Gender-Responsive Budgets is “Smart Economics” was the reverberating theme echoed during the three days’ meeting in Johannesburg at Indaba Hotel, at a regional capacity development technical meeting hosted by the UN Women, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Development Capital Fund (UNCDF).
Many efforts by development partners and the UN system in Africa continue to explore the most effective ways of reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development through the MDGs Framework. These efforts include support for constitutional and legal reforms; public sector and fiscal reforms, all aimed at economic recovery and growth, human development, peace and security, crisis prevention and much more. Development partners increasingly use Direct Budget Support or Sectoral/ Programme support in order to improve harmonized country assistance towards enhanced local ownership and Aid Effectiveness. While progress is being recorded and gains made in this direction, gender inequality in Africa continues to contribute significantly to deepening poverty and unsustainable development.
According to the most recent Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report of 2010, progress is being made, but much more needs to be done to accelerate and localize the MDGs if the MDG targets set for 2015 are to be realized.
Therefore, in a bid to complement efforts of governments in the African region towards the acceleration and localization of the MDGs, the United Nations Entity for Gender (UN WOMEN), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Development programme (UNDP), through a Joint Programme on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which is being pursued under MDG 3, is supporting 11 member states in Africa to implement Gender-Responsive Budgets at national and local levels.
Over 60 participants from 14 countries were present at the regional meeting, namely Cameroon, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB) initiative is a direct response to requests made by the African governments to scale-up GRB initiatives during the side-event organized by UNDP at the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women held in 2010, where countries requested for UNDP’s support to scale up GRB in their countries. The main goal of GRB is to enable women and men to access services and opportunities as well as exercise their rights equitably.
Nomcebo Manzini, the Regional Programme Director of UN Women for Southern Africa in her opening remarks spoke of challenges and timelines for the region to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are only 4 years away. Manzini emphasized the fact that the region had not done well in particular in addressing maternal mortality. A notable achievement by the Sierra Leone government was abolishing user fees at hospitals for women to increase health access and pre and post natal services. “It is such small efforts that bring bigger result and gain when there is government will,” she said.
Manzini further briefed the participants on the processes of GRB in some countries and how the meeting’s platform would enhance knowledge, lessons and best practices. She also indicated that this platform was created by the three UN agencies to work together to find new approaches and strategies for GRB to work widely in Africa.
Almaz Gebru, Officer in Charge of the UNDP Regional Service Center for Eastern and Southern Africa reiterated the rationale for the regional technical meeting and UNDP’s commitment for enhancing GRB initiatives in the region. She emphasized that, for UNDP, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment are human rights that lie at the heart of development and achieving the MDGs. That is why on one hand it promotes the integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment in its four main focus areas: poverty reduction, democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery and environment and sustainable development; while on the other hand it supports the implementation of specific projects aiming at accelerating the achievements of the MDG3. She also spoke about the UNDP flagship progrmme which has a direct bearing on GRB – the Gender and Economic Management Programme (GEMPI-Africa) Initiative which intends to enhance capacities for policy makers, planners, and practitioners to formulate, implement and monitor gender-responsive MDG-based policies, strategies, plans and budget frameworks.
Makarimi Adechoubou, Head of the UNCDF Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa spoke of the importance of GRB and its links to the MDGs noting that the three collaborating UN agencies in supporting its implementation in Africa signified the urgency to accelerate, localize and institutionalize efforts to make its implementation a reality in Africa, building on the UN institutional commitments. Noting its Rights-Based Approach, Adechoubou emphasized that GRB is an important tool and strategy for advancing good governance; mainstreaming gender into national and local development budgets for purposes of generating people-centered and sustainable development by firstly, protecting the human rights of women and men as equal citizens and secondly, by ensuring equal access to and benefits from development resources. He also commended UNCDF, UNDP and UN WOMEN for ensuring that experiences of GRB at the local government level were incorporated into this regional workshop to inform central government policies thereby enhancing bottom-to-up approach. Makarimi commended the countries that had already taken initiatives in GRB and asked participants to use the space for reflection, experience sharing while exploring potential for collaborating around emerging opportunities such as South-South Corporation presented by the workshop.
During the three days’ sessions, participants who included representatives of the focal countries including government Ministries such as Finance, Economic Development, Women and Gender, Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committees were also graced by two South African counterparts: Advocate Thulisile Madonsela, the Public Protector, and Lindiwe Maseko, Speaker of the Gauteng Legislature.
