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Do the Math: Include Women in Government Budgets

Zohra Khan and Lisa Kolovich

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Every day, women around the world experience less opportunity than men in education and employment, and less political representation. While many countries recognize the need for gender equality and women’s empowerment, governments can structure spending and taxation in ways to advance gender equality even further—a process called gender budgeting.

Overall, gender budgeting can make a real difference in people’s lives.

A United Nations report, found that globally, there is an overall gender wage gap of 24 percent, women are 26 percent less likely to be employed than men, 75 percent of women’s employment is unregulated or informal to some extent, and women remain economically disadvantaged. Well-designed policies can improve the efficiency and equity of the overall budget process, because they actively seek to address inequality. Over all, this kind of gender budgeting can make a real difference in people’s lives.

In Ecuador, gender budgeting at the provincial level opened up opportunities for women like Maria Rosa Susquilanda to sell their goods at local markets. Gender budgeting in Ethiopia has helped both women and men understand the importance of women’s role in the economy. In the Yefag kebele for example, women served on the local water committee and analyzed the construction of water spots with women’s concerns in mind.

Combining the knowledge from a joint IMF- UK Department For International Development global survey of gender budgeting efforts and UN Women’s decades of experience in providing technical support and capacity development, there are six proven principles of successful gender budgeting initiatives.

How to do gender budgeting

  • Legal requirements matter. Providing gender budgeting with legal status helps ensure its continuity when political actors change. Austria, Bolivia, and Rwanda mandate gender budgeting in their constitutions.

  • The leadership of the ministry of finance is crucial. Our analysis and experience show that gender budgeting is more likely to be sustained if the ministry of finance leads. Albania, Korea, and Uganda are three such examples.

  • Civil society, gender and other ministries, parliaments, and academia are also key players. In Timor-Leste, the prime minister and parliamentarians were essential in getting various resolutions passed. The United Kingdom’s Women’s Budget Group started in the 1980s and conducts a thorough annual, gender-sensitive analysis of the budget.

  • Align goals with national gender equality plans or the Sustainable Development Goals. Early on, Morocco and Afghanistan aligned their objectives with the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals, and their own national development plans.

  • Taxes should not be overlooked. Most countries have focused on spending, but tax policies are not always gender neutral. Austria has identified a gender equality objective, and some governments—including Finland, Ireland, and Spain—have committed to undertake studies looking at the gender aspects of revenue policy.

  • All levels of government have a role to play. Uganda’s “Local budget clubs” allow citizens to discuss spending priorities and hold governments accountable. Indian states with gender budgeting efforts have made more progress on gender equality in primary school enrollment than those without.

What can countries do to improve their gender budgeting efforts?

  • Aim to improve reporting and transparency. Gender budgeting statements can help ensure transparency. Australia, Bangladesh, India, Korea, Morocco, and Nepal have issued various forms of these statements.

  • Monitor and evaluate gender budgeting efforts or collect gender disaggregated data. Korea requires the government to examine the gender impacts of the budget and whether men and women are equally receiving benefits. Uganda introduced a Certificate on Gender and Equity Compliance to ensure that the budget process meets women’s needs.
  • Build skills. UN Women and national aid agencies have provided technical assistance and training over the years, but technical level staff in many countries would benefit from additional training. The IMF, through training courses for country officials and through technical assistance for Austria, Bahrain, Cambodia, and Ukraine, is increasingly engaging with member countries on many aspects of gender budgeting.

  • Collaborate. The IMF is collaborating with UN Women to push forward this work. In February 2018, two joint workshops were organized—one for sub-Saharan countries and another for countries in South Eastern Europe. A joint TED-style talk was held at the IMF Spring Meetings last year, offering participants an overview of gender budgeting principles.

On March 8 we will celebrate International Women’s Day. Every day, budget officials at the national, state, and local levels of government must make decisions on how to allocate their resources. With gender budgeting, country officials also have an opportunity to do the math and look at the impact of spending and tax policies on women and society as a whole.


Related Links:
Fiscal Policies and Gender Equality
Gender and the IMF
Gender Budgeting and Gender Equality Database