an update from BRIDGE, raising gender awareness among policy-makers and practitioners


               Issue 12: Gender and Budgets  

In this Issue:

A practical tool to advance towards equity

Influencing macroeconomic processes in Tanzania

Gender and the participatory budget in Recife

Why is progress towards gender equality so slow? In part, this is a failure to attach money to policy commitments. Whilst government budgets have allocated resources in a way that has perpetuated gender biases, budgets also offer the potential to transform gender inequalities. In recent years gender budget initiatives (GBI) have risen to this challenge. Although most GBIs are still primarily focused on analysing the budget and its impact, the ultimate aim is to mainstream gender into the criteria for its formulation. There is no magic recipe for a successful GBI, as the country context is crucial, but certain strategies can strengthen them. Extra political leverage can come from coalitions of civil society organisations as shown by the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP). Involving citizens, and particularly women, in the formulation of the budget has been an effective strategy in the municipality of Recife, Brazil.


  Gender and budgets: a practical tool to advance towards equity

Few things seem more incompatible than the technical rigidity of budgets and the usually fluid approach of gender activists. Yet everyone who has struggled to mainstream gender into public policy recognises that programmed action without money attached amounts to inaction.

Gender activists, both inside and outside government, have learned this lesson the hard way. Despite commitments of governments all over the world to gender equality, unequal gender relations prevail. There are countless examples of rhetorical commitments that fall short because they are not backed up by policies. Furthermore, if money is not attached specifically and in a sufficient manner to these policies, they will fail to address in a serious way the differentiated needs of women, men, girls and boys.

Traditional macroeconomic frameworks are modeled on an ‘economic man’, who is unaffected by historical context, gender, social class, sexual orientation, race, geographic location, or any other determining factor. In reality, this abstract person does not exist. Gender relations have a clear effect on the distribution of wealth, access to services and resources, and the opportunities needed to fully develop human potential. In turn, budgets - which are the main expression of macroeconomic policy at the national and sub-national levels - have largely inherited this failure to acknowledge the different circumstances women and men face, and their differentiated needs. While budgets have been instrumental in transmitting and reproducing gender biases, they also offer the possibility for transforming existing gender inequalities.

Attempts to link gender, development and equity with the dry numbers of governmental budgets have emerged in more than 50 countries during the last eight years. Most gender budget initiatives (GBIs) aim at more than just identifying targeted expenditures, or allocating more money to women. They also seek to break down and identify the differentiated impact and incidence of general public revenue and expenditure on women and men. As such, GBIs can significantly contribute to overall objectives like equity, equality, efficiency, transparency, the realisation of social, economic and cultural rights, and good governance. They can offer a practical way of evaluating governmental (in)action - based on the weight of money attached to it - and of scrutinising the budget, demanding clearer processes of accountability.

The earliest GBIs were inspired by the women’s budget initiative carried out by the Australian government during the eighties. Further initiatives have been nourished by the experience of the South African Women’s Budget and the Filipino Gender and Development (GAD) budget. Most GBIs have developed their own methodologies, adapting tools and approaches from a wide range of experiences. At times they have taken advantage of windows of opportunity in larger processes of political change. Every GBI has to be considered as a process of its own, with country- and context-specific dynamics and features. In Scotland, for instance, the GBI is closely related to the process of devolution of power to the Scottish government. In Rwanda it is linked to the post-conflict reconstruction, as well as to decentralisation, and in Peru it has been mostly located at the municipal level.

Many of these initiatives have been steered and controlled by governments, sometimes with substantial incentives from the donor community. However it is unwise to leave it to governments alone to push gender-sensitive budgets forward. Advancing a flexible concept like gender within the rigid structures of state bureaucracy requires a considerable amount of pressure, alliances and collaboration from inside and outside government (see article on the Tanzanian experience). The South African approach linked civil society and parliamentarians from the beginning, providing its initial dynamism. The Mexican initiative - a broad coalition of civil society organisations - is now reaching into the government.

Whilst there are no readily available recipes that guarantee the success of GBIs, certain strategies can strengthen them. Accordingly, research-driven advocacy can be a central element to GBIs. Solid knowledge of the process, characteristics and implications of the budget are needed both for in-government and civil society initiatives. Facts give force to the argument that budgets have to be formulated in a different way in order to move towards equity. In turn, workshops designed to demystify the budget for gender advocates, and training to sensitise public officials to gender issues, can strengthen the impact of an initiative.