Advocate Madonsela, the keynote speaker, delivered a strong message pitching GRB within the human rights principles and the role of the Public Protector’s office. She encouraged and suggested the use of such constitutional offices to hold government accountable to the citizens including on the issue of GRB. She spoke of lack of delivery services by governments in Africa and that it was about time that her office was used to get answers from governments on their commitments and be held accountable for not keeping their promises.
Advocate Madonsela reaffirmed GRB and its importance as a tool for good governance and for promoting gender equality. She noted that women still suffered economic injustices despite their major contributions to their countries economic growth, yet these are never reflected in the GDP of the respective countries. She said this was unacceptable.
She related the injustices to the recent recovery of the global recession that left millions without jobs and affected women to a larger extent. “GRB could not have come at a better time, especially after the global recession and the majority of those hit the hardest are always women in formal or informal sectors. It is why I feel that it is a critical time that GRB is born to enhance smart economics”, she said. In closing, Advocate Madonsela reiterated that GRB, if applied commitedly and systematically, can be an important tool and strategy for: (a) actualizing gender equality and justice goals; (b) strengthening of national and local government systems and structures for governance that would result into the institutionalization of gender mainstreaming into the budget cycles and fiscal policies; (c) enhancing community participation in identifying priorities for their development concerns/needs; (d) facilitate linkages/ synergy between sectors through joint analysis and collaboration between sectors; facilitating rational use of available resource and therefore transparency, accountability measures, and good governance at central and local levels; (e) translating GRB into national and regional macro-economic policies and how these translate into tangible actions and equitable and sustainable benefits for women and men, boys and girls in their daily livelihood.
On the second day, Speaker of the Gauteng Legislature Honorable Lindiwe Maseko, who also served as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Women reverberated the fact that women are mostly considered the face of poverty. “It is about time that those pictures of females showing faces of poverty with the aim to shock the viewer not be used anymore. Noting that women are steadily making strides, it is important that this progress and the gains women are making be voiced and acknowledged. She said that gender budgeting strategies are not only about allocating funds to women’s programmes, but to also comprehensively target discriminated gendered experiences of both men and women. Honorable Maseko said that the Legislature was continuing to work on comprehensive strategies for capacity building and gender-based budgets for girls, boys, men and women in South Africa.
Participants also gave feedback and inputs on GRB experiences. Morocco, being advanced in the implementation of GRB, shared best practices on budgets that have encouraged funding towards women’s fishery projects. These projects have also seen the potential of economic opportunities for males, and that is also a key process in Morocco to make sure that budgets are gender-responsive to eradicate poverty and enhance sustainable livelihoods for communities of men and women.
At the closing panel session, Kodjo Mensah-Abrampa of UNCDF indicated that Local Governments play a major role in ensuring service delivery as reflected by the growing trend where as a result of decentralization more resources are drawn through Local Development Funds by Local authorities. There is therefore the need not to only influence national and sector budgets but also to be proactive in developing the necessary tools and methodologies for local governments to also develop Gender sensitive plans, budgets and development agendas. The link between the GRB process and the GELD at the local level is drawing synergies to ensure strategic, comprehensive and sustainable institutional transformation capable of achieving gender equality and social justice for women and men in the Africa region.
On the way forward, Auxilia Ponga, Gender Practice Leader at the UNDP Regional Service Center, synthesized the outcomes of the meeting and noted that consistent GRB implementation was affected due to lack of clarity and deeper technical understanding of what GRB is about. She said that in making sure that the implementation is systematic and consistent on the ground, it was crucial that policy documents integrate GRB and not left on the shelves to gather dust. “It is critical not to lose sight of policies and make use of them to make sure that governments comply on their commitments and a monitoring tool must be in place to track GRB.” She said that GRB was a governance issue that needed to be included in budgeting processes at all levels. UN agencies continue to be keen to see action; development of learning products, including tools and methodologies. These would be key in the process to link human rights and MDGs commitments in countries that are falling behind, are yet to implement, and those where the UN agencies are going to pilot the programmes for broad based evidence.
In summary, Ms. Ponga reiterated that there was a need to look to the UN agency offices in-country to get technical and policy support. She recommended that GRB be part and parcel of the planning process and with UN expertise in most regions, countries needed to tap into these resources for support and success and also that this process would enhance and strengthen the current challenges in Africa on reaching the goals of MDGs.
In conclusion, and as the GRB train moves forward, the three UN agencies agreed to collaborate on joint programming to support the implementation of the country actions plans. With key personnel from governments having opportunities to provide inputs into practical measures of success, the UN agencies are keen to see the results; country sharing experiences and South-to-South exchange of knowledge is critical to the successes of GRB in Africa.