Gender responsive budgeting, an exit strategy from the crisis. Interview with Zohra Khan
In this interview Zohra Khan of UN Women provides an overview around the Gender Responsive Budgeting approach, its achievements so far and major challenges ahead as a possible strategy to face up with the crisis, in poor countries as well as in rich economies. She also reports on the key issues emerged during the AWID Forum (April 2012) on GRB and on how discussion within women's movements unfold in these days as we are talking about a review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, of the post MDG development framework as well as of the possibility of a Fifth World Conference on Women.
Q.: One of UN Women’s areas of work is the Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) programme. Could you provide an overview around GRB and how it works to achieve gender equality?
A.: GRB is an approach that we, at UN Women, use to ensure that gender inequalities in society are addressed by the governments in their national plans and budgets. UN Women has been supporting GRB work for many years, since the first programme started in 2001. When a government develops a policy or legislation on gender equality, it needs to ensure that the requisite money to implement the committments are included in the budget. Most governments have excellent national committments to gender equality, many of which are aligned to the global agreements like the Beijing Platform for Action and Cedaw, however they do not have sufficient money allocated for full implementation. UN Women therefore supports ministries of finance to better understand how to integrate gender analysis in their plans. We work with planners and budget officers at national and local levels and together we look at – for instance - how a woman is going to be impacted by a budget decision that they make. Or, how the allocations to a particular area like the health sector are going to affect women and men differently. It is really about understanding where, in communites and societies, the most pressing needs are and ensuring that money is allocated to support these particular needs. Our website on GRB - http://www.gender-budgets.org/- offers lots of resources and information about programmes which are being carried out, and explanations about what can be achieved with GRB.
Q.: Is it also a resource sharing space for stakeholders involved in the process?
A.: Yes. Precisely.
Q.: What are the key aspects/challenges which GRB is confronted with in today’s context of crisis?
A.: As we talk about a review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, of the post MDG development framework as well as of the possibility of a Fifth World Conference on Women, attention is more and more being focused on what challenges have been experienced so far in the achievement of the MDGs and in the process of implementaion of the Beijing Platform for Action. One big challenge is lack of investment: there has been a chronic under-investment in development generally, and in gender equality and women’s rights in particular. This is a huge gap. We at UN Women hope that - as we are looking beyond 2015 - GRB becomes much more significant because it is about following implementation, it is about allocating money to programmes that impact women’s lives and looking at actual results for women on the ground.
Q.: You have mentioned the world women conference. Reactions to this proposal seem to be much mixed. Some consider it as a necesary step, others are not convinced. And this might also be due to the general disappointment generated by the Rio Summit and the general disaffection that people are increasingly feeling towards the effectiveness of world summits and UN conferences. What do you think?
A.: You are correct. The reactions are mixed. Part of women’s movements want this conference; especially the younger women feel there is a need to define the new women's rights framework and the new gender agenda to move forward. On the other hand, another part of the women’s movements think that many gains have been made in Beijing, and Beijing is the most comprehensible framework of women's human rights and there are fears that the gains we have reached so far will be stepped back. UN Women - as part of the UN system it does not have a position per se - implements what member States ask to do. From what I understand, a resolution will need to be passed and this requires a process of negotiation before such a conference can be held. The discussion now is very much about whether it is a good or a bad idea, and views on that are very mixed, but if it does go ahead a process needs to be followed and how that process will take shape will be determined as time continues. One big fear, I think, is that these talks on women’s conference will detract women from the mainstream discussions that are happening around the post MDGs framework, and I think this is right! Given the fact that the women’s movement has limited resources available, there is a risk that by focusing attention on a world conference, they remain outside those spaces where important discussions on development cooperation and on the future of the MDGs will take place. But this is just an observation, that might not be the case.
Q.: The issue of GRB has been extensively addressed during the AWID Forum (which was held in Instanbul on April 2012) as it can be a key strategy these days to go out of the crisis. What are the issues emerged during that discussion within the women’s movements?
A.: The session on GRB within the Awid Forum was meant to assess whether GRB as a strategy has worked so far. The reason for that is that there is lot of discussion going on around whether gender mainstreaming has worked as GRB mainstreams gender in the planning and budgeting process. Gender mainstreaming has the potential to be very transformative but only if it is done properly. In the past couple of years gender mainstreaming has been de-politicised and has become just a tick box exercise. So we are very interested in understanding to what extent GRB is still a valid strategy to get a shift in public expenditure in favour of gender equality. The three panelists of the session– comprising two economists and one practitioner - provided three very different perspectives on GRB. The first one, Gul Unal, development economist at UNDP at the time of the AWID Forum and now at the UN Women, pointed out that with the financial crisis and the fact that we have less money for everything (not just for development), GRB places too much emphasis on the government budget. She suggested that feminists should pay attention to macro-economic frameworks and policies that guide governemnt decisions on how to spend money.
