Towards Gender-Responsive Budgeting – Day One

A High-level Conference Hosted by the Government of Belgium to Launch a Global Vision to Strengthen Economic and Financial Governance, 16 October 2001

16 October 2001

Mr. Secretary of State, Mr. Hutton, Mr. Helgason, Distinguished Ministers, Delegates, Colleagues and Friends

Threats to global peace and security know no borders. We understand, each day with greater clarity, how injustice, inequality and conflict undermine good governance. Our presence here, under the leadership of Belgium during its presidency of the European Union, shows our commitment to good governance. In a very modest way, I believe that our Conference about gender responsive budgeting can help advance this agenda.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the powerful alliance that has brought us together: The OECD, the Nordic Council of Ministers and UNIFEM’s partners, the Commonwealth Secretariat and Canadian International Development and Research Centre. Together, we have convened a truly extraordinary gathering. Extraordinary, I say, because it brings together partners not used to sitting at the same table. Partners that use different tools to measure similar economic, social and political outcomes. Collectively here today, we represent government, multilateral and non-governmental partners, independent experts, north and south, finance ministries and development cooperation.

This is a unique gathering. But it is taking place during a difficult time. A time in which it is more important than ever to reaffirm the links between peace, security and development. Because of the attacks that took place on September 11th and the current situation; I am also aware that a number of our Finance Ministers have been called to Luxembourg today and tomorrow to follow the money for terrorism. We are here to follow the money for development.

The idea to convene this Conference came after five years of piloting and experimentation. Suddenly, we saw that we were containing a groundswell. That an increasing number of the 100 countries where UNIFEM works were committed to using this tool. That 13 OECD members had already begun in some way to support gender responsive budgets in their countries. And that Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland have all supported gender budget initiatives within their cooperation programmes. We know that the World Bank, DFID, and the ECE have promoted the idea and displayed interest. It was then that the Government of Belgium signaled its generous contribution to support UNIFEM’s work on gender responsive budget initiatives around the world.

We saw immediately what gender budget initiatives share in common with other successful global campaigns. And that is universality of cause. Money matters everywhere. In the north and in the south. The budget lines in the US are as revealing about women’s status as they are in Morocco, Vietnam, the Netherlands or Japan.

Gender budgets are not what they sound like. They are not separate budgets for women. And they don’t aim to increase spending on women specific programmes. Gender responsive budgeting simply refers to the analysis of government expenditure and revenue on women and girls as compared to men and boys. Since men and women generally occupy different social and economic positions, budgets typically affect them differently. Ignoring the gender impact of the budget is not neutrality. It is blindness. And blindness has a high human and economic cost: lower productivity; lower development of peoples´ capacity and lower levels of well being. Gender budget analysis helps governments decide how policies need to be adjusted to achieve their maximum impact, and where resources need to be reallocated to achieve human development and gender equality. Gender budget analysis raises awareness in governments about the impact of budgets on women. They inform women about the gender implications of expenditure and revenue.

Four driving forces explain the rising interest in gender responsive budgeting. First, the political drive for accountability. The recent reviews of UN World Conferences on Women, Social Development and on Population, all showed mixed results. But the idea of linking political commitments to gender equality with the way a government allocates and generates resources provided a concrete way to measure a government’s accountability to nearly half of the population. Sweden’s commitment to provide decent childcare at an affordable price can be seen it its budget: it spends almost 2 per cent of GDP on publicly provided childcare and has one of the highest rates of female employment in Europe.

Gender analysis has also shown how budget allocations may bear little resemblance to actual expenditures. And while expenditures sometimes exceed allocations, more often and particularly in relation to gender items – there is under-expenditure. Although this has not yet been explained fully, it surely speaks to the need for greater capacity relating to gender within all sectors. Spending on gender items requires specialised skills and expertise. If we are to realise the goal of gender mainstreaming, then this capacity must be strengthened.

The second force is transparency. Gender budget initiatives offer a way to encourage public participation in the budget process. Budget formulation is generally an exclusive process, and women are typically on the periphery of political and economic discourse. In Uganda, women parliamentarians challenged the budget process as a whole – demanding a greater role for parliamentarians in the design. And the success of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, is credited with increasing access to water services, sewage, paved roads and a doubling of children’s enrolment in public schools.

The third driving force is equality. Gender responsive budget analysis provides a way to hold governments accountable for their commitment to gender equality and to protecting women’s human rights. This is achieved by linking commitments made to instruments like the Beijing Platform for Action, or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, with the distribution, use and generation of public resources. National budgets may appear to be gender-neutral policy instruments. But government expenditures and revenues do not impact equally on men and women. For example, most countries’ education budgets are gender neutral in design. But because, in many countries, more boys than girls actually attend school, boys can derive more benefit from educational expenditure than do girls. This inequality will not be redressed until more fundamental measures are put in place to address the causes such as: improved access to water, energy, and health care. These are gender issues that speak directly to the care economy which is subsidised by the unpaid labour of girls and women who maintain the social fabric of life and care for their families, the sick and the dying – increasingly so in countries with huge HIV/AIDS prevalence.

The fourth driving force is efficiency. The World Bank has shown that gender equality is in fact linked to economic efficiency and human development. And gender budget initiatives have provided essential information about how well a budget achieves its intended objectives. A gender budget analysis of New Deal programmes in the UK revealed that only 8 per cent of funding for these programmes goes to “lone parents,” of whom 95 per cent are female. The gender budget analysis prepared by the French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry, shows that in 2000, 31 percent of working women held part-time jobs, as compared with 5 per cent of men. It also shows that women who worked part time did not do so by choice – especially women raising children on their own, who headed 84 percent of single parent families in 1997. The report concludes that these trends have resulted in the increasing feminisation of poverty. Clearly, this women’s budget statement raised awareness in the bureaucracy and among women and generated a wealth of information about government spending.

Finally, gender budget analysis is beginning to contribute to the great international debates of the day – around financing for development, poverty reduction strategies, globalisation and good governance. To advance these agendas, to achieve the millennium targets for development while advancing progress for the world’s women, I am asking for your support. Our collective goal is that all countries in the world undertake gender sensitive budget analysis by 2015. Many donor countries and organization have stepped forward and are providing support for those countries without the means to do so. We hope that you will join us in this growing consensus.

An historian looking back will see that the next great wave of affirmation – the next great moment of social progress came around gender responsive budgeting. And that time is clearly now. Gender budget analysis offers tools to measure progress of the world’s women. It is not a coincidence that the interest in gender budgets is growing as economic discourse is shifting to one of accountability and good governance. It is rather a signal of our collective readiness to move from an era of standard setting into an era of implementation. We must convert our words into action to achieve progress for women and progress for all.

Thank you.