An ADB-supported project in Nepal helps some of the most disadvantaged women in the country learn trades and build careers once reserved for men. The country has made significant progress through gender responsive policies that allow greater participation of women in decision-making and employment. Photo by: Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

In September 2015, member states of the United Nations agreed a historic new agenda for people and planet — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Gender equality and empowering all women and girls is a cornerstone of this development agenda.

By tackling the structural drivers of women’s disadvantage, the 2030 Agenda sets out ambitious targets to ensure women and girls’ equal rights to economic resources, equal opportunities for leadership, an end to all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

Realizing this comprehensive vision will require strong political will matched by investments that are unprecedented in quantity and quality.  

This is a far cry from the current state of financing for gender equality. Globally, evidence shows that the financing allocated to address gender inequality is a fraction of what is needed. U.N. Women’s work on costing national action plans on gender equality indicates resource gaps of up to 90 percent, while data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that only a small proportion of total aid — around 30 percent — is responsive to women’s needs and interests. In the economic and productive sectors, just 2 percent of aid targets gender equality as a principal objective.

Additional financing is available, but the issue is setting the right priorities. Decisions on public spending are highly political and are often made without consultation. In these decisions, women and girls are often not prioritized. Public services that are most crucial for women’s rights, such as childcare or shelters for survivors of domestic violence, are often of poor quality, insufficient and severely underfunded. Austerity measures in many countries have exacerbated biases in public spending. In addition, mechanisms that make governments accountable to deliver on gender equality commitments often do not exist.

Investing in gender equality works

Gender responsive planning and budgeting is a strategic approach to addressing these gender biases. By introducing aspects of equality and equity into public spending, GRB brings gender awareness into government’s policies, plans, budgets and programs in order to improve the allocation of resources towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Many such initiatives have been undertaken over the past two decades, with GRB initiatives implemented in 73 countries in 2014. When implemented effectively with full commitment and political support of governments, GRB has shown promising results for increased investment for gender equality.

In Jordan, for example, budget allocations for gender and development programmes have doubled from $1.3 billion in 2013 to 3.3 billion in 2014. In Nepal, we see steady increases in the share of gender allocations in the national budget from 11 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2014-15.

Nepal has also made significant progress through gender responsive policies that allow greater participation of women in decision-making and employment. Roughly 30 percent of the country’s Constituent Assembly are now women and there are special provisions for women’s entry into civil services and public sector institutions including the police and army. To increase women’s labor force participation, tax exemptions are given to the private sector to encourage them to hire more female employees.

Rwanda is another example where a revision of laws and updated policies, coupled with strong government leadership, has resulted in an increased focus on addressing gender inequality through public spending. Under a revised law, gender responsive budgeting is a requirement in all sectors and at all levels, thus ensuring that budgets and programmes implemented by the government provide better and targeted services for women and girls.

Mexico offers a similar example, where a gender perspective has been mainstreamed into the budget since 2008, leading to a threefold increase in gender equality related investments. These experiences on GRB underscore the importance of linking public policies and budgets with advancing gender equality.

Tracking progress, sparking change

The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, as a key platform for promoting mutual learning and accountability, plays a significant role in supporting the implementation of the SDGs.

The indicator on gender equality — adopted as one of the 10 indicators in the monitoring framework of the GPEDC — measures the percentage of countries with systems that track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The GPEDC’s monitoring of this indicator serves two purposes: It indicates whether countries have GRB initiatives in place, and provides valuable evidence about the ways in which GRB is applied at country level, laying the groundwork for assessing their effectiveness.

Equally important is the potential for the monitoring work to prompt behaviour change. In the first monitoring round that took place in 2013-14, several countries that were not tracking allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment reported on efforts to introduce such a system.

As we move forward, we need a comprehensive response to address gender inequality that includes strong leadership at the country level, as well as effective policies and systems that explicitly attempt to close the inequality gap. Galvanizing political will to create an enabling environment for change, a legal framework that institutionalizes gender equality priorities in public policies and budgets, improved data and monitoring systems to ensure transparency and accountability in public spending, and including civil society actors in national planning and budgetary processes are all necessary to achieving gender equality.

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About the authors

  • Oped saminaanwar ed

    Samina Anwar

    Samina Anwar supports U.N. Women's country-level technical work on gender responsive budgeting and financing for gender equality.
  • Oped emilyesplen ed

    Emily Esplen

    Emily Esplen leads the work on gender equality and women’s rights at the OECD’s Development Cooperation Directorate.