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The unstoppable rise of gender budgeting

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 26 Jul 2021

An increasing number of countries are adopting gender budgeting processes to centre gender disparities in their decision-making - and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the norm, according to Álfrún Tryggvadóttir, senior policy analyst at OECD.

On paper, gender budgeting might seem relatively easy to implement, but the reality is a bit more complicated. Essentially, it’s about including a gender perspective in governments’ budgeting process, and it usually sits within the Ministry of Finance. “It is most effective to have someone responsible within the budget division who is looking constantly at the gender perspective within budget proposals,” says Álfrún Tryggvadóttir, senior policy analyst at OECD. “It can be a complicated task.”

Gender budgeting originated in Australia, through its 1984 initiative that required government ministries to analyse the impact of the annual budget on women and girls, with a focus on public expenditure. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing brought it to greater prominence. As of 2018, 17 nations had adopted a form of gender budgeting within their annual budgets. 

It’s extremely important that the finance people within government and the civil service are involved in the gender budgeting process. It’s the money that gets the political attention and encourages action. The OECD emphasises the importance of stakeholder engagement and cooperation within the gender budgeting process.

There are certain common features that all gender budgeting projects need in order to work. The first is political impetus – you need the politicians to champion it in order for it to stick. “You have the push in the beginning, but you also need to sustain the political commitment,” says Tryggvadóttir. “When it is embedded within the budget process, it is more likely that politicians keep an eye on gender perspective throughout the budgeting process, and over a longer period of time.” 

You also can't implement gender budgeting without having good data. It's very difficult to implement gender budgeting without having some sort of performance framework, Tryggvadóttir explains. You also cannot create a gender budget in isolation.

“You can't work within silos and be focused on one component, you have to have different stakeholders within the administration working together,” she says.

In many other ways, the approach is unique to that country. It depends on the overall structure of the administration, for example, or the relationship between Parliament and its ministries. When gender budgeting is included in the budgeting process also depends on the individual nation. “All the details need to be more tailor-made to the specific countries.”

The countries leading the way when it comes to gender budgeting include Canada, Iceland and Austria. Each is taking a slightly different approach. Austria has embedded gender budgeting within its constitution. Canada and Iceland have strong engagement from their politicians, regular collaboration between various ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office, and a commitment to training and constant improvement. “It's difficult to push it in the beginning, but once you have it rolling, it becomes a mainstream exercise. In Iceland, you don't have a politician that would not keep an eye on gender, because it has become this regular exercise.”

It's very difficult to implement and have gender budgeting in place if you don’t provide training for ministries, allow them to explore and to make mistakes, says Tryggvadóttir. “It's not a simple undertaking. You have to allow ministers to learn and be open minded to changing the process along the way.”

It is critical that there is also some kind of follow-up mechanism in place to ensure that improvements are made as a result of including gender in the budgeting process. When it’s done right, it can filter out into wider society and the economy. “Parliament decides on some gender-related perspective in the budget, which results in a policy change. Then of course, that is discussed in newspapers, and it grasps the attention of wider society. We definitely see that in advanced countries.”

It’s been a slow-building movement, but the uptake in gender budgeting is accelerating. Soon it will reach a tipping point where it will become necessary to keep pace with the rest of the world. “It's something that, at some point, most countries will have in place.”

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