Government has officially launched the budgeting process for the 2010/11 financial year calling for dialogue within government institutions.
The process that was launched on Tuesday this week is expected to allow linkage between planning and budgeting.
This follows the issuance of the first budget call circular that was done in September to provide information early in the process to government institutions on how planning can be linked to the budget.
The budget circular among other things emphasizes mainstreaming gender and equity objectives in the planning and budgeting process.
This involves articulation of the needs of beneficiaries according to gender and integration of the respective interventions within the existing programmes as part of the budgeting process.
Submission of budget requests accompanied by gender budget statement will be mandatory for pilot sectors including health, agriculture, education and infrastructure.
Other sectors will be required to demonstrate how gender has been integrated in their budget submissions.
Getting gender discussed in the budget call circular is an important achievement. In particular, a government’s decision about how money is spent can either widen or reduce the gap between the situation of female and male in society.
However, unless steps are taken to ensure that the government agencies take note of the gender aspects of the guidelines, it will be a hollow victory.
For instance, budget officials must know that their budget submissions will be considered more favorably by the Ministry of Finance if gender issues are addressed.
One way to do this is to include representatives of the national gender machinery on the team that inspects the submissions and that negotiates with the agencies.
To adequately address gender needs, budget agencies should be more specific in their planning by first determining and describing issues constraining gender equality and go ahead to review existing policies and programmes to see if they promote equality.
In order to develop a budget process that contributes to gender equality, policy makers must first understand the actual situation of women compared to men in society.
For instance the existing salary gaps between women and men in the labour market .
Specifially female labour market participation is still limited and women are predominatly in the informal sector compared to thier men colleagues .
Therefore, in general more men will benefit from a reduction in the higher levels of taxation whereas in general more women will benefit from an increase of the minimum wage.
It has to also be recognized that gender equality issues are relevant for the work of all ministries and all programmes, concerning all types of public spending and income, not only in the areas that specifically aim at improving the position of women.
It is also imperative to note that ignoring addressing gender needs is costly from the point of view of economic effectiveness, growth potential and the well-being of a country.
A more substantial analysis of gender issues in the budget planning process will improve the targeting of resources in such a way that gender equality is enhanced.
The author is a journalist with The New Times