Gender-sensitive development cooperation hands-on: The success of gender-responsive budgeting and planning

Date: Friday, December 14, 2012

Speech by John Hendra, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme of UN Women at Vienna Policy Dialogue: Preparing for the 2014 Development Cooperation Forum: “Advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women: the role of development cooperation”. 14 December 2012.

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I’m very pleased to be here today.

What we measure not only matters, ultimately it is what we become.  And until we can measure what we are investing in gender equality and the empowerment of women, we don’t know and can’t monitor, or hold ourselves accountable for, what we spend on gender equality. And without such measurable investments, our commitments can remain all too rhetorical.

In a time of fiscal constraint, when we must make scarce resources go even further, how we spend our money, and what we choose to invest in, is more important than ever.  In that sense, gender responsive budgeting is an essential tool for realizing justice and rights for women and girls.

Just as the economic crisis has impacted disproportionately on women and girls – in terms of poorer and less well paid employment, greater food insecurity, and a higher unpaid work burden – so too have measures taken by governments to address the crisis – including austerity measures – had a disproportionately negative affect on women and girls.

And these impacts have undoubtedly been compounded by the fall in Official Development Assistance (ODA) as a direct result of the crisis:  a “triple whammy” for women and girls, and for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

As was discussed yesterday it’s clear that we need to use a rights based approach, and bring a strong gender equality perspective and analysis to these economic policy choices.

The Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, together with economists Diane Elson and Radhika Balakrishnan are doing just that.  They argue that under the human rights framework, States making macro-economic policy choices are obligated to protect social expenditures, in particular for essential services, from budget cuts.

And States must devote the maximum available resources to ensure the progressive realization of rights, and must avoid deliberately retrogressive measures. This would mean for example, that States must continue to invest in commitments to realize women’s rights under CEDAW.

And this is what gender-responsive budgeting is for: holding governments accountable for gender equality commitments and investments, and ensuring that gender equality is explicitly included in government priorities – and matched by adequate resources to address inequalities. We talked a lot about accountability yesterday.

GRB shows the linkages between government spending cuts and women’s lives, as for example when cuts impact women’s time use and unpaid work burden, and hence helps holds governments accountable for ensuring their functions and programmes respond to inequalities and eliminate biases that deepen social exclusion.

GRB is thus closely related to other work being done by the UN to track social expenditures and ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged benefit. UNICEF’s work on social audits and the UN Social Protection Floor Initiative, spearheaded by ILO and WHO, which undertakes national costing exercises on the affordability of social protection systems, including labour protection, health insurance, and pensions, and identifies fiscal space for increased coverage are a cornerstone of this approach.

After ten years of providing GRB support in 65 countries we’ve learned a lot. Gender-responsive budgeting works best when there is political will and leadership by both governments, and development partners; strong technical capacity within government; systems of tracking financing for gender equality are in place and there is a vibrant civil society that can hold governments to account. Let me give a few examples:

In terms of political will and leadership, in 2011 alone, we supported development of national gender plans and strategies in 25 countries, and integration of gender equality in national development plans in 18 countries.

As a result, Ethiopa’s national plan has gender indicators and targets across all its pillars, and gender-sensitive indicators have been included in government performance monitoring frameworks in Tanzania, Pakistan and Albania. This represents significant progress.

Secondly, with regard to building technical capacity and putting in place tracking systems to ensure governments can effectively monitor gender equality expenditures, in countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Mozambique, we have partnered with ministries of finance to ensure that sectoral ministries are required to integrate a gender perspective in their annual plans and budgets. In India, 28 ministries and departments currently report allocations for women in the Gender Budget statement of the Union.

And national performance monitoring mechanisms are tracking gender results and investments in Morocco’s Gender Budget Report, Nepal’s budget gender marking system and Ecuador’s budget tracking system.

Finally, in a number of countries we’ve supported civil society to develop social accountability and monitoring tools. For example, in Rwanda an umbrella CSO (Conseil de Concertation des Organizations d’Appui aux Initiatives de Base) used gender budget analysis to successfully advocate for an increase in the agriculture sector 2011/12 budget of 26.3 percent compared with 2009/2010.

But we need to go further.  Firstly establishing strategic partnerships with academic institutions is also proving crucial to building the capacity of civil servants in the area of gender responsive planning and budgeting and to make GRB interventions sustainable at the national level, and we need to do more of this.

Secondly, the creation of spaces and opportunities for South-South exchange and collaboration in the area of GRB has contributed to developing innovative thinking and cutting-edge GRB programmes. For example, in November 2012, Morocco launched the first Centre of Excellence in GRB for Arabic and French speaking countries.

Thirdly, donors play a key role in supporting national priorities and efforts and priorities to address gender inequality. Their support has enabled important experiences in integrating gender in public financial management systems and public sector reforms that are cited around the world.

Fourthly, it’s critically important that development partners, and we in the UN are also more accountable and transparent in the way we are using our resources. We’ve discussed already just how important it is to develop a gender equality indicator as one of the proposed set of indicators for the voluntary global monitoring framework for Busan.

This indicator measures the “Proportion of countries with systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment”. It will help us to strengthen and validate national efforts to create systems for tracking financing of gender equality, and introduce specific measures to assess gender related impacts of budget and aid.  The roll-out strategy will cover about 20 programme countries.

It’s also critically important that we in the UN system walk the talk and improve our tracking of gender equality expenditures. UN Women has been working with other UN agencies to develop a system-wide approach to disaggregating budgets for gender equality, building on the work of UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN-OCHA — all of which use gender markers in their financial management systems.

Knowing how much you spend and what for is the cornerstone of any budget, and GRB is an important tool for monitoring and tracking investments in gender equality and empowerment of women.

But just as – if not more importantly – we need to use GRB not only to track expenditure but to hold governments accountable, to ensure that finance policies don’t exacerbate inequalities and that public goods for women and men are protected from budget cuts.

And we also need to work together to increase investment in gender equality. Because the data are clear: overall, gender equality policies and priorities continue to not be matched by adequate funding.

On this note, I would like to end by highlighting the work done by the government of Morocco which recently signed a $45 million Euro cooperation agreement to fully support the implementation of Morocco’s Plan for Equality.

This will be the largest gender-related aid programme globally, and will support efforts to achieve legal protection for women, increase women’s participation in decision-making, and support the development of gender equality policies and programmes.

It builds on Morocco’s efforts for over a decade to integrate gender equality concerns into planning and budgeting processes, building the capacity of planning and budgeting staff in the Finance and sectoral ministries, and producing a gender report annexed to the annual budget where sectoral ministers report on their performance.

This is an impressive example, and we hope to see many other governments and development partners dedicating resources to gender equality and using gender responsive planning and budgeting to support our common goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Thank you.

Further information about the Vienna Policy Dialogue on Gender Equality is available at: