Does the high cost of living in New Caledonia have the same impact on women as on men?

This was the theme of last week's forum organised by the Union of Francophone Women of Oceania (UFFO) at SPC Noumea's conference hall. Some 35 people participated in the forum; among them were representatives of the three provinces, the unions, civil society organisations, government and parliament.

The high cost of living in New Caledonia puts a lot of pressure on families. However, little is known about the different impacts this may have on women and men. UFFO recently interviewed 40 women and 20 men from different provinces to try to understand if the problems raised by the high cost of living are the same for women as for men, and if gender inequalities may hinder women's capacity to cope with it.

This small-scale study reveals that, while the high cost of living affects everybody, women and men have different priorities in terms of spending and hence are differently affected. The women who were interviewed prioritised expenditure on food, on their children's education, and on the economically and socially vulnerable - single mothers, victims of domestic violence, people living in slums or in remote areas - for whom lack of financial resources is a profound source of stress and desperation. The men who were interviewed were preoccupied by their customary obligations and were more inclined to use part of their income for leisure activities.

Employment and access to adequate incomes were found to be major preoccupations for both women and men. However, insufficient child care services and high-priced transport were identified by women as critical obstacles to their access to employment and to social and economic inclusion. In addition, different priorities of women and men in terms of expenditure sometime contributed to conflicts and domestic violence.

Generalisations on the different impacts of the high cost of living on women and men cannot, however, be drawn from this small-scale, qualitative study. In-depth studies must be conducted to assess how widely these different impacts and priorities are held, and develop a better knowledge of the multidimensional impacts of the high cost of living on women and men.

Gender analysis and gender mainstreaming are new to New Caledonia. This kind of approach can contribute to improving understanding of economic and social issues and support the development of more efficient and effective public policies and programmes.

This initiative is part of UFFO's regional platform, aiming at strengthening the capacity to conduct gender analysis and to advocate for gender equality. Similar studies are currently being conducted in French Polynesia on the impact of the economic crisis, in Wallis and Futuna on hardship, and in Vanuatu on malnutrition in urban areas. The Human Development Programme of SPC provides technical assistance to UFFO.

The production of this qualitative study on a critical current issue for New Caledonia and the October forum were both aimed at sensitising government and civil society about the importance of taking into consideration the needs, priorities, capacities and aspirations of women and men in order to support harmonious economic and social development.