When Gender Responsive Budgets empower societies

The principle of gender equality has found more space in several societies over the last two decades and, has begun to underpin all aspects of national development.  For this reason, governments, international organizations and the civil society met this week on July 26 to 28, 2011 at the ‘High Level Global Meeting’ on Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting, at Kigali Serena Hotel, Rwanda.
John Rwangombwa, Rwanda's Minister of Finance and Joanne Sandler, Senior Advisor for Policy and Programmes, UN Women in a group photo with participants.
John Rwangombwa, Rwanda's Minister of Finance and Joanne Sandler, Senior Advisor for Policy and Programmes, UN Women in a group photo with participants.

The principle of gender equality has found more space in several societies over the last two decades and, has begun to underpin all aspects of national development.

For this reason, governments, international organizations and the civil society met this week on July 26 to 28, 2011 at the ‘High Level Global Meeting’ on Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting, at Kigali Serena Hotel, Rwanda.

Among the key issues of discussion was the need for governments to ensure that that the collection and allocation of public resources, is done in ways that contribute effectively to the advancing of gender equality and women empowerment.

Besides Rwanda’s Government, several partners including UN Women, European Union, DfID, UNFPA, the civil society, academia and several Non-Governmental Organisations participated as a show of support toward improving the process of Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) in the respective countries.

Michelle Bachelet, UN Women’s Executive Director in her video message, applauded the approval of the organisation’s first Strategic Plan—among its six objectives, Bachelet said, one is, “ensuring that planning and budgeting processes promote gender equality.”

She explained that in order for the above objective to be achievable, the commitment and leadership of ministries of finance in respective countries, is a required.

“Ministries of finance are also in charge of putting in place systems that recognize gender equality as a key component in achieving development results at sector and local level. Ministries of finance can ensure that the allocation and spending of funds on the priorities of women and girls, is tracked,” Bachelet said.

She emphasized the fact that effective development is when prosperity and equity for all, is achieved. Additionally, Bachelet cited the importance of work done by the civil society organizations, parliamentarians and donors when it comes to supporting national efforts and priorities in addressing gender inequality.

John Rwangombwa, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, said the High Level Meeting, “provides a unique opportunity to review the progress made in the area of Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting around the world, as well as the opportunity to share the best practices and address key challenges.”

He explained the necessity for governments to promote gender equity and accountability in order to transform people’s lives.

“Accountability is a legal obligation of our governments. Our aim is therefore, to make sure that all our policies and services are in the interest of society—especially women, who have lagged behind for years,” he said.

In her presentation, Professor Diane Elson from the University of Essex, UK, said that Women Organizations play a vital role in advocating and promoting gender equality and women’s rights.

“I am a bit more optimistic today than I was 10 years ago because I have seen more women organizations holding governments and its activities to account,” Elson said.

However, she cited the challenge that, “the belief that Gender Equality has already been achieved” is a hindrance to progress in certain countries, thus, the need for women organistaions to continue working hard.

Patricia Munabi, the Executive Director of the Forum for Women in Democracy, a women’s Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Uganda said that, “it is important to have a just and fair society where women and men work toward the effective representation of women concerns so that they are enacted into laws and budgets.”

Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), is among several NGO’s from around the world that are responsible for implementing Gender Budget Programmes to advocate for gender balanced budgets.

According to Munabi, since FOWODE’s establishment 15 years ago, the organization has been able to, “influence policy change,” something she explains as the biggest achievement in her profession.

“The goodwill is there, however, changing people’s mindsets is where a lot of work has to be done,” Munabi said.

“When we speak of Gender Responsive Budgets, so many people are resistant because they think we are advocating for the creation of a separate budget for women or just increasing spending for women’s programmes; yet that is not the case in point: the goal of Gender Responsive Budgeting is to ensure that the equitable distribution of government resources goes to improving gender equality and empowering women who in turn empower their societies,” Munabi explained.

Among the most effective ways in which FOWODE ensured the flow of national policies to the local level was by setting up Village Budget Clubs within local communities.

According to Munabi, Village Budget Clubs (VBC’s) have built a mass of activists who identify community specific priorities and hold leaders accountable for the flow of funds, and the delivery of good services to the public.

Additionally, Julius Mukunda, the Senior Programme Director said that through convincing governments to accept Gender Budgeting and Planning, they are able to, “mobilize and train ordinary women and men in Gender Budgeting skills as a way of improving their participation.”

The ‘High Level Meeting’ that ends today, Thursday July 28th, 2011 will result in recommendations that will greatly improve GRB as a tool for gender equity and aid effectiveness, in the over 90 countries that apply this methodology.

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