All GBIs have had their highs and lows, with different degrees of success and disappointment. Levering gender-sensitive budgets onto the government’s agenda, as in the municipality of Villa el Salvador in Peru, can be a significant breakthrough. Building up budget literacy among women outside government has also been a proud accomplishment of many GBIs. In some countries, the GBIs have already achieved change in the budget and associated policy. In Mexico, targeted expenditures and funds for programmes aimed at reducing maternal mortality have been steadily increased. Yet in times of fiscal austerity maintaining levels of spending in programmes relevant to women is an achievement in itself.

Another important contribution comes in the form of participation. By enabling women to play a role in a field from which they have been customarily excluded - like public finances - GBIs certainly have an empowering effect. However, broad-based participation in budgetary matters continues to be the exception, rather than the norm. For instance, in the inspiring experiences of participatory budgeting coming out of Brazil, gender has only been marginally considered - most successfully so in Recife (see article below).

GBIs face a common challenge to the fulfilment of their potential. Up until now, no country can claim to have a fully operational gender-sensitive budget. Most initiatives are still in an analytical phase - where the impact and incidence of budgets on women, men, girls and boys is being assessed. But the ultimate goal of GBIs is to mainstream gender into the criteria that determine the planning, formulation and implementation of the budget. Advancing towards this formulation of gender-sensitive budgets is crucial at a time when enthusiasm among donors, governments and civil society is growing. GBIs are therefore under more pressure than ever to provide concrete results. The fact that GBIs are processes that evolve over a long time-span, and where capacities and understanding have to be built up gradually, should be kept in sight.

To help make the formulation of gender-sensitive budgets a reality GBIs need to be consistently followed up, evaluated and the identifiable impacts of different types of GBIs shared. To go beyond analysis, methodologies that integrate gender as a criterion in the formulation of budgets need to be identified and documented. The growing experience of building capacity of gender budget advocates and gender-sensitising public officials at all levels needs to be shared. It is also time to explore new approaches, alliances and tools, such as the potential for mainstreaming gender into participatory budget initiatives, the development of gender-sensitive participatory research techniques, and the comprehensive development of a rights-based approach to gender and budgets.

As with other approaches used to advance gender equity, it will take time and resources for GBIs to realise their potential. As a practical tool to change entrenched inequalities, GBIs have a lot to offer - but they also have limitations. They alone cannot solve all our problems. But they can make an important contribution to the advance towards gender equity.

Helena Hofbauer Balmori, Executive Director, Fundar

For further details contact:
Fundar (Centro de Análisis e Investigación)
Popotla No. 96, Int. 5
Tizapan – San Angel
C.P. 01090, Mexico D.F., Mexico
Tel: +52 5595 2643
Fax: +52 5681 0855


  Influencing macroeconomic processes in Tanzania

The 1990s saw Tanzania harshly affected by the combination of structural adjustment, economic liberalisation, globalisation, and growing debt. The increasing marginalisation of women, young people, and poor men, made clear the need for more gender-sensitive and pro-poor approaches to tackling macroeconomic processes, including through the budget.

In 1997 this challenge was taken up in the gender budget initiative (GBI) of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) in collaboration with the Feminist Activism Coalition (FemAct). Initially the priority was to undertake gender-sensitive budget research into those ministries most affected by the economic conditions - Education and Health. In order for the GBI to learn how to effectively intervene in budgeting decisions, they also carefully studied the role of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the Planning Commission. In addition, right from the start, the partners devoted time and energy into contacting and influencing key governmental actors who could be used as future entry points.

Inspired by the work of TGNP and FemAct, a year later the MoF initiated its own gender budget work. The Ministry linked its work to the newly-introduced medium-term expenditure framework and focused on six ministries - Health, Education, Water, Agriculture, Local Government and the ministry responsible for gender. The MoF recognised the need for outside gender expertise, and TGNP were eventually contracted as gender budget consultants.

Whilst certain successes had been achieved by TGNP and FemAct’s gender budget work, both inside and outside government, they had also realised the limitations of a strict focus on the budget. Budget Officers work within parameters set elsewhere. If economic transformation and gender equity goals were to be reached, TGNP and FemAct had to look for ways to influence the larger macroeconomic policy and planning reforms shaping public revenue and expenditure.

The first point of entry was the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) process:

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have linked access to concessional lending and debt relief, under the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, to the development of a poverty reduction strategy, summarised in a PRSP. These policies, in turn, are meant to drive a country’s budget.

The World Bank advises governments that they must have some public participation in drawing up PRSPs. In Tanzania non-governmental organisations (NGOs) felt that there was inadequate popular consultation in the PRSP development, so in 2000 TGNP joined an NGO coalition to advocate for the better integration of civil society voices. The coalition organised consultative workshops for civil society, and engaged with key government actors about the content and process of the PRSP.

