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Gender Budgeting - Just more Bureaucracy?

The fortunes of gender budgeting have fluctuated in and out of vogue with both political cycles and interest. More recently it is having somewhat of a renaissance, with now over 110 countries[1] reporting that they are experimenting with gender budgeting in some form.

Gender equality is critical for strong and inclusive economic growth and sustainable development[2]. However, significant gender gaps remain in many countries, made wider by the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the vulnerability of gender equality to economic shocks.

Gender budgeting is understanding that government policies and budgets impact men and women differently. Yet despite the role it can play in helping us to understand the impact of our policy choices, it is often dismissed. PFM practitioners too are quick to point out their gripes. Among the common ones:

  • Why should we spend time on “emerging” issues like gender - and climate - when we have problems with more foundational PFM practices?
  • With high debt levels and fiscal consolidation pressures, we don’t have room to spend more money on gender equality!
  • We are busy finance ministries - we don’t need more administrative work to do. Gender budgeting is extra paperwork and compliance.

    But to quickly dismiss gender budgeting as a waste of time and effort - is also to dismiss good budget and public financial management. Consider this:

  • Do you think it is reasonable for citizens to understand where public resources are being spent?
  • Do you think it is reasonable for citizens to expect that, when decisions are made and resources are allocated, the intended impact of those decisions is well understood?
  • Do you think it is reasonable for citizens to expect that government policies are working, are making a difference? And if they are not, for the government to do something different?


If you are a dedicated PFM official or engaged public citizen, you probably think the answer to all three questions is: “Yes! That does sound quite reasonable”. These questions of where money is being spent, who policies impact, and whether they are working – are basic questions of good PFM. In answering these questions, gender budgeting is strengthening and reinforcing good PFM practices. The same arguments can be made for green budgeting.


To think gender budgeting means more money for women or to assert that there is no use for gender budgeting in times of fiscal consolidation, entirely misses the point of gender budgeting. Yes, part of gender budgeting is identifying gender gaps, setting goals, developing strategies, designing policies, and allocating resources to close gender gaps. And this may involve additional funding or for funding to be re-prioritized. But the other, arguably more powerful, element of gender budgeting is the active consideration of what is ‘the unintended’ impact of our policy choices on gender equality.


All spending is already potentially having an impact on gender equality – but without gender budgeting - policy makers don’t know what that impact is. They might not even realize that there is an impact. Helping policy makers understand the unintended impact that a decision (including savings decisions!) can have on gender equality – before a decision is taken, can have a big impact on gender equality.


For example, in providing support to businesses impacted by COVID, some governments relied on records of registered business owners. This makes a lot of sense - until you apply a gender lens and uncover that registered business owners are predominately male – and although there are more women business owners, they are mainly in the informal sector, and therefore were not eligible for support through the pandemic.

Examination of the ‘unintended’ impact of policy on gender outcomes – is one of the most powerful actions you can take when it comes to implementing Gender Budgeting. To get the ‘biggest bang from your buck’ with gender budgeting start looking at the unintended impact of major policy initiatives - Ask who is impacted by this policy? Did we intend that?

As the budget process is deadline driven, don’t over complicate the analysis or aim for perfection before making a start in analyzing the gender impact of policy. Take a targeted approach – depth of analysis should reflect the size of the policy. Yes, analyzing the potential impact of policies on gender requires data but as the example above shows, not necessarily extremely complex data. And yes, data gaps will exist, but if there is never demand or appetite for better data on these types of issues, how does data improve?


As for the Ministry of Finance – for too long gender budgeting has been an isolated effort by ministries of women affairs and the occasional donor-supported line ministry. But for real impact – countries need Ministry of Finance engagement. Why? The Finance Ministry is critical to putting the ‘budget’ into gender budgeting. What gets funded, gets done. Goals and plans only become policy when they are allocated resources – and so it is the Ministry of Finance who holds the key to making sure that policy decisions are taken with regard to priorities and impact.


With a robust budget decision making process in place, adding a gender perspective need not be laborious. Finance ministries should already be looking at WHO is impacted by a policy - this is just to add the gender dimension. Analysis is prepared by line ministries in consultation with Ministry of Women – so finance ministries just need to ask the challenging questions something they are highly experienced at already – “Does this policy align with the goals it is seeking to achieve, does this policy make sense, who is this policy impacting, will it work”?



1 IMF survey on GB Practices

2 Ostry, Jonathan D., Jorge Alvarez, Raphael Espinoza, and Chris Papageorgiou. 2018. “Economic Gains from Gender Inclusion: New Mechanisms, New Evidence.” IMF Staff Discussion Note 18/06, International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC.