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Mainstreaming gender perspectives in national budgets.
January 2001

The work undertaken to bring gender perspectives to bear on national budgets since the mid 1980s has often been rather loosely defined. Initially the initiatives were called "women's budgets"; later they were called "gender budgets" to reflect the ongoing shift from a focus on women to the focus on gender and the relations between women and men. Another commonly used term is "gender sensitive budgets". More recently there is broader use of the term "mainstreaming gender perspectives into national budgets", which is a more appropriate term since the objective is not to produce a separate gender budget but to incorporate relevant gender perspectives into national budget processes.

The objectives of the initiatives have also evolved over time. At the basis of all the initiatives is the need to make national budget processes more accountable from a gender perspective, to ensure that policy and budget decisions take gender perspectives into account and that policies on gender equality are matched with adequate resource allocations. A related objective is to increase women's participation in economic processes.


There is a very clear mandate on incorporating gender perspectives into budget processes. For example, the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly to follow-up implementation of the Platform for Action in June 2000 (A/S-23/10/Rev.1) clearly states:

"65. The realization and the achievement of the goals of gender equality, development and peace need to be supported by the allocation of necessary human, financial and material resources for specific and targeted activities to ensure gender equality at the local, national, regional and international levels as well as by enhanced and increased international cooperation. Explicit attention to these goals in the budgetary processes at the national, regional and international levels is essential."

"73 (b). Incorporate a gender perspective into the design, development, adoption and execution of all budgetary processes, as appropriate, in order to promote equitable, effective and appropriate resource allocation and establish adequate budgetary allocations to support gender equality and development programmes that enhance women's empowerment and develop the necessary analytical and methodological tools and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation;"

Historical development of the initiatives

The attempts to link gender perspectives to national budgets began in Australia in the mid 1980s. The initiative was undertaken within government and was pushed by the national machinery for gender equality. An important feature of the Australian initiative was, however, the fact that all line ministries were required annually to prepare a report on the implications of their expenditure (and sometimes also revenue) for women and men respectively. At the height of the process such reports were prepared for the Federal Budget as well as for the budgets of all states and territories. There was, however, little involvement of civil society in this process and this is often given as one of the main reasons for the decline in interest in the budget initiative - i.e. the lack of demand from outside government. Currently only one territory continues the work. The Australian initiative, however, provided inspiration for many other countries. In 1993 an NGO in Canada undertook a one-off initiative - the development of a women's budget. This initiative was closely linked to releasing resources tied up in the military for development purposes. Canada has no formal budget initiative on gender equality but has done some assessment of the gender perspectives of taxation, as has the United Kingdom.

In the mid 1990s an initiative on budgets was started in South Africa by NGOs, academics and parliamentarians. A "women's budget" was prepared annually for four years and a series of reports prepared in the fifth year. In 1997 some very innovative work was initiated in Tanzania by an NGO - Tanzanian Gender Networking Project (TGNP). This NGO was interested in working in the area of budgets only if the Ministry of Finance was also actively involved. This is probably the best example of real collaboration of government and civil society on bringing attention to gender perspectives in the national budget. Other countries around the world have been involved in similar initiatives in budget processes at different levels throughout the 1990s. It is estimated that efforts have been made to influence budget processes from a gender perspective in many different ways in a total of 42 countries globally.*

Evolution of approach

Over the 15 years these initiatives have been undertaken, there has been a clear evolution of approach - from, for example, a completely government-led approach in Australia and an externally-initiated approach in South Africa, to a collaborative (joint government and NGO) approach in Tanzania. Initially the focus on analyzing how the budget would impact on both women and men. A further development was the attempt to link the budget to policy statements on gender equality - to point out glaring gaps in allocation of resources to match policy goals. The initial focus in many initiatives was also on the budget at national or state levels but increasing attention is being given to local-level resource allocation processes. The early approaches focused on analyzing the budget already formulated. In recent years there has been a shift to trying to influence the actual formulation of budgets. There has also been a move from an almost exclusive focus on expenditures to including a focus on revenues, including taxation.

An alternative approach to the institutionalization of this work has been developed in the Philippines. Since 1996 every government-related agency is required to allocate at least five percent of their budget for gender equality work. The risks of specifying such a small proportion of the budget have, however, been raised as this could reinforce the marginalization of women in relation to access to resources. Specific support is provided to agencies by the national machinery for gender equality to facilitate implementation of the five percent goal. In other countries, for example in USA, there has been a strong focus on training individuals and groups in civil society, including women's groups and networks, on analysis of budgets and lobbying techniques to influence the formulation of budgets at different levels.

What has become very clear is the need for broad involvement of many actors - government, NGOs, civil society groups, academics, parliamentarians, etc. The need for the Ministry of Finance and other such bodies to be actively involved has also been well established. Since an important basis for the work is a sound knowledge of the gender issues in relation to different sectors, the involvement of women's groups and networks and academics is essential. A number of different activities are involved in the process of applying gender perspectives to national budgets, including research, development of analytical frameworks, development of guidelines and other tools and development and provision of training programmes.

Support for these initiatives

Most of the early work was funded by bilateral development cooperation agencies or other foundations such as Ford Foundation. The Commonwealth became involved in supporting this work in the mid-1990s and has initiated similar initiatives in a number of Commonwealth countries, such as Barbados, Fiji, St Kitts and Nevis, Sri Lanka and South Africa. UNDP and UNIFEM began supporting this work in the mid-1990s. A conference, organized by the Government of Belgium, Nordic Council of Ministers, Commonwealth Secretariat, IDRC and UNIFEM, in Brussels in 2001, called for a global effort to bring greater attention to gender perspectives in national budgets.

* These include Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, St Kitts and Nevis, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. There may be more work carried out in other countries- small initiatives at local level, for example - which is not documented.


Focal Point for Women.

Gender Mainstreaming IANWGE Contact
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