Gender budgeting in sub-Saharan Africa

Rwanda and Uganda are two sub-Saharan African countries that have achieved success with gender budgeting—an initiative to use fiscal policy and administration to address gender inequality and women’s and girls’ advancement. This short article highlights their efforts.

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    Gender budgeting is an initiative to use fiscal policy and administration to address gender inequality and women’s advancement. A large number of sub-Saharan African countries have adopted gender budgeting. Two countries that have achieved notable success in their efforts are Uganda and Rwanda, both of which have integrated gender-related goals into budget policies, programmes, and processes in fundamental ways. Other countries have made more limited progress in introducing gender budgeting into their budget-making. Leadership by the Ministry of Finance is critical for enduring effects, although non-governmental organisations and parliamentary bodies in sub-Saharan Africa play an essential role in advocating for gender budgeting.

    Gender budgeting can spur growth in sub-Saharan Africa

    Gender inequality in access to education and adequate health care and in paid employment and entrepreneurial activities remain pervasive in sub-Saharan Africa. The region continues to lag the world in gender equality, even as it has seen improvement in recent years in most indicators of gender equality and measures of women’s advancement. It is critical to address gender inequality because a growing body of research demonstrates that gender equality contributes to stronger and more inclusive growth.

    Sub-Saharan African countries were among the earliest countries in the world to adopt gender budgeting – the use of fiscal policy and fiscal administration to advance gender equality and women’s development. Our review of gender budgeting in sub-Saharan Africa found that Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa have achieved some successes with gender budgeting, chiefly through changes in fiscal policies or budget-making procedures to address gender-related goals.

    Gender budgeting is not a zero sum game

    In the countries with the most success in gender budgeting, there was a clear consensus by officials in government that gender budgeting would contribute not only to the well-being of women and girls but to the welfare of society as a whole.

    In the region, we found that, in the countries where gender budgeting seems to be most effective, Ministries of Finance are taking the lead. For example, Ministries of Finance in Rwanda and Uganda have mandated that other ministries or levels of government responsible for social welfare and economic development try to address gender gaps and women’s needs in their budgets. Parliamentarians also played a catalytic role in these countries.

    Non-governmental organisations and donors were helpful in generating research and applying pressure to support changes in fiscal policies in these countries. Donors have also provided important financial support to gender budgeting efforts.

    Gender budgeting in Rwanda

    Rwanda is a low-income, agricultural-based developing country in Africa that has made impressive progress in rebuilding after civil conflict in the 1990s. Although Rwanda has made significant strides in closing gender gaps, women still remain at a disadvantage in key areas, including economic empowerment.

    The legislative background for gender equality supports gender budgeting

    The Constitution of 2003 includes equal rights for women and men and mandates at least 30 percent women in all decision-making positions. Women constitute about two-thirds of the lower house of parliament, and are well represented in judiciary and cabinet positions, and as provincial governors, district council members, and mayors in charge of social affairs. The Constitution also provides the basis for gender-responsive laws across a variety of areas including in the areas of inheritance, land, and property rights, and protection against gender-based violence. To address gender inequality and protect women’s rights, Rwanda established a Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, a Gender Monitoring Office, and a national women’s council.

    Enshrining gender budgeting in the law and identifying well-specified outcomes are critical

    Gender budgeting in Rwanda is an ongoing process. The current initiative dates back to 2008. One crucial step was that Rwanda, drawing on the model of Austria, enacted in 2012/2013 an organic budget law, which incorporated gender budgeting formally into budget laws and made Gender Budget Statements mandatory. The gender budgeting framework in Rwanda importantly assigns the lead role to the Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and spending ministries. Rwanda has taken the significant step of integrating its gender budgeting initiative into its reform of public financial management to put in place programme or results-based budgeting through sectoral identification of gender-related goals and identification of desired outcomes. Rwanda started its gender budgeting efforts with four pilot Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture, and Infrastructure, a useful acknowledgement of the importance of gender equality in both the social and economic sectors. After rolling out the initiative to the entire national government, it also extended the initiative to the subnational level (called districts), an important recognition that subnational government is also responsible for critical public services in health, education, infrastructure, and other areas.

    Monitoring and evaluation are essential

    An unusual and critical part of Rwanda’s initiative was the establishment of a Gender Monitoring Office to evaluate outcomes and hold ministries and other government entities accountable for delivering on their gender-related objectives. This office is responsible for producing an annual report, which is published and demonstrates a serious intention of the government to hold itself accountable for identifying important objectives, incorporating the means to achieve these objectives into budgetary programmes and policies, and measuring progress on outcomes. A final key part of Rwanda’s initiative is that it has engaged civil society and the research community in budget analysis and evaluation of outcomes, which provides another means to provide feedback to the authorities for strengthening their programme.

