In the words of Patricia Munabi: “Citizens must engage with the budget and hold leaders accountable”
Patricia Munabi is the Executive Director of Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), a women’s rights organization in Uganda. From 2010 - 2012, FOWODE was supported by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality to implement gender-responsive budgeting at a local and national level in Uganda. This involved training women in 16 local communities to form Village Budget Clubs to ensure that women are actively involved in budget allocation and decisions at the local level. Some 200 legislators and government officials were also trained to implement gender-responsive programmes at the national level.
Our mothers didn’t have sanitary towels!” Such had been the casual response of certain legislators when asked to equip schools with sanitary pads for girls as part of gender-responsive budgeting. Their response astounded me! These men have mothers, sisters and daughters, but perhaps they’re of a different class, so this is not an issue for them! The provision of sanitary pads at school remains one of the most surprising discoveries for policymakers when thinking about gender-responsive budgeting. Prior to the last election in Uganda, the government promised to provide sanitary pads in schools. Later they said there was no money for it, despite the Minister of Education being a woman. If girls don’t have access to sanitary pads, they drop out of school. It’s as simple as that.
For gender-responsive budgeting to work, we need to build both the supply and demand for it. We must raise awareness among policymakers of the importance of integrating gender in budget plans. At the same time, we must increase demand and capacity among citizens so they can participate in the process, ask the right questions based on their needs, and hold those in charge accountable.
When we began to work with local women and men at a grassroots level on gender-responsive budgeting, we asked them what their actual needs were, and then taught them to track where the money was going. We showed them that by not engaging in the budget process, their needs were not being addressed.
We asked the community to elect leaders who form the Village Budget Club, and who are responsible for monitoring the quality of service delivery, advocating for resources on prioritized issues, and holding local leaders accountable. The Village Budget Club keeps citizens informed of the latest budgetary developments through radio engagements and community meetings. Sometimes local leaders are invited to explain why resources aren’t being allocated to certain needs so citizens can understand the constraints in place.
As citizens started participating actively, they saw how their lives improved. For example, after local women highlighted the critical need for family planning, policymakers created specific budget lines for family planning and allocated resources accordingly. This was in sharp contrast to the past, when we simply had a blanket budget on healthcare. We’ve seen more girls attending and staying in schools because communities demanded separate toilets for boys and girls.
We have used the evidence from our gender-responsive budgeting work at the grassroots level to advocate at the national level and increased resource allocation in areas such as health, education and agriculture.
Sometimes, we face backlash from local leaders who don’t like the idea of an ordinary citizen asking them questions and holding them accountable. We educated the local people on the country’s Constitution, which proved critical in equipping them with the knowledge of their role and responsibilities as citizens, and the confidence to advocate for their rights. Now most local officials have realized that the work we are doing, in fact supports them, and our model has become the “in thing”. Local governments are supposed to monitor resource allocation, but village budget conferences hardly take place due to a lack of funds. As a result, local leaders cannot get the grassroots evidence on resource allocation that they need for their work. Our work brings that evidence; it shows why citizens must engage with the budget and hold leaders accountable."