Interview with Dr. Saskia Ravesloot, BTC, Belgian Development Agency, Brussels
Your activities and experiences with Gender Budgeting and G(R)B model
What made you get active in Gender Budgeting? What are your present activities?
In October 2001, I was a researcher at the Centre for Women’s Studies of the Antwerp University. While working on a gender mainstreaming project for the Belgian Government, I participated in one of the first large-scale High Level International Conferences on Gender Budgeting Initiatives (Strengthening Economic and Financial Governance), which was organised in Brussels. This inspiring conference gave me the opportunity to get acquainted with concepts and tools of gender budgeting, to meet key authors like Diana Elson, Guy Hewitt and Rhonda Sharp and to learn from experiences in the field as for example, in Tanzania and Uganda. In this regard UNIFEM/Karen Judd’s paper on Gender Budgeting Initiatives shall be recommended for further reading.
From then on, I have seen gender budgeting as the key for success when the aim was to integrate gender in whatever strategy, policy or process.
As a member of the OECD/DAC Gendernet I am currently contributing to the reflections on minimum standards for the Gender Marker. The final output of this informal working group on the DAC gender equality policy marker aims at developing new guidelines for improving the application of the Gender Marker in a more coherent manner among OECD/DAC member states.
Could you please summarise your experiences with Gender Budgeting…
… in the European Union?
As co-lead of the Gender Expert Group of learn4Dev I organised a Joint Learning Journey in Brussels together with the other co-lead, Benedetta Magri from ITC/ILO. This event featured the topic of “Discovering a shared capacity for gender mainstreaming in development cooperation in the lead-up to the post-2015 Agenda”. Special attention was given to the topics of Gender Responsive Budgeting in Public Financial Management (PFM). A close collaboration with the PFM expert group of learn4dev as well as with partners from our programmes in the field was one of the main outcomes.
On our website we shared that the Rwanda case, presented by Ms Donnah MBABAZI (Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning), showed the importance of hard law. The organic budget law of 2013 includes gender sensitive budgeting and provides for mandatory reporting on gender budget statements and the implementation of the plans for gender equality.
From our other invitee we recorded that Ms Zineb BOUBA from the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Morocco presented an example of how political will and true commitment of a government is important to track efforts for gender equality. The Moroccan government made a conscious effort to eliminate gender inequality and allocated the right resources to achieve this target, through a new budgetary system at the service of efficiency and transparency, launched in 2002.
Other keynote speakers contributed to the understanding of GRB and PFM practices and tools in an excellent way. By way of example, Ms Anna DOWNS from DFID gave an overview of PFM and explained the 6 stages of the budget cycle, stressing that they were linked and that throughout the cycle, transparency had to be considered. She located GRB within PFM, discussed PFM’s relevance for GRB and gender equality outcomes, as well as the question how PFM could be made more gender responsive.
The Belgian GRB expert, prof. Nathalie HolvoetT from IOB Antwerp, presented an overview of the PEFA Framework and its relevance for gender responsive budgeting. She also gave an in-depth presentation on the different ways to use GRB at sectoral level. Ms Holvoet clarified that GRB and PFM, as result based mechanisms, both rely on transparency and are people-centred.
More recently the Gender Expert Group also presented a position paper on GRB to the PEFA Committee which takes into account our remarks in the new set of PEFA indicators.
… in EU-financed projects?
As the co-lead of the Gender Expert Group of Learn4Dev I participated in the development of the Resource Package on Gender Mainstreaming in EU Development Cooperation. This resource package is not only an extensive database for gender mainstreaming guidelines, methodologies, tools and checklists, it also contains numerous references on various topics. It explicitly refers to gender budgeting and gives an overview of best practices as referred to in this interview.
Another EU-funded project related to gender budgeting in a broad sense regards the compilation of EU best practices on Gender Impact Assessment. A workshop, organised in Vienna in 2014 by the European Commission, showcased best practices, from inter alia Austria and Belgium. Participants exchanged approaches and learned that gender impact assessments and gender budgeting are closely related and can reinforce each other. These processes bring actors together, who normally do not collaborate and demand a coherent holistic approach contributing to shared objectives. One of the remaining questions was the issue of sanctions. How can we oblige departments to conduct these processes? Again, the answer was by means of the law. See papers on best practices.
… in national projects?
In 2008, I organised several colloquia on gender mainstreaming (see Acts of the cycle of seminars Gender mainstreaming, a new challenge for the federal government and the administrations) for the Institute for the equality of women and men in Belgium. One of the seminars addressed gender budgeting, inviting academics, experts, civil society, government and administrations around the table. These events attracted numerous experts and