Can Public Financial Management Encourage More Opportunities for Men and Women? PEFA Can Tell you How!

Martin Bowen, Urka Zrinski

February 27, 2020

Pefa gender
Posted by Martin Bowen and Urška Zrinski[1]

Many governments are thinking more about the effects on gender in the design, implementation, and evaluation of budget policies. For example, in Rwanda and Ukraine, governments are informing budget policy processes and decision-making with sex-disaggregated data. Similarly, in Canada and Iceland, the governments use this type of data to evaluate how new budget policy proposals may have different effects on men and women, youth and elderly. In Austria and the Netherlands, supreme audit institutions carry out such assessments in a form of gender audits. In Andalucía, Spain and Morocco, governments prepare reports on the impacts of the budget on gender. Also, in Fiji, the legislature scrutinizes the budget from a gender impact perspective.

This growing interest in gender and public financial management (PFM) has been actively supported by the international community. The IMF and the OECD have carried out research to increase understanding of which aspects of PFM are most important in addressing gender specific needs. UN Women has devoted significant resources to supporting gender equality by providing thought leadership and technical assistance on gender responsive budgeting.

More than 80 countries have undertaken some form of gender responsive budgeting, but the approach has also attracted criticism. Some argue that we need more evidence of the impact of PFM on gender equality.[2] Others dismiss the approach as putting additional pressures on ministries of finance to manage already complex budgeting processes frequently with limited resources.[3]

Further research would help deepen understanding of the impact of well-designed gender related PFM tools on gender equality over the long run. However, PFM has a role to play in delivering on what is now an international consensus focused on ensuring gender equality in government policy and institutions.[4]

For example, for PFM reform to be instrumental in improving one of the generally agreed three core objectives—namely efficient service delivery—governments need to be able to track information on the beneficiaries of public services, including on a gender basis. The design of PFM systems also needs to consider beneficiaries’ differing needs and delivering on those to ensure distributive equity; as well as evaluating and scrutinizing those policies to confirm they achieved the attended objectives.

This does not take away from the fact that governments have a variety of other levers to address these issues and that PFM may not always be the most appropriate lever to achieve specific outcomes, but emerging evidence shows it as one of the tools that can, and should be, added to government’s arsenal when seeking to tackle ingrained levels of gender inequality.

The Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) program has developed a new supplementary optional framework for assessing gender responsive PFM.

Governments will be able to use the new optional PEFA framework for assessing gender responsive PFM and to understand the extent to which their PFM systems respond to the differing needs of men and women and various subgroups within these categories, such as youth, elderly and people with disabilities. The framework will also help to raise awareness as to how gender considerations can be further integrated into PFM systems throughout the budget cycle.

As is the case for most tools of this nature, governments will need to interpret the results of the assessment with care. Even countries that are considered champions of gender responsive budgeting—such as Austria, Canada, Rwanda, Ukraine—may not get the highest scores on all PEFA gender responsive PFM indicators. That does not mean that gender considerations are not integrated into PFM systems but that there are aspects of PFM where this could be strengthened.

Similarly, the design of this particular framework does not mean that other areas of focus such as climate change or corruption are less important in the PFM sphere—if anything greater linkages should be further explored; for example, there is some evidence that climate change may impact more severely on women[5]–but it does aim to be another stepping stone in establishing links between PFM and service delivery beneficiaries and ensuring distributive equity. 


[1] Martin Bowen is Senior Public Sector Specialist and Urška Zrinski is Public Sector Specialist at the PEFA Secretariat.

[2] See, for example, Chakraborty L., Ingrams M. and Singh Y. 2017. Effectiveness of Gender Budgeting on Gender Equality and Fiscal Space: Empirical Evidence from Asia Pacific. GrOW Working Paper Series. International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Retrieved from: 

[3] See, for example, Welham, B., K. Barnes-Robinson, D. Mansour-Ille, and R. Okhandiar. 2018. Gender Responsive Public Expenditure Management: A Public Finance Management Introductory Guide. London: Overseas Development Institute.

[4] See, for example, the IMF’s work on understanding the role of fiscal policies in addressing inequalities:

[5] See, for example, Alam, M., Bhatia, R., & Mawby, B. 2015. Women and Climate Change: Impact and Agency in Human Rights, Security, and Economic Development. Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Washington DC, USA. Retrieved from:

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.