    Altogether, Rwanda shows that it is possible to embed gender budgeting into the normal budgetary processes of a national government and subnational governments to address identified gender gaps and girls’ and women’s needs.

    Gender budgeting in Uganda

    Uganda is another low-income, mainly agricultural, developing country in sub-Saharan Africa. Like Rwanda, it has made significant progress in economic growth and gender equality, even while much remains to be done.

    It demonstrates an alternative route to gender budgeting

    The Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development initiated gender budgeting by including in the Budget Call Circular in 2004/05 an annex with guidelines on how to address gender-related goals in the budget for sector ministries and local governments. The initial focus was on the Ministries of Education; Health; Agriculture; Justice, Law, and Order; Energy; and Water and Sanitation. Sex-disaggregated data were used to inform discussions on the budget. In response to the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development’s observation that many sectors were providing only general statements about how they planned to address gender inequality, it has strengthened the approach over time by requiring that sectors submit specific actions to address gender inequality. Ministries, departments, local governments, and agencies are asked to demonstrate how they are promoting gender equality and related objectives in the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, they must identify goals with specific targets related to gender equality and measure progress towards these goals by collecting data disaggregated by sex, age, disability, and geographic location.

    It has achieved some successes but identifiable outcomes are still limited

    Some achievements on gender-related fiscal policies in recent years include Parliament’s decision to remove the 18 percent value added tax (VAT) on agricultural inputs and equipment for fiscal year 2014/15, benefiting farmers, the majority of whom are women. The recent introduction of the Certificate on Gender and Equity Compliance to monitor sectoral compliance with gender-related goals and the linking of intergovernmental transfers to local governments to programmes on gender equity are innovative and suggest a genuine commitment to achieving gender equity and addressing women’s needs through the budget.

    The Ugandan experience suggests that governments can address gender-related goals through the budget by setting clear and well thought-out priorities in different sectors of the economy.

    South Africa

    South Africa has had two distinct gender budgeting efforts, both of which led to some fiscal policy and administrative changes. However, both initiatives waned, even though the government indicates that it remains firmly committed to gender equality and addressing women’s needs. Over time, several fiscal policy or programme changes at the national level were attributed to gender budgeting or related initiatives including the zero rating of paraffin (i.e., kerosene) in the VAT in 2001 to reduce the tax burden on poor women who rely on this source of fuel and some social spending programmes that were seen to have disproportionate benefit to female-headed homes and businesses.

    Summing up: Keys to success

    Our assessment of gender budgeting efforts in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere suggests that there are several keys to success:

    • the leadership of the Ministry of Finance is critical;
    • the ministries/departments of government must identify important and achievable objectives, consistent with gender-related national development goals;
    • the government must adopt policies consistent with these goals and fund programmes and the administration to achieve them;
    • in countries where subnational governments play a critical role in provision of public services, gender budgeting should extend to these governments;
    • international organisations (such as UN Women) and donors provide important technical and financial support;
    • non-governmental organisations, academic scholarship, and advocacy play at times a catalytic role. However, government involvement is essential for success;
    • monitoring of outcomes and evaluation are essential;
    • collection of appropriate data and use in supporting analysis is critical for policy development and evaluation.

    For low-income countries, policy implications include:

    • align gender budgeting goals to national development plans and ensure that their objectives are clear, ambitious, and fit into the budget process;
    • improve access of girls to secondary and tertiary education and participation in science, technology, and math education;
    • keep gender-oriented health goals as priorities, including reducing maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS where it is prevalent;
    • improve the supply of electricity and water to households as well as cooking technologies to reduce unpaid time demands on women and girls;
    • assess key sectors of the economy in which women could participate more fully and productively;
    • extend fiscal incentives to individuals and employers and to financial institutions to encourage greater women’s participation in economic activities;
    • focus on agriculture, where women often play a predominant role;
    • eliminate gender-based inequalities in tax, financial, civil, and other laws, and ensure women’s rights to ownership and control of property are equal to men’s rights; and
    • improve the administration of justice, law, and order, to reduce violence against girls and women.

    This paper is adapted from Stotsky, Janet G., Lisa Kolovich, and Suhaib Kebhaj (2016), Sub-Saharan Africa: A Survey of Gender Budgeting Efforts, IMF Working Paper 16/152, Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund.

    About the author
    Janet G. Stotsky is an independent consultant on fiscal policies, gender, and macroeconomics.

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