A country’s budget is the key to achieving gender equality as very little, if anything can be accomplished without funding.
A quick look at what gender budgeting is not, can help dispel some misconceptions.
Gender budgeting is not about separate budgets for men and women, nor is it about dividing the budget or necessarily increasing allocations to women’s programmes.
The Council of Europe (a grouping of 46 member states) through its Committee for Equality between Women and Men defined gender budgeting as “an application of gender mainstreaming in the budgetary process”.
It might be helpful here to also discuss briefly what gender mainstreaming is.
As defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council it is the process of assessing the implications of any planned action, legislation, policy or programme on the lives of both men and women, making sure that they all benefit equally and that inequality is not perpetuated.
So basically gender budgeting looks at all the processes leading to a national budget and makes sure that revenues and expenditures promote gender equality.
Gender budgeting is a relatively new concept and Australia is recognised as the first country to implement it in 1984 with the help of leading economist Rhonda Sharp.
Many countries have followed suit since then including a number from sub-Saharan Africa, with an NGO called Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network www.zwrcn.org.zw establishing itself as a regional centre of training and information on gender budgeting.
According to its website, the Southern Africa Gender Budgeting Network comprises Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and a Sadc representative.
Given the many pressing issues facing developing countries today, gender budgeting may not get the support it deserves, especially given the fact that it’s a long term process which requires funding itself.
One interesting issue that comes up is that of women’s unpaid work in society, known as the care economy which is largely ignored by traditional economics because there is no monetary value attached to it.
Feminist economists have drawn attention to the fact that countries are working with “false economies” which only consider the monetary economy involving private and public sectors only, leaving out the care economy.
It’s been found that on average women spend two thirds of their time on household related chores and one third on income generating work, while for men it’s the opposite.
So for example inadequate public sector spending on water provision has an adverse impact on women because they have to spend a lot of time fetching water instead of channelling their energies into income generating activities.
Through gender budgeting, the issue of the care economy can be taken into account so that the implications of the levels of expenditure can be analysed with women and men in mind.
There are a number of players in the gender budgeting process, the government and parliament being the central ones.
However in most countries, particularly developing ones, international organisations such as the United Nations are playing an important role in terms of providing the financial resources required to undertake gender budgeting.
NGOs are often the ones who drive the initiative, providing training and research to support the process.
However as most countries have found, gender budgeting is a complicated and lengthy process to implement.
For example, the South African Women’s Budget Initiative which was formed in 1995 spent the better part of three years analysing its government’s allocations, resulting in three published books on this topic.
Its name has proved problematic at times as it is seen to promote women only and yet in practice it does carry out gender analysis.
The argument has been that generally it’s the women who are disadvantaged so it’s better to just go to the root of the problem without using indirect terms.
The Council of Europe report also noted that there are five factors that are key to successful gender budgeting.
These are political will, accountability, human and financial resources, coordination and gender disaggregated data.
In the real world it may not be possible to have all these components in equal measure but that doesn’t mean it should not be attempted.
It will be interesting to see if next year’s analyses of Lesotho’s national budget by private and public sector individuals will have a gender perspective.