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January 13, 2019

The need for gender budgeting: Part - II

Opinion

January 13, 2019

In the first part of this series, we provided the overall rationale for gender budgeting and some specifics of how it has been implemented in Pakistan in the past. In this article, let’s consider some of the broader contours of the strategies and tools used for gender budgeting and the role of subnational/provincial governments in its operationalisation.

As stated in the previous article, the literature on gender budgeting (Welham et al, 2018; Stotsky, 2016) makes a case for it, given the inequitable market processes that require fiscal policies and administrative measures to build better social welfare outcomes.

The public-expenditure plans of many countries don’t evaluate the different roles, resources and responsibilities of women and men. Therefore, gender-blind budgeting process can reinforce and reproduce those structural inequalities between women and men unless a conscious effort is made to reduce those gender gaps through fiscal policies and administrative actions.

Research also makes a case to recognise other differences in society between people belonging to various income groups and classes – such as age, urban versus rural differences, among others. Obviously, gender is not the only source of difference to gauge the impact of public-expenditure choices and it is important to be cognisant of other differences in society as well. However, these categories of difference in society also interact with each other. For example, women could be often worse off among the poor if we take into account the interaction between social class and gender.

In terms of strategies and tools, there is an argument (Welham et al, 2018) in favour of using the term ‘gender-responsive public-expenditure management’ over gender-responsive budgeting as the revenue side of the gender-based budgeting process is not well-developed yet. So, it might be better to focus on the expenditure side of fiscal policy.

Gender budgeting is also difficult in the low-capability contexts of developing countries. However, it has a relatively great chance of success when the Ministry of Finance takes greater ownership of the entire process. Finance ministries in low-capacity contexts often have weak “public-expenditure management systems”, ranging from poor forecasting of the economy to ineffective scrutiny at the audit stage. They also have limited institutional resources.

Finance ministries in low-income countries are also often subjected to economic shocks that disrupt the planned preparation and implementation of the budget. Given these constraints, it is even more important that the finance ministry is committed to gender-responsive budgeting.

While designing different approaches to gender budgeting, it is important to be cognisant of specific gender-related programmes, general public services that are mostly used by women, and the bulk of social services that work without a gender focus, which are considered to be gender-neutral and are actually gender-blind.

The sustainability of gender budgeting is another major issue. As a result, there is a need for gender audits; citizen report cards; efforts to review and monitor social services that specifically target women; and the evaluation of gender-focused programmes. As discussed in the previous article, the availability of sex-disaggregated data is the starting point for all these interventions.

Pakistan-specific literature illustrates that various tools of gender budgeting – such as gender-aware policy appraisal, benefit-incidence analysis, beneficiary assessments, public-expenditure tracking, gender-budget statements and gender-call circulars – were used in the past.

The role of subnational/provincial governments is crucial in gender budgeting (Stotsky, 2016). Public services are provided by the subnational governments. Hence, it is important that they are reoriented to gender-aware public expenditure analysis and management. Transfers to provincial governments from the federal government could also be linked as a means of providing incentives to subnational governments to implement gender budgeting.

In Pakistan, the role of provincial governments is crucial after the 18th Amendment. Therefore, any attempts to systematically reintroduce gender budgeting need to take into account the role of provincial governments. According to the literature on the subject, other than education and health, the provision of water, electricity, transport, sanitation are also extremely relevant to women’s needs. Decentralisation at the local level also needs to be taken into account. When women are in leadership positions at the local government level, they prioritise expenditure on women-related infrastructure and social services.

Even before the 18th Amendment, Punjab was pilot-tested in a gender-budgeting project. Other than one document that mentions a district in Sindh, research is mostly focused on the 2005-2007 pilot phase of gender budgeting in Punjab. According to Chakraborty (2016), the Punjab finance department issued a budget call circular in 2006-2007 and the required provision of sex-disaggregated data on public-sector employment. This analysis helped in relatively increasing women’s employment, highlighting the gender wage gap and setting up more daycare centres. Gender-disaggregated benefit-incidence analysis was also undertaken in education and health sectors.

In the I-SAPS (2016) report on the gender-responsive financing of education with a comparative analysis of Punjab and Sindh, Punjab fares better than Sindh. Gender parity in enrolment in Punjab improved by three percent during the three years before the study was conducted while it decreased by three percent in Sindh.

The provision of basic facilities, such as drinking water, toilets and boundary walls, are also better for girls in Punjab as compared to Sindh. However, the majority of development budget is not disaggregated by sex and is gender-neutral in both provinces. According to Fizza Fareed of the Lahore School of Economics, gender budgeting didn’t lead to the desired results in the provision of education and health in Punjab. Poor households need to be supported with the education of girls and the government also needs to strengthen primary and preventive healthcare services.

There are enough compelling reasons to illustrate that gender budgeting should be reintroduced in Pakistan, preferably through legislation or national policy. It needs to be implemented, not only at the federal level but also at the provincial and local-government levels. Change in the budgeting process isn’t going to take place easily. However, concerted efforts over the long term can make a difference.

Concluded

The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist.

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