Two government budget initiatives that have been implemented in countries around the world since the 1980s are participatory budgeting and gender responsive budgeting. Participatory budgeting focuses on involving citizens in the government budgeting process, especially those who have historically been excluded from the process such as women and the indigent. Gender Responsive Budgeting is an effort to use the government budgeting process and tools to promote gender equality and the realization of women's rights. The theme of this conference is the nexus of gender responsive budgeting and participatory budgeting in the context of the African experience.
Overview of Conference theme
In recent years, citizen expectations of government have been rising around the globe as illustrated in a 2012 study of world legislative bodies which found that "politicians are obliged to account publicly for their actions more regularly and routinely" than in the past (IPU & UNDP 2012, 3).
One mechanism being used by governments, worldwide, to gain (or regain) citizen trust has been participatory budgeting (PB), "a collaborative decision-making process which urges for citizen inclusion though local community representatives in deciding on the allocation of public resources on annual basis "(UN-HABITAT, 2008: 2). As of 2012, PB was being implemented in more than 1,500 places (Ganuza & Baiocchi, 2012) across the globe. Increased citizen participation has long been encouraged by scholars and seen as a way to foster good government, to increase social justice, and to help individuals become more informed citizens. Participatory budgeting (PB) is the most globally dispersed form of participatory democracy (Pateman, 2012), and has been promoted as a best practice by international institutions including the United Nations, the World Bank, and OECD.
The impetus behind participatory budgets varies across countries. Some governments are required to implement them by constitutional fiat, other governments are induced by international funding agencies, while PB efforts in other countries are sparked by reformers seeking to generate change in governing institutions. As PB has been implemented across the globe, the process has been driven by local economic concerns and the political environment.
Although there is an extensive literature on participatory budgeting, gender has not been at the forefront of the PB discussion. When gender has entered the discussion, the focus has generally been on inputs, i.e., how many women are participating in the PB process, rather than on the results of their participation. In comparison, and as evidenced by the first word in its name, gender is at the core of the second government budgeting initiative growing in use across the world – gender responsive budgeting (GRB). GRB can be defined as the incorporation of a gender dimension into the government budget process that includes planning, drafting, implementing and evaluating to ensure that budget policies take into consideration gender disparities. GRB thus brings together two issues that have generally not been associated with one another: gender equality and government budgeting.
GRB was first introduced in Australia in the 1980s. It was given impetus at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. At the conference the "Beijing Platform for Action” was unanimously adopted by delegates from more than 180 countries, calling on governments to consider a gender perspective in government policies including budgets, the single most important economic policy statement for most governments. The UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, set targets in eight areas for countries to achieve by 2015 including gender equality and empowering women, achieving universal primary education, and improving maternal health. The MDGs successor, the Sustainable Development Goals, approved by the United Nations in 2015, set goals and objectives for the international community to achieve by 2030. Goal 5 of its 17 broad goals explicitly calls for gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women.
Neither the MDGs nor the SDGs make specific reference to government budgets. However, one objective of SDG Goal 5 states that countries should "Adopt and strengthen sound policies...for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at all levels." Gender disparities are often unintentionally embedded in public policies, including those resulting specifically from government budget decisions. Gender responsive budget initiatives have emerged as a way for governments to use budget tools and analysis to identify differential impacts on women and men of budget priorities and policies.
The concept of GRB is now widespread. More than 80 countries across the world have initiated some form of gender budgeting, although these initiatives have varied from place to place (Stotsky, 2016). Some countries have adopted or modified specific fiscal policies and programs to help close gender gaps and contribute to women’s advancement. Others have begun a process of systematically collecting information on the different needs of women and men and the differential gender effects of fiscal policies, and using this information to inform government budget decisions. Some countries, however, are lagging in terms of setting up the administrative structure needed to implement gender budgeting; in other countries, such as South Africa and Australia, the initiative has waned with changes in government leadership. Gender activists, civil society organizations and academics have been lobbying to restart waning efforts and to spread the implementation of gender responsive budgets, worldwide. In this regard, there is need to pay more attention to gender budgeting as a gender mainstreaming strategy to achieve the gender equality outcomes set forth in the MDGs and the SDGs. A main challenge lies in the institutionalization of the gender budgeting concept. Other challenges that hinder progress towards the effective implementation of gender budgeting are technical. For example, the absence of gender disaggregated budget and programmatic information continues to impede implementation efforts and restricts opportunities for women to engage with the government on budgetary decisions in a constructive way. One way to address these challenges is to encourage women to become involved in participatory budgeting efforts in which citizens interact directly with government on budget matters.
Gender budgeting efforts have led to policy changes not only where there has been a recognition of gender inequities but also where there has been citizen action accompanied by the political will to use the budget to address these inequities.
Against this backdrop, the two day conference, which is centered around round-table paper presentations and discussions will provide a platform for international, regional and local academics, students and practitioners to share innovative ideas and perspectives on the nexus of participatory budgeting and gender responsive budgeting in the African context.