TGNP is also a key member of the Gender Macro Policy Working Group (GMPWG). This brings together gender advocates from NGOs, donor agencies, and government ministries to push the gender agenda in the country’s macroeconomic processes. The GMPWG produced a series of comments on the drafts of the PRSP document, and met with representatives of the Government and the World Bank. Whilst these interventions did not result in significant changes to the PRSP document, they did raise the profile of the gender aspects of poverty in the debates.

After the IMF accepted the PRSP, TGNP has continued to engage in the annual PRSP reviews. In 2001, its lobbying activities led to the inclusion of some important gender indicators (for example, in education, health, laws and agriculture) in the monitoring framework. After a proposal for a parallel NGO monitoring system was turned down by government and donors, TGNP took time to contemplate whether and how to engage with the official government monitoring task teams. It finally accepted membership of the task team on research and analysis.

The second point of entry was the annual public expenditure reviews (PER):

Public Expenditure Reviews
This annual set of research papers, initiated by the World Bank, monitors a country’s public revenue and expenditure. PERs existed before the introduction of PRSPs, and have no requirement for public consultation. Instead, the decision-making around the PER tends to be dominated by donors. They are interested in understanding expenditure so as to make decisions on their own strategies and what they should financially support in the future.

Because donors provide so large a part of the Tanzanian budget, the PERs can significantly influence what resources are available to women, young people and poor men.

In Tanzania the government has played a relatively strong role in the PERs as part of its commitment to taking ownership of processes, which are led by donors in many other countries. TGNP experienced some difficulty at first in finding its way into the PER process. But in 1999 TGNP finally received an official invitation from the Ministry of Finance and Planning to become a member of the PER meetings. This was a mixed blessing, as TGNP has a small staff and they needed to find someone to attend the two-weekly meetings. However, TGNP feels that the effort has been worthwhile. Now the GMPWG is also a member of the PER meetings. The most recent achievement is agreement that the planned study on revenue will include an explicit gender component.

TGNP’s current battle is to gain entry for NGOs to the Consultative Group (CG), a forum for government-donor consultation. As such, the CG involves an annual meeting between the Tanzanian government and donors to discuss policy and budget priorities for the coming year. In 2001, NGOs were invited to an informal meeting after the formal sessions had ended. NGOs therefore complained about being brought in only after the main issues had been decided. After hot debates and lobbying, it was agreed that NGOs could join the meetings together with government and donor representatives. NGO contributions to the CG have now become more organised. A document containing civil society perspectives on the impact of PRSPs, has been submitted, including the negative impact on women.

TGNP has been innovative and strategic by linking their gender budget work with the push for both a pro-poor and gender-sensitive approach to the PRSP and PER. But TGNP’s resources have been strained at times as these activities - such as lobbying, capacity-building and the formation of coalitions - need adequate human resources. A further challenge ahead for TGNP is to extend the achievements made at the national level to the district levels.

For further information contact:
Tanzania Gender Networking Programme
PO Box 8921
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania


  Gender and the participatory budget
in Recife

In 1995, the municipal government of Recife, Brazil introduced a system of popular consultation on the budget. In its early stages, participation in the budget process was limited - it was restricted to members of particular organisations and largely failed to address issues of gender inequality.

Recife is an area with a high level of poverty and social exclusion on the basis of gender and race. In 2001 the Frente de Izquierda de Recife was elected to the municipal government and sought to address issues of social exclusion and gender inequality in the city. The new municipal government set up Coordenadoria da Mulher (Women’s Coordinating Group) to coordinate the state’s gender policies. This group works alongside a civil society body, the Municipal Council of Women, to advance gender issues in the municipality.

Coordenadoria da Mulher Pamphlet

The administration of the Frente de Izquierda de Recife has also developed a new strategy for the participatory budget through discussions between state and civil society partners. The main aim is to increase popular consultation and women’s participation in the budget process, and in both areas Coordenadoria da Mulher has played an instrumental role.

The new participatory budget has two main strategies. Firstly, area meetings are held in different neighbourhoods of the city to discuss problems and budgetary needs. Each region of the city forms a regional forum of representatives from the area meetings. Secondly, thematic fora have been set up to address problems such as education and health. In the first year (2001), 18 area meetings and six thematic fora were held. In 2002, this was increased to 54 area meetings and eight thematic fora. Two representatives from each forum (regional and thematic) take part in the General Council of the Participatory Budget.

Alongside these changes in process, Coordenadoria da Mulher introduced an initiative to increase women’s participation in the participatory budget which involves three main activities:

1. Participatory play areas
Mobile recreation spaces for children were created which are installed where the budget meetings are held. These are intended to facilitate participation by women with childcare responsibilities.

