Today, I am attending a workshop on gender responsive budgeting in Penang.
“Gender responsive what?” I hear you ask. Basically it means incorporating the gender perspective – too often overlooked – in every stage of the budget planning process, including measuring the impact or outcome of the actual spending.
One example: who benefits most when hundreds of millions are spent on a state-of-the-art football stadium? The developer, contractor, and generally, males of a certain age-range. What about women, senior citizens, children? Should the design of the stadium be perhaps changed so that more groups can benefit from the same amount spent, or perhaps the stadium project should be replaced with another project altogether that might better spread the benefits across society?
The workshop is organised by the Good Governance and Gender Equality Society (3Gs Society), Penang and Women’s Development Research Centre (Kanita) of USM. Among the participants are elected reps from Penang, MPPP and MPSP reps, state government officers and civil society activists.
How would you describe gender-responsive budgeting? The Council of Europe has provided a definition:
1. The budget is the most important policy instrument of any government. It is through the public budget that the political authorities shape social and economic development, decide priorities for action and determine redistribution criteria for society based on the needs of its citizens. However, public budgets are not gender-neutral in their effects – they affect men and women in different ways, in terms of both revenue and expenditure.
2. Introducing a gender perspective into all levels of the public budgeting process – “gender budgeting” – is thus becoming an important tool, making it possible to measure the impact of public policies on citizens of different sexes and to restructure revenues and spending so as to reduce socioeconomic inequalities between men and women. Practising gender budgeting is essential if countries, regions and municipalities are not to continue to assume the gender neutrality of their budgets – which in reality are often “gender-blind” and thus inadvertently cause further gender inequalities.
3. Gender budgeting has the added advantage of promoting and increasing accountability, transparency and efficiency. Unfortunately, gender budgeting is not yet a mainstream activity: considered too technical an issue by many of those who fight for equal opportunities for women and men, it is not considered a political priority by many of those who actually draw up, implement and oversee budgets.
The idea behind the workshop is to promote the concept of gender-responsive budgeting in Penang and elsewhere in Malaysia. The workshop today looked at the current budget preparation flowchart and timeline for the Penang state government, MPPP and MPSP. It was revealed that the period from January to April is the best time for public interest groups to make budget requests to the local authorities as that we when initial estimates are collated.
Of course there are other issues that should also be considered when preparing budgets, implementing them and measuring outcomes – in particular class issues, so that no group in society is marginalised when it comes to public spending.