Working on gender budgeting together

18 Sep 18

Iceland’s ministry of finance’s Herdís Sólborg Haraldsdóttir talks about the importance of considering the impact of public spending on men and women when budgeting. She is speaking at the CIPFA conference on Sunday


Why should we place focus on gender budgeting?

Gender budgeting has been implemented in various ways within countries for more than 30 years.

Important steps have been taken with guidance from academics, experts, international institutions and civil society.

The OECD and other international institutions are now placing a strong focus on this tool and it is little surprise; among being an obvious and effective way to promote gender equality it can also lead to economic growth.

According to a survey carried out by the OECD, 90% of the OECD countries use tools to promote gender equality, but the majority of them (59% of respondents) say they do not undertake gender budgeting.

This may be partly because there appears to be little understanding on what gender gudgeting is and how to do it (see Gender Budgeting in OECD countries, 2017).

Given that the budget is a powerful tool that can be used to enhance gender equality it raises questions why, so few countries use it to support the goal of gender equality.

What’s in the way?

In order to start implementing gender budgeting, people need to understand what it is.

To achieve this, it is necessary to understand gender needs and societal challenges and link goals in these areas with the budget process.

Once someone understands the budget and gender needs, they are in a position to figure out what gender budgeting entails.

Gender budgeting is about counting who gets what, on what terms, asking if it is fair or not, and if it helps achieve gender goals.

This can be challenging for budget managers who are just used to working with numbers and have never linked them with their effect on different individuals in society.

The budget process and approach to gender budgeting naturally differs between countries, due to different traditions, budget laws and regulations.

But the gender dimension can be applied anywhere.

It is time to start and find the right path

Iceland is one of the OECD countries that is formally working on gender budgeting.

When the pilot process begun in 2009 there was very little understanding of how to do gender budgeting.

Iceland had to start from scratch.

Education programs were conducted, pilot projects formed, then bigger projects within bigger policy areas and finally in 2016 Iceland moved towards more comprehensive implementation.

Gender impacts have been identified in most areas of the budget, both on the revenue and expenditure side.

Gender budgeting has become more integrated in the traditional functions of government and is useful for informing policy discussions and decision making.

But only some policies have been altered in order to further promote gender equality.

This is a common challenge if gender budgeting is only performed within the government.

This phase will hopefully not last for long because at the beginning of this year there came new pressure from outside.

A feminist NGO group was formed whose aim is to look both at the gender budgeting work in the rolling five-year policy plan and also in the annual budget.

The group has already commented on the five-year policy plan and gained a lot of attention, from politicians, civil society and the media.

And this is crucial factor in making gender budgeting a success.

Because despite the importance of all the work from within the government it will not lead to real and significant changes without outside pressure from citizens.

And this outside pressure might never have arrived without the work from within the government.

Who said this should be easy?

Since the budget process is often complex, it is inevitable that the process of gender budgeting can be as well.

Challenges remains everywhere, but it is important to overcome them.

“Ignorance is bliss“, said Thomas Gray.

But we cannot be in that place anymore.

We know too much and ought to use that information to support the goal of equality and women’s empowerment.

We can no longer justify keeping on doing things as they have always been done.

We must deepen our budget work with the aim to promote both equality and better economic outcomes.

Gender budgeting is a good start.

It does not mean that it should happen overnight, and it is not necessary to know everything about gender budgeting from the beginning of the process.

The existence of engaged actors, political will and room for improvement is the beginning of something.

This is a journey towards a better world.

Let’s work on it together.

Herdís Sólborg Haraldsdóttir will be speaking at the CIPFA International Conference on Sunday on the subject of gender budgeting. 

  • Herdís Sólborg Haraldsdóttir
    Herdís Sólborg Haraldsdóttir

    head of division at the Department of Fiscal Affairs in the Ministry of Finance, Iceland and chair of the OECD Gender Budgeting Experts Committee.

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