Why we should all care about gender budgeting

30th June 2021

Let’s talk about gender budgeting.

It may be a phrase you’ve never heard before. If you have heard the phrase you might have dismissed it as something a bit obscure or niche, or may even have thought it’s not something that affects you. But, it does. Or at least it should, as all governments should be using gender budgeting to make sure that spending decisions fairly deliver for everyone and help to tackle the root causes of gender inequality.

Each year the Welsh Government determines how to spend billions of pounds across areas that are central to our day-to-day lives – from health and education, to investment in roads and rail, funding for our local councils, for childcare and for housing.

These decisions are not gender neutral – because our society and our economy are still shaped by gender. Whether it’s the fact that women are more likely to use public services, less likely to be in full-time work, more likely to take multiple, short journeys on public transport or remain at greater risk of experiencing sexual harassment and abuse – gender is still a major factor affecting our lives.

If these gendered differences are not taken into account when governments decide how to spend money, then it’s highly likely that those decisions will not fall fairly and that opportunities to advance equality will be missed. Gender budgeting makes sure that these differences are considered.

So what is gender budgeting?

Well in essence it means applying a gender analysis to how governments raise and spend money. It’s a suite of tools that enable governments to examine how budget decisions affect the economic and social opportunities of women and men, and to restructure decisions to eliminate unequal outcomes. It’s not about dividing spend 50:50 between women and men, nor is it about “budgets for women”, but about using evidence to consider how spending decisions can meet and respond to the different needs of everyone.

In this way, it’s very similar to gender mainstreaming, which means putting similar analysis at the heart of policy and programme design. In fact, some argue that gender budgeting helps to activate gender mainstreaming by ensuring that gender equality ambitions are supported with the right resources (O’Hagan et. Al, 2019).

Currently, one gender budgeting tool is commonly used in Wales – equality impact assessments.

There are a few issues with this. Firstly, equality impact assessments are not often done particularly well, or at the right time to have any significant role in shaping policy or spending decisions Furthermore, if all we do is retrospectively assess the likely impact on groups, after decisions are made, we are ultimately left tweaking something that does not have women’s needs and experiences in mind; we will be trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Or we will merely mitigate any negative impact rather than considering how our decision can really get to grips with the causes of inequality

There are examples of gender budgeting being used more effectively in other parts of the world. Canada made a good start with their Gender Based Analysis Plus tool, although were encouraged to take further steps to properly mainstream the approach into the budget process (O’Hagan et. Al, 2019). Iceland implemented gender budgeting following the financial crash; while they did encounter resistance in some policy areas the learning process from Iceland provides a key reference point for others looking to implement gender budgeting (O’Hagan et. Al, 2019). Andalucía offers one of the best examples of gender budgeting in action, which began in 2003 and highlights a number of key success factors including having clear gender equality objectives, political purpose and commitment, supported by robust processes that include gender impact evaluations and gender budget audits (O’Hagan et. Al, 2019).

Any approach to gender budgeting needs to properly consider national context, so it’s not a case of simply taking the approach from another nation and applying it here. But, experiences from around the world do offer important lessons that could inform the development of a Welsh approach to gender budgeting.

Immediately after an election, as the newly formed government are bringing together their manifesto pledges into a programme of delivery, it’s understandable that we tend to focus on what they plan to do. But, it is equally important to think about how they will do that. If we don’t change how policy and programmes are designed and how spending decisions are made, we are going to keep seeing the same outcomes, where inequality is reproduced and reinforced as a result of failing to think about the gendered nature of our world. Topics like gender budgeting can seem a bit dry at first glance, and can be complex, but they have the potential to be transformational.

In fact, gender budgeting is essential if we are to drive meaningful and lasting change, to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and secure a gender equal Wales.