Q.: Does it mean that the focus should be rather put at level of decision making, and not at level of implementation?
A.: Yes, her point is that we should look at the macro picture and at how governments are making decisions about trade, investements or aid. The other panelist, Diane Elson (Feminist economist and Chair of the UK Women’s Budget Group) stressed that, besides the macro picture, we need to look at the micro picture. In democratic societies the budget is one thing that should be open and transparent, as it is announced annually and is subject to the approval of parliaments who can make interrogrations. Therefore civil society has an opportunity to be holding their governements accountable for decision made on the budget. So while we should be focusing on the macro picture, the budget is one very important space for government accountability. It is very important to make sure that governemnts – especially when they need to make tough decision like they do in these times of austerity - consider the implications of budget decisions on men’s and women’s lives. Another very practical example was provided by Mary Rusimbi of the Tanzanian Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) on how GRB has made a difference in Tanzania. Civil society has been asking the government questions about where, how and why the money are spent until a point that policy makers and budget officers had to listen to their concerns and provide a response. So overall in the panel, it was agreed that GRB is a very positive approach that can bring fundamental changes to the way governments do business. Across the world there are 60-70 countries that are working on GRB and these are developing countries, mostly in Africa. On the other hand, there are alos a few countries in the global North, like Austria, who are implementing GRB. There are - I think - opportunities for this approach to grow, especially in countries of the global North where serious inequalities along gender lines - although not built on the same levels of poverty of countries in the South - are increasingly emerging. Women face many problems around their access to employment, or the possibility to have safe communities where they are free from violence, and so on.
Q.: or in terms of a decline in social services and social protection …
A.: Yes exactly.
Q.: For a better understanding of how GRB works at level of implementation, can you provide some concrete examples of results achieved and explain how they are then measured, assessed?
A.: In terms of results, where we see a strong committment by governments to address issues of gender inequality, there are results. In Rwanda for instance where achieving gender equality is a key government objective, we have seen results. Here UN Women has supported the agriculture ministry to develop and cost a gender strategy, meaning that we have developed the strategy and assessed the costs, and the government has allocated the money necessary to the implementiation of the strategy in order to make sure that women can benefit from whatever agricultural reform is going to take place in Rwanda. However, one must be clear that allocation of money to gender equality is not enough. Governments also need to track how the money is spent. In Nepal, where we have been working for many years, the government has developed a classification system to track the percentage of money in the sector budget for programmes on gender equality. So there is a huge amount of technical work that UN Women is currently supporting across the world. You can see practical examples on the GBR website about how to make sure not only that money is allocated to gender equality (that is one part of the story) but also that the money is spent in the proper way, and is monitored and that citizens understand where their money is going and they hold their governments accoutable.
Q.: What is the role of civil society in this process and the relation between international agencies and national governemnts?
A.: It is extremely important that civil society is involved. For GRB to work, you need the combination of few elements. First of all, political will. Governments must be committed to gender equality and make it a priority through the allocation of resoures to their national policies, programmes, laws. Then you need requisite capacities: people working within the Ministry of Finances and sector ministries – must be able to do gender analysis, must understand the importance of allocating money to gender equality, and must be able to identify women’s priorities.
The third thing is to have the system in place. Without a proper system to allocate money efficiently and effectively and without good internal monitoring systems, GRB can not work. Finally, you need a proper civil society oversight, asking the government questions about the budget, and explanations on why money has been allocated to one sector and not to the other. A very engaged civil society that is able to do budget tracking and budget monitoring. Regarding the international agencies (meaning the donor agencies), they must have a role to play for sure. More governments are engaging in public finance reform, and the international agencies have a role to play in support of these reform processes. However, GRB is really about building national level capacities, and not about imposing any kind of approach. International agencies must support national efforts to ensure that gender equality is central to these reforms.
Q.: In the editorial of journal issues 55.3 on ‘Gender and Economic Justice’ Wendy Harcourt says that the challenge is now to move from the confort zones of summits and conferences (where many interesting ideas are put on the table) to the implementation of these ideas in the reality. In your view, what is needed to move ahead?
A.: Going forward to the post 2015 MDGs framework - whatever it will look like – a new development framework is needed that places gender equlality at its heart. I agree with Wendy that the focus must be on implementation and increased investment in gender equality is part of the narrative. Even if we have the most perfect post 2015 development framework and gender goals, without sufficient investment, we can not go much further. GRB has a lot to offer in terms of understanding prioritization of women’s needs and requisite systems for gender responsive development outcomes. That’s why it is important from my perspective that principles of GRB - transparency, accountability and participation - guide the shaping of a new development framework.
Interview by Angela Zarro, SID
This is a follow up article of SID Journal Development Vol. 55.3 Gender and Economic Justice produced in partnership with AWID.
Zohra Khan is Programme Manager of the Gender Responsive Budgeting Programme at UN Women, New York.
Photo: UN Women/Flickr