2. Campaign for Women Delegates and Advisers
Pamphlets outlining the importance of women’s participation in budgetary processes have been distributed at the area meetings. This measure was aimed not only at increasing women’s participation in the area meetings, but also at ensuring a greater representation of women in each regional and thematic forum.

3. The Women’s Meeting
These meetings were organised with government officials, members of the women’s movement, and activists dealing with race issues, to find ways to achieve broader mobilisation around women’s participation in the budget. Activities included producing pamphlets and composing music for community radio stations. In 2002 the Women’s Meeting was successfully established as a new thematic forum of the participatory budget, becoming the Thematic Forum on Women.

The creation of the Thematic Forum on Women gave the initiative a voice in the official structure of the budget-making process, and therefore in defining priorities to be implemented by the General Council of the Participatory Budget. It also meant involvement in the elections of the members of the General Council’s co-ordinating body. Thanks to the efforts of the campaign, a candidate from the Black women’s movement was elected to the co-ordinating body.

A next phase will be to foster links between the new Thematic Forum on Women and the activities of the Municipal Council of Women. Coordenadoria da Mulher believes that the meeting of women who have long been involved in the struggle for women’s equality and those more recently awakened to ideas of social transformation, has great potential to improve the lives, participation and representation of women in Recife.

Andrea Lorena Butto Zarzar, Josineide Meneses and Marta Azevedo, Coordenadoria da Mulher

For more information contact:
Andrea Lorena Butto Zarzar, General Coordinator
Coordenadoria da Mulher
Cais do Apolo, 925 iotavo andar Edificio Sede da Prefeitura do Recife
CEP: 50030-930 – Recife


  Further Reading
  BRIDGE, 2003, Gender and Budgets, BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies

Budlender, D. and Hewitt, G. (eds), 2002, Gender Budgets Make More Cents: country studies and good practice, London: Commonwealth Secretariat

Budlender, D., Sharp, R. and Allen, K., 1998, How to Do a Gender-Sensitive Budget Analysis: contemporary research and practice, Canberra: Australian Agency for International Development and London: Commonwealth Secretariat

Budlender, D., Elson, D., Hewitt, G. and Mukhopadhyay, T. (eds), 2002, Gender Budgets Make Cents: understanding gender responsive budgets, London: Commonwealth Secretariat

Elson, D., 1999, Gender Budget Initiative Tools, London: Commonwealth Secretariat
(Please contact the Commonwealth Secretariat for a copy of this publication

Elson, D., 2000, ‘Accountability for the progress of women: women demanding action’ in Elson, D., Progress of the World's Women: UNIFEM Biennial Report, New York: United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

Esim, S., ‘Impact of government budgets on poverty and gender equality’, paper written for the Inter-Agency Workshop on Improving the Effectiveness of Integrating Gender into Government Budgets, Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London, 26–27 April

Norton, A. and Elson, D., 2002, What’s Behind the Budget? Politics, rights and accountability in the budget process, London: Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

UNIFEM, 2002, Gender Budget Initiatives: strategies, concepts and experiences, papers from a high level international conference 'Towards Gender Responsive Budgeting'
A High Level Conference hosted by the Government of Belgium to launch
A Global Vision to Strengthen Economic and Financial Governance, Brussels, 16-18 October 2001. Individual papers can be accessed at:

Useful websites:
Siyanda - (search using the term ‘budgets’)
Gender Responsive Budget Initiatives -
International Budget Project -



Also available - Cutting Edge Pack
on Gender and Budgets

The pack includes:

  • an Overview Report outlining the main issues, examples of good practice and recommendations
  • a Supporting Resources Collection including contact details of relevant organisations and summaries of key texts, case studies, tools, and online resources.


 © Copyright: Institute of Development Studies 2002 ISSN: 1358-0612

Editor: Hazel Reeves and Charlotte Sever
Thanks to Debbie Budlender, Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE), and BRIDGE colleagues Emma Bell and Susie Jolly, for their editorial support.

Inbrief is also available in French and Spanish translations

BRIDGE supports the gender-mainstreaming efforts of policymakers and practitioners by bridging the gaps between theory, policy and practice with accessible and diverse gender information. It is a specialised gender and development research and information service based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the United Kingdom. BRIDGE is grateful for the financial support of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) for this issue of In Brief, and the ongoing support of the following agencies: The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), The Department for International Development, UK (DFID), The New Zealand Agency for International Development, The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), The Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Danida), The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).


For further information contact:
Institute of Development Studies
University of Sussex,
Brighton BN1 9RE, United Kingdom
Tel: + 44 (0) 1273 606261, Fax: + 44 (0) 1273 621202
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