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Gender budgeting — a pathway to sustainable development

The UNDP ranked Pakistan 121st on the Gender Inequality Index due to women’s unequal access to resources and entitlement to rights in the country. Statistics show that not many women in Pakistan occupy senior positions as legislators, managers and senior officials and are mostly involved in unpaid family work and unpaid or low-paid marginal economic activities. Moreover, despite constitutional guarantees and international commitments, violence against women is on the rise with crimes against women being committed in the name of religion, custom, honour and harmful traditional practices. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, between 2004 and 2016, 15,385 cases of honour killings were reported in the media.

Initiatives such as the National Plan of Action for Women (1998), National Policy for Empowerment and Development for Women (2002) and Gender Reform Action Plan (2004) failed to translate into implementation and concrete measures.

One criticism is the lack of adequate government budgets and mismanagement within bureaucracies, often resistant to gender-based programmes. Pakistan was one of the first countries to adopt the international agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which includes a set of 17 goals and 169 targets to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change.

It also includes a stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. Success of the SDGs will rest largely on its seamless integration into the planning process in addition to the availability of requisite funds and prudent resource utilisation both at the federal and provincial levels.

Conscious inclusion of the gender perspective in the budget process allows the budget to work towards narrowing gender disparity and tackling the emerging issue of feminisation of poverty. The gender responsive budgeting (GRB) approach brings this gender awareness into policies and budgets by effectively combining two very important issues: gender equality and public financial management.

As a tool of policy analysis, it incorporates gender equality principles at all stages of the budget cycle including formulation, discussion, scrutiny and debate. In doing so, the budget transforms a simple exercise of resource allocation into an essential tool for social empowerment, economic progress and social change.

GRB ensures that resources are allocated in the budget based on the different needs and interests of individuals from different social groups. A budget that allocates a 50/50 share for women and men is by no means equitable. Gender budgeting also does not imply just setting aside ‘X’ percentage for women-related schemes or enhancing female quotas in public sector programmes.

This is precisely the flawed line of thinking that our policymakers and legislators have adopted over the years. They, among others, have failed to realise that gender budgeting is not necessarily about separate and special allocations for women and girls. Instead it is a way of thinking about all social divisions including but not limited to age, sex, race, ethnicity and location.

A review of the budget sessions show that the majority of our legislators do not realise the importance of this tool. Only two female parliamentarians, though none of the males, explicitly expressed the need for GRB in the budget sessions of the last three years. In fact, it is clear from past budget speeches that there exists little realisation of the need to mainstream gender in the federal budget.

One of the strong elements of sustainable development lies in the long-term investments in human capital. This means ensuring adequate investment in health and education sectors without discrimination, as well as ensuring equal opportunities of access to justice and resources for women and men equally.

GRB has the potential to undertake policy analysis for fiscal redistribution which is required for the achievement of the SDGs. Women parliamentarians, both individually and through their caucus, can reasonably be expected to more actively raise and campaign for these issues on the floor of the House and in parliamentary committees.

The parliamentary budget debate on the whole fails to reflect a comprehensive gender analysis of the proposed expenditures and revenues. Input of parliamentarians on the budget largely revolves around party guidelines. Much effort seemingly goes into praising or criticising the budget depending on which side of the parliamentary bench one is sitting on. Time constraints are another reason for the lack of gender focus in discussions. While the budget session can extend from 45 to 90 days in some countries, it often lasts merely 12 to 17 working days in our parliament, which is insufficient time for an informed and productive debate.

Another factor that prevents a gender sensitive approach to public financial management in Pakistan is the failure of political parties to recognise this need in their manifestos. The major political parties do commit to resolving issues of socio-economic and political inequalities that prevent women’s integration into the economic, social and political spheres. Unfortunately, theirs is mostly a rights-based approach as the manifestos are silent on actual fiscal commitments in this respect.

As women constitute almost half of our population, economic growth and development demands public financial management to consider the needs of the vulnerable, especially women. To this end, a necessary first step is sensitisation of our policymakers and legislators about the importance of mainstreaming gender in budgets. Gender budgeting is not just a catchphrase. Rather, GRB can equip policymakers with tools that bring much-needed gender focus to all financial plans and help achieve equitable resource distribution between individuals and social groups most in need. In this manner, it can help make significant headway towards the achievement of SDGs in Pakistan.

Express Tribune