Posted by Johann Seiwald and Tobias Polzer
A recent paper analyses the implementation of gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) in Austria, a country which pioneered reforms in this field and has been internationally recognized for its approach in making GRB a constitutional principle. A succession of awareness-building exercises and pilot projects led to the the design, preparation and implementation of the budget reform which incorporated GRB. This federal budget law reform was unanimously approved by Parliament in 2007.
The paper analyses two types of official documents published between 2013 and 2018: (i) the gender impact assessments relating to laws passed by Parliament, and (ii) audit reports issued by the Austrian Court of Audit. It looks at the implementation of GRB through the lens of diffusion theory, which seeks to explain how, why and at what rate new ideas and technology spread across and within different contexts and organizations. Does the evidence presented confirm that, over this period, (i) the coverage of GRB expanded and (ii) there was significant increase of gender-related policy measures that were supported by GRB analysis?
The evidence suggests that the diffusion of GRB has not been uniform across different types of government documents nor across ministries. Analysis of impact assessments shows little change in the coverage of gender analysis or a reduction in gender inequality. Many changes seem to have been symbolic rather than real. For example, some ministries may make only general references to gender equality or the lack of availability of data rather than carrying out an in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis. Ministries with stronger quality assurance institutions—such as an assigned division or a gender focal point that reviews the gender impact assessment before it is submitted to the parliament—are more likely to effectively use GRB.
Audit reports display a more encouraging pattern. The number of reports which include a gender analysis increased from 15 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2018 and gender-related recommendations from 3 to 16 percent. This is remarkable because the Court of Audit is under no formal obligation to undertake gender analysis, but nevertheless has been driven by a commitment to implement the guiding constitutional principle.
The study provides only partial confirmation that, at the time it was carried out, the constitutional principle had been legitimized in actual practices across the government, which vary across sectors and ministries. On the other hand, there is no indication of a ‘roll back’ of the policy, which is also evidenced by the fact that gender issues have continued to feature in a range of government reports published since 2018.
 Johann Seiwald is a Senior Budget Expert at the Austrian Parliamentary Budget Office and a consultant for the IMF and World Bank. Tobias Polzer is an Associate Professor at the University of Sussex, UK. His research interests include public financial management and public governance. The authors of the report were awarded the Carlo Masini Award for Innovative Scholarship 2020 by the Public and Nonprofit Division of the Academy of Management.
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