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DEVELOPMENT: Nepal Scrutinises Spending to Cap Gender Gaps

Mallika Aryal

KATHMANDU, Aug 27 2008 (IPS) - The period between 2002 and 2007, was marked with various political and economic changes in Nepal. As the government and the Maoist rebels fought a bloody war in the hinterlands, exports plummeted due to internal and international factors, investments by government and private sectors dropped due to instability caused by the war and agriculture stagnated. During this period Nepal’s average growth dropped from 5 to 2.9 percent.

Only 10 percent of spending on economic services supports gender equality.  Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Only 10 percent of spending on economic services supports gender equality. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the government of Nepal and the left wing CPN (Maoists) in November 2006, Nepal government has been focussing on social reconstruction to bring about more inclusive development.

In the 2007-2010 interim plan the government incorporated gender empowerment targets. To mainstream gender in national development policies, the Nepali government introduced a gender responsive budgeting (GRB) system in the fiscal year 2007-08.

"There was an assumption that all sections of society reap benefits from national budgets. In reality, that doesn’t happen," says Sangeeta Thapa of the United Nations Fund for Women, Nepal (UNIFEM) adding, "the way in which the national budget is formulated, ignores the different, socially determined roles, responsibilities, capabilities of women and men and rights conferred on them respectively."

Under the GRB government ministries are required to report on the gender responsiveness of their programmes and activities. Programmes are then rated in three categories on gender equality – directly supportive, indirectly supportive or gender neutral. "GRB does not mean we need more money, it is not about a separate budget for men and women. It is a method which encourages those making programmes and budget to also address the needs and interests of individuals that belong to different social groups," says UNIFEM’s Ananta Rijal.

In the 2007-08 budget about 24 percent of spending for social services (education, health, local development, drinking water and other social services) is classified as directly supporting gender equality, and 55 percent as indirectly benefiting women. However, only 10 percent of spending for economic services (agriculture, communications, forestry, land reform, transportation, industry) is classified as directly supporting gender equality. It was found that there are significant gaps in the areas of land reform, forestry and communications, with at least 90 percent of expenditure seen as gender neutral.

Experts at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, GRB implementing partners, say it is not fair to judge whether Nepal’s national budget is gender-sensitive when gender responsiveness is not taken into consideration during programme planning. "We have only just evaluated how much of our budget is gender responsive, we haven’t yet made programmes in a way that they are gender sensitive," says Ritu Rajbhandari, under secretary at the ministry.

Rajbhandari says if Nepal truly wants to fill the gender gap, the policymakers need to stop coming up with separate programmes for men and women. "We talk about gender equality, but have separate investments for men and women, that’s where we go wrong," says Rajbhandari. He says unless we have integrated programmes to benefit all sections of the society, Nepal will not achieve gender balance.

However, activists like Urmila Aryal, former minister and present member of Nepal’s newly elected Constituent Assembly says women do need special focus because they have been excluded, and gender neutral programmes have usually benefited male populations, especially in patriarchal society like Nepal.

Aryal adds that the first step towards achieving gender equality is by empowering women at the grass-root level. "That’s where the investment should be made," says Aryal. She adds that if just 10 percent of the local government money were invested on women, it would be quite a significant step.

Aryal says that major investments need to be made in agriculture, health, education if Nepal truly wants to achieve gender equality. "In rural Nepal women spend maximum time in agriculture, yet she has no rights over land, she cannot even take loans. Every year, thousands of women die during childbirth, yet in many part of rural Nepal there isn’t even one midwife," she adds.

Jiwan Banskota, undersecretary in the ministry of finance agrees, "We have 33 per cent women’s participation in the Constituent Assembly, if we can have the same amount of women at the local level, especially in decision-making positions, they would push for gender sensitive policies and regulations."

But by just telling the various ministries to be gender-sensitive, without training them about tools, will not yield results, warn the experts. Researchers at Nepal’s National Planning Commission say that specific tools are necessary so that the decision at the centre trickles down to the district and village level.

In the adoption and internalisation of GRB tools that the progress has been steady, mainly because the government has been very responsive. However, implementation of GRB remains a huge challenge in the grass-root level.

During the ‘people’s war’ the Maoists dismantled village and district development committees. Three thousand of the 4,000 village committees were bombed; members were chased out, records burnt and local government not allowed to function properly.

When local elections, slated for July 2002, failed to take place, local governments started being run by government bureaucrats sent from Kathmandu. The Ministry of Local Development, responsible for training local authorities on GRB, is filling the gap till local elections are held once again.

UNIFEM’S Rijal says expectations are high. "The way in which we have designed GRB for Nepal requires that strong local governments be present, unless we have a decentralised structure, it is going to be a challenge to implement GRB as a tool to achieve gender equality," he says.

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