Tips for making gender-responsive budgets a reality

Participants at the opening meeting of the sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / U.N.

The two-week long Commission on the Status of Women, the largest annual intergovernmental forum on women’s rights, kicked off at the U.N. headquarters this week, drawing thousands of nongovernmental organizations and civil society activists to New York, despite some concern over the impact of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on participation.

In a side event on Monday — one of the few before a snowstorm temporarily brought events to a halt — this year’s theme of women’s economic empowerment was brought into focus with a discussion on gender-responsive budgeting.

This tool, which addresses gender bias in government planning, policies and spending, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Yesterday, experts were on hand from Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, Austria and Mexico to share their experiences in introducing and strengthening budgets to help ensure women have equal opportunities, as well as children, people living with disabilities, and others.

Devex spoke with one featured speaker, Emilia Reyes, the director of policies and public budgets for the Mexico City-based NGO Equidad de Género (or Gender Equity), which consults with governments in and outside of Latin America on creating gender-responsive governments. Here, she offers her top tips on what it takes to create budgets that consider gender, and what civil society can do to help make this happen.

Approaching gender-responsive budgets with new governments or partners

It comes down to recognizing that “we are only the facilitators of this, but [the partners] are the experts,” said Reyes, who worked with Latin American governments leading up to the Lima climate change conference in 2014 on gender-responsive adaptation and mitigation proposals.

“When you are from the outside, you cannot say I have a great program, and you give them this. You need to work with what is there, so they bring this and start reviewing diagnostics with a gender perspective.”

Questions to consider include: What are the needs of the populations and groups that will be covered by the program? What inequalities persist, and how are gender roles related to the configuration of those inequalities?

If governments can disaggregate programs, policies and basic infrastructure — such as bathrooms, in the case of gender or disability, but also by race and class — they will have a more effective program at minimal cost, Reyes said.

Civil society partners need to think technically

“For civil society organizations, our role is [mainly] to monitor. For instance, we do a very good tracking of budgetary allocations so engaging more in the way in which governments release their annual budgets and making an analysis…. This tracking can be very useful, because sometimes a government says something is a priority but if there is not a budgetary allocation, you know that it is not a priority,” Reyes said.

This type of tracking of budgetary allocations is also useful, she explains, in understanding how money is spent. The work taps into a very technical agenda, but at the same time it is very “noble” as it gets into the “core of government actions without actually having to go into the kitchen,” Reyes said.

“It’s public information, and if it isn’t, then it can become so with the idea of promoting transparency.”

Hone what you know best

“This is a technical field, but anyone can learn how to do it. It sits you at the table with governments, with ministries of finance, with the ministries who actually have the most power in the government… my advice is to understand the technical aspect of [government policies and budgets],” said Reyes.

“I am not an economist but I learned it, not by an intuition, but an awareness that … for access to health and other basic services, [women] need to have access to the budget.”

Her suggestion is for interested civil society groups or other people curious about gender-responsive budgeting to stick to what they know best and try to strengthen budgets or programs within their own area of expertise.

“For people who are experts in their own fields, it is easier to understand what are the actions and the consequences,” she said.

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About the author

  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.