Decentralise spending to boost gender equality, says expert

6 Jun 18

Gender budgeting decisions should not be left to finance ministries alone but taken by local governments, state-owned enterprises or line ministries, a public finance expert has told PF International.

Bryn Welham, research associate at the Overseas Development Institute, said lower-level authorities should play a bigger role in allocating and using public spending to improve the prospects of women and girls.

Though gender impacts should always be taken into consideration as part of “good budgeting”, the decision as to where money is best spent to improve equality should not be left solely to the finance ministries, Welham said.

He said the “small decisions”, such as where to invest in roads or services to best benefit women and girls, are made by lower-level authorities and not usually finance ministries.

“A detailed review of the impact of different public expenditure programmes on women and men can be a very useful tool, but the job is something for local authorities or line ministries to manage the detail of –  it’s not something the ministry of finance can really do itself,” he said

Gender budgeting is the process at both national and local levels by which issues of equality are incorporated within the budgetary process and includes assessments of the budget impacts on men and women.

Civil society groups, such as UK’s Women’s Budget Group, also sometimes perform an impact assessment after a budget is published to demonstrate the impact on men and women.  

Welham, who has previously worked for the UK Department for International Development and has advised the finance ministry of Malawi, said: “A good budget is a gender budget, and a gender budget is a good budget.

“A well-designed budget should be thinking about a number of issues alongside gender equity, including inter-generational fairness, the impact of public spending on rich versus poor, urban versus rural, young versus old – all these things should ideally be taken into account as public expenditure plans are set.”

But he added that finance ministries may not always be best places to decide where money will make the most positive impact.

Welham told PF International: “Most of the oversight, challenge and supervision effort regarding whether public spending is gender equitable should really be focused on lower-level delivery agencies and what they are doing with the money they are given, rather than expecting the finance ministry to somehow be determining detailed policy for, for example, how and where to build toilets for girls in school.”

The Overseas Development Institute focused on gender budgeting at the European Development Days in Brussels on Tuesday.

Systems should be reviewed to ensure that public spending has a positive gender impact, the panel said.

However, it can be difficult to change attitudes in lower-income countries, which tend to disregard gender impacts in their public spending, Florence Kuteesa, Uganda’s former budget director, told the panel.

Welham also added that public spending is not the only means of improving gender equality in society – laws, regulations and political or social leadership also play a big role.

“Public spending is one way of doing things,” he said. “But laws, regulation and political leadership is another part of the package.”

He added that although more can be done to make sure that public spending is delivering gender equity, it is not just a question of money but one of service delivery and design.

“Trying to estimate, measure and judge the impact of your public spending is a great thing – governments should be doing this continually across their programmes. 

“But I am less convinced by the approach of reviewing budget lines to declare that a certain percentage of the budget is ‘dedicated’ to a certain cause, such as climate, gender or child well-being.”

Read PF International’s feature of how budgeting can be used to achieve equality – as well as provide an economic boost.

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