The multiple challenges of gender budgeting

4 Sep 18

Gender budgeting is still not being exploited to its full potential, says Newcastle University’s Ileana Steccolini. Here she explains some reasons why. 

 

Ample evidence has shown that ensuring a better gender balance in policies, organisations and society is not only right and fair, but also economically desirable.

There appears to be strong support on the positive effects of gender responsive policies, and of gender budgeting.

Paradoxically, however, this ‘taken-for-grantedness’ of gender budgeting positive effects does not appear to guarantee it becoming necessarily mainstream. 

On the contrary, evidence suggest that gender budgeting remains less widespread than it may be expected, and while some impacts have been pointed out (eg changes in policies), its full potential is probably far from being reaped.

Below possible challenges the gender budgeting movement is facing in the present context are discussed, concerning the possible lack of local stakeholders’ involvement and political commitments, as well as the availability of resources.

Strengthening a focus on stakeholders’ involvement?

Gender budgeting is no longer a battle brought forward by feminist or radical movements, but rather promoted as a good practice by most international and supranational institutions.

This may provide a strong support for its adoption internationally and in a ‘top down fashion’, but if not complemented by strong commitment by national governments, civic society and potential ‘local’ stakeholders, may condemn gender budgeting to be seen as yet the umpteenth ‘elite’ technical tool promoted by distant ‘technocracies’.

The first challenge faced by the gender budget 'movement' is then to ensure that those who can benefit from the spread of gender responsive practices and policies are made aware of the issues at stake, how they may benefit from gender budgeting, and are involved in and committed to the related processes.

They also need to be put in the position to hold their governments accountable for its introduction and implementation (and for the related consequences on their lives, on society, on the economy).

Climbing the ladder in the domestic political agenda

Inequality still remains one of the major challenges of our time.

Yet, it appears that gender inequality struggles to make it to the priority list of today’s governments and political parties.

Especially in the current context, where populist tendencies and social media influence are becoming stronger, the political agenda has come, even more than before, to be dominated by issues which immediately attract voters’ and politicians’ attention, such as immigration, terrorism and crime, Brexit, or natural or human-induced disasters.

In this context, in spite of the increasing worries about phenomena like feminicides, or the impact of aging populations on the system of care and the pension system, gender issues often come after a long list of other pressing issues, dictated by consensus-seeking logics.

Incentives are thus needed to ensure that governments and politicians commit not only to a formal use of gender budgeting, but embrace it as an underlying philosophy guiding the policy cycle (ie which translates in changes in policies, budget allocations, and more generally culture).

This requires ways to ensure that governments are kept accountable to their electorate for their commitment to gender budgeting and gender responsiveness.

For example, by making gender budgeting, the related benefits, and the related results, impacts on policies and political choices more visible, in easy and accessible ways, to the general public.

Indeed, while in principle gender budgeting should serve, among other things, to make more visible the differential impacts for men and women of political decisions, not much of the related information seeps through to the general public, whose awareness of the impact of choices on genders may still remain limited, but whose consensus is central to political parties and populist movements.

Without this visibility to the main stakeholders, it may be difficult to ensure that gender budgeting and gender responsive policies become central in domestic political agendas.

Securing capacity and availability of data

While political and stakeholder’s commitment are necessary conditions to precipitate the positive changes related to gender budgeting, there are other factors which are seen more as enablers of such changes, including, among others, availability (or lack) of data and of the underlying capacities and resources.

Similar to parallel reforms (such as performance based budgeting), there is evidence that in many experiences they have either enhanced the possibility of successful adoption and implementation, or represented factors hampering them.

At the same time, commitment by interested parties may be crucial in securing the necessary resources and capacities.

Simone Rensch here explores in depth the benefits of gender budgeting

  • Ileana Steccolini
    Ileana Steccolini

    Professor of accounting & finance at Newcastle University and CIPFA government faculty board member

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