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Q&A: "How Are We Going to Sustain Gender Approaches?"

Terna Gyuse interviews MARY RUSIMBI, gender budgeting consultant

CAPE TOWN, Nov 29 2008 (IPS) - The negative aspects of Africa's experience with structural adjustment programmes beginning in the 1990s have been well-documented – facing high debt loads, African governments agreed to liberalise their economies, privatise public enterprises, and sharply reduce social spending with often painful effects on the most vulnerable.

It was in this context that gender budgeting tools gained a foothold in East Africa. For more than a decade, Dar es Salaam-based Mary Rusimbi has analysed budget processes in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to make them respond better to the needs of the poor, particularly women.

IPS: What are some of the factors that give rise to gender inequality in East Africa? Mary Rusimbi: There are several. There have been quite a lot of efforts on more equal access to resources for both men and women in all three countries.

Take land, there are a number of legal frameworks which say land in Tanzania belongs to both men and women. But when it comes to practice, customary law takes over – a process that prevents women in the villages from owning land.

But when they do not have access to resources like land, women also cannot have access to banking and other services, because they don't have collateral and so on and so forth. So that adds another level of inequality.

Gender-based violence is another huge area where many women in all the three countries continue to suffer. … As much as there are efforts to transform the situation, we still find it is a huge factor that stops women and men standing at an equal level.

And it makes women also move out of the public sphere when they live in constant fear. This is something public policy people have not seen yet. When you live in constant fear you cannot be a productive person. If it's not harassment at the public level, it's at the household level, rape, all those sorts of things … So that to me is another big issue.

I think it is a fact that part of what perpetuates gender inequalities is that unfortunately, through socialisation and other processes, women have internalised it as well. So it's not only negative attitudes from men, it's also where women themselves have been made not to believe in themselves, and in the process a lot of other related inequalities have come up.

IPS: What tangible impacts has a decade of gender budgeting had for women in the region? MR: At the local level, there are quite a few things.

In the beginning we'd find people saying that budgeting is not for us. Using gender budgeting approaches, we have built capacity, helped people understand issues and how budgets work. In Tanzania and Uganda, civil society actors have taken quite a huge role in providing budget analysis.

Second, there is more interest by civil society in tracking impacts, in tracking public expenditure.

I should say the experience at the local level is richer in Uganda than Tanzania. Because in Uganda from the beginning, they stressed implementation at a local level so they have been able to work more with councillors and activate more communities.

The Ugandan experience shows there have been significant changes in budget allocation and awareness raising but also people trying to really understand how the budget impacts their lives. This is not a small achievement …

I think the fact that governments – and here I'm talking more of Uganda and Tanzania – have seen that this is an approach that they could adopt. Here in Tanzania, there's a lot of training going on, in the ministry of finance, theministry of gender. They are training their own budgetary planners.

I think that's an acceptance by the government, saying gender budgeting can be part of budgeting processes. To me it is an achievement much as you might say we don't see huge allocations out of that.

In addition, there have already been sectors that have been influenced by the gender budget advocates, in Tanzania, I can refer to sectors like water. There've been quite a lot of allocations towards rural water, towards domestic water services, but also towards improving capacity and allocating positions within the sector.

IPS: What is the likely impact of the global financial crisis on these processes? The more you have stable government, the more you have a stable economy, the more gender budgeting approaches can function. But on the revenue side – again using Tanzania as an example – more than 42 percent of our budget depends on donor finance. You can be sure that the financial crisis is going to have a negative impact.

My biggest fear is how are we going to sustain gender approaches … How do we say that gender approaches have to be part of what we're doing?

Maybe crisis also brings out more opportunities. Because I can see it happening in the US already, ordinary people are talking about macroeconomic policies or frameworks that do not work. And that is what gender budgeting is about, at least from Tanzania's point of view

Gender budgeting is not for us a technical process. It's not about saying, add this and push on that. It's about raising broader policy questions, questions about sustainable development processes, questions about where the money is going.

*This is the second of a three-part series that looks at gender equality in finance in Uganda.

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