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Gender mainstreaming in practice: lessons from the EU budget

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 16 Jun 2021

ICAEW’s Women in EU Finance Network recently hosted an online panel debate looking at how incorporating a gender perspective into fiscal planning and budgetary processes can help with the assessment and targeting of the effects of policy actions and public spending on different genders.

Informed by a special report issued by the European Court of Auditors, the event considered European and international experiences while sharing insights on the practical challenges associated with gender budgeting. Speakers included Dr Katharina Bryan (European Court of Auditors), Alfrun Tryggvadottir (OECD), Janja Kaker Kavar (Permanent Representation of Slovenia to the EU) and Alison Ring OBE FCA (ICAEW).

The special report from the ECA

Katharina Bryan (European Court of Auditors) kicked off the discussion by summarising the purpose and findings of the special report. The report came about because gender equality is a fundamental value in the EU, included in its international commitments, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and necessary for economic growth. 

Gender budgeting in other words actively promoting equality between women and men at all stages and in all areas of policy making and implementation, is comprised of four key elements:

1) Gender analysis in impact assessments

2) Identifying gender-related objectives in the EU budget framework

3) Monitoring the achievement of objectives through indicators.

4) Accountability through reporting

Of the four key elements, the special report found that very little attention has been paid to gender analysis. Sex-disaggregated data, that is any data on individuals broken down by sex, was often either non-existent or not used. Very few gender related objectives were identified in the EU budget performance framework. Without indicators there was very little information on the impact of the EU budget on gender equality, which reflects on reporting. 

The report also looked at the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the funds allocated to pandemic recovery and build back, and found that the lack of common indicators may make it hard to follow up on gender equality in this very sizable recovery package. 

The overall conclusions of the report are that gender mainstreaming has not yet been applied across the EU budget and the European Commission has not lived up to its commitments. Recommendations for the future include the strengthening of the institutional framework, the carrying out of gender analyses, the collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data (so we know what is happening currently), the use of gender-related objectives and indicators, and a system of tracking and assessment of and reporting on gender equality within national recovery plans.

Slovenia: a national case study

Janja Kaker Kavar (Permanent Representation of Slovenia to the EU) next reported on the national situation in Slovenia as a case study into gender mainstreaming. She said that Slovenia does not yet have gender budgeting. They will begin the process with awareness and training activities within each ministry to acquaint coordinators with gender budgeting principles. 

Within their recovery and resilience plans post-pandemic, Slovenia has made some recommended guidelines as a first step towards gender budgeting. Firstly, they need to get an understanding of the dynamics of women and men and highlight the gender differences in society. Next, knowing the target groups and the disparities between women and men is necessary. Thirdly, there will be a thorough review of concrete planned measures on gender equality and their expected effects. Finally, planned reforms and investments can be divided into groups of funding based on the promotion of equal opportunity.

Challenges remain in the process of making gender budgeting efficient. The first challenge is the collection of sex-disaggregated data. In Slovenia, at many levels this is an obstacle. Also, there is a need for data on the intersection of different categories, ie, older women who may be vulnerable. 

The international perspective

Next the discussion moved from a national to an international perspective with a presentation from Alfrun Tryggvadottir (OECD). She pointed out that gender budgeting has to be tailor-made for a country, and it has to take into account country-specific features. 

Half of OECD countries have implemented gender budgeting and it is getting more widespread. Currently, countries are using different tools to achieve their goals. These include using the existing performance framework to integrate and implement gender budgeting, having gender-related expenditure within the budget framework, and integrating gender perspectives into the expenditure process. 

Common challenges found in different countries include the availability of gender specific data sets (sex-disaggregated data), lack of sustained political commitment, engagement, training and capacity building, institutional set-up (ie, how do different ministries work together), and monitoring and accountability frameworks (ie, how do you monitor that gender is being taken into account).

Two countries that are at the forefront of gender budgeting are Iceland and Canada. Iceland has been doing gender budgeting for a while and it is included in the central budget law. They have changed things gradually, including strengthening the budgetary framework and implementing training. They use specific tools to facilitate data gathering and ministries learn from each other about how to gather data. In Canada there is an increased use of sex-disaggregated data. There is also a high level of political commitment. Here gender is always taken into account in the budget.

The OECD has also made a number of recommendations to implement gender mainstreaming. Countries should use existing public financial management tools so there is no additional burden, train civil servants (capacity building), encourage cooperation between ministries and undertake budget decision-making through monitoring. 

Advice for public finance professionals

Finally, the conversation was concluded with remarks from Alison Ring OBE FCA (ICAEW). She made some comments on the challenges faced by those in the public sector carrying out the recommendations. The challenges are the same for implementing any policy.

Ring said accountability is key. Without audit evidence, accountants can’t change the world. Secondly, impact assessments must be used better. Public finance professionals must follow up and ask: was the intended outcome of a policy achieved? How do we improve in the next policy when something doesn’t work? She also suggested that we should learn lessons from countries that do gender budgeting well. Like Canada and Iceland, New Zealand’s budget has created a high level of social trust in the government, reinforcing the social contract.

There are some standard things we should consider, according to Ring. Without private sector engagement, we’re not going to achieve gender equality or the SDGs. Political and business leaders need to take meaningful action to bridge the public-private divide. Furthermore, over the last twenty years austerity and the pandemic have emphasised the inequality between men and women. We know that gender budgeting can help correct this inequality.

Click here to watch the full recording of Gender mainstreaming in practice: lessons from the EU budget.

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