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RIGHTS: Women’s Groups Push for Gender-Sensitive Budgets

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2008 (IPS) - As women’s groups and political activists intensify their global campaign for gender empowerment, there is a growing trend towards “gender budgeting” both among developed and developing nations.

Rawwida Baksh, team leader of Women’s Rights and Citizenship at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada, told IPS the concept of “gender-responsive budgeting” has been in currency since the mid-1980s.

The Australian government was the first to introduce gender budgeting in 1984, followed by Canada in 1993 and South Africa in 1994. Since then, some 50 countries worldwide have adopted some form of gender-responsive budgeting, she said.

According to some estimates, the figure may be over 60 to 70 countries which have specifically earmarked gender-related funds in their respective national budgets.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points out that “governments are increasingly creating an enabling environment for investing in women.”

“More than 50 countries have introduced gender-sensitive budgeting,” he said, on International Women’s Day last March.

He said many member states “are abolishing laws that prohibit women’s access to land, property ownership, credits and markets.”

But women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are now seeking concrete commitments on gender budgeting.

“The United Nations can help by making a strong declaration in favour of gender budgeting that requires all (192) member states to take clear steps,” says the Women’s National Commission, a non-governmental organisation with consultative status with the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Although many countries have put in place the “good practice” of gender budgeting, says the WNC, all member states must now be required to report progress regularly.

“This will identify where the money and resources are being spent, which is key to reversing the current gender bias in all the world’s economies,” the group says.

One of the issues that will come up at the international conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Qatar in late November will be increased funding for gender empowerment, including gender budgeting.

In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action (that followed an international women’s conference in the Chinese capital that year) and the 2002 Monterrey Consensus (that followed the first FfD conference in Mexico) urged member states to recognise gender equality as an essential element of good governance and women’s empowerment as a key factor in economic development.

“And yet, we still have a long way to say,” says Ban, because “women are still severely hampered by discrimination and gender-based violence; lack resources and economic opportunities; and have limited access to decision-making.”

Baksh of IDRC said a national budget is a crucial instrument “in shaping women’s living standards and their prospects for economic empowerment”.

She listed several countries, both in the developed and developing world, which have embraced the concept of gender budgeting.

In Africa, they include: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In the Americas, they include: Barbados, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States. In Asia: Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam. In Europe, they include: Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Britain. In the Middle East and North Africa: Israel, Lebanon, Morocco. And in the Pacific: Australia, Fiji Islands.

According to “Gender Budgets Make Cents” published in 2002 by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat, national budgets can worsen or improve the living standards of different groups of women and contribute to narrowing or widening gender gaps in incomes, health, education, nutrition, and other areas.

Baksh said national budgets can use a number of measures to promote gender equality including: specific expenditure to promote women’s empowerment, e.g., women’s health programmes, special education initiatives for girls; and government departments can promote equal employment opportunities for women and men, e.g., provision of creche facilities, parental leave provisions.

At the same time, sector budgets can promote equality between women and men, through asking about the impact of expenditure, e.g., who are the users of hospital services? Who receives agricultural support services?

A number of publications and tools on the “how to” and case study experiences of gender-responsive budgeting have been published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, IDRC, the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and other agencies, she added.

Agencies which have assisted in piloting gender-responsive budgeting in developing countries also include the U.N. Development Programme (UND) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

Asked to cite any concrete examples of countries earmarking funds in their budgets purely for gender empowerment, Baksh said that South Africa was a good example of a developing country that has promoted gender-responsive budgeting.

She said it was initiated in 1994 by women parliamentarians elected to the first post-apartheid parliament, and is closely linked to the end of apartheid and the introduction of a new Constitution and era which sought to tackle race and gender discrimination.

In Morocco, gender responsive budgeting has been led by the ministry of finance as a flagship action of its strategic programmes.

In the Philippines, gender-responsive budgeting has been combined with community-based poverty monitoring, and is being applied at the local government and municipal levels in Escalante and Bacolod cities.

Asked why some countries are reluctant to embrace this concept, Baksh attributed it to a number of challenges.

“Political will is a key challenge,” she said, while other obstacles include the lack of gender awareness and capacity of staff in finance ministries; the need for collaboration between finance and gender ministries; and the need for strong women’s organisations who can advocate it.

Pinaki Chakraborty, associate professor at the Centre for Development Studies in India, told IPS her country institutionalised gender budgeting at the national level in 2005. The federal budget has allocated specific funds to programmes specifically targeted to women – including on health and economic services.

Imraan Valodia, senior research fellow at the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, said that one good example was South Africa’s decision to remove fuel taxes on kerosene. This was done on the basis that female-headed households spend a large proportion of their income on this fuel and it was a good anti-poverty measure.

South Africa has a number of specific programmes – in trade and industry protection services and social services – that are specifically geared to women, Valodia said.

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