?

A conducted research focused specifically on women from the region who live below the poverty line, which, for East Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank defines as living on less than US$3.20 a day.

In Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam —among the poorest Southeast Asian nations — between 13 percent and 47 percent of the population is living in poverty. The number is significantly lower in better-off Brunei and Singapore.

On the whole, women in these countries fare well enough compared to their peers in other developing regions in terms of literacy, employment, political participation and the right to organize. But this has not translated into greater gender equality.

Here, heteronormativity reigns, dictating that men and women (and only men and women; all other gender identities are discounted) have distinct and complementary roles in life, from economics and education to politics.

Women are primarily seen as wives and mothers, a gender stereotype reinforced in both everyday experiences and in the theological texts of the main religions in the region.

 

That perspective also seems to dominate within the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Though women feature strongly in ASEAN’s socio-cultural community line of work, there is very little debate about the role of women in the economic or political sphere.

By giving women the financial freedom to act as ‘agents’ of development in the region, universal basic income could be a tool that ultimately paves the way for their future economic and political involvement.

This process would start with something simple (and seemingly uncontroversial): Women being able to put food on the table.

In poor families in Southeast Asia, up to 80 percent of household income is spent on food, yet undernutrition remains a huge problem in Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, in Vietnam.

If women were provided with sufficient income to feed their families, it would translate into better nutrition, health and general well-being for children and others entrusted in their care, and by extension, their communities.

Creating economic security for women is also key to a country’s development. Southeast Asian women in poorer income brackets generally have access to very few jobs, outside of traditional occupations such as farming and housekeeping. And, today, even these jobs are threatened by climate change and a growing movement to ban the export of foreign domestic workers.

Digitization may lead to further unemployment among men, particularly in Southeast Asian manufacturing economies, exacerbating hunger and malnutrition.

There is evidence that giving women a specifically calibrated amount of money — regularly, and with no strings attached —could make a big difference in such settings.

The first step toward doing so in Southeast Asia would be to identify women living below the poverty line. Next, as in Kenya, each of these woman would be given a sum of money in the form of electronic cash transfers.

Accessible through cheap mobile phones, this money can be used to purchase food and other basic necessities in participating shops, which may be incentivized to participate with credits or subsidies of their own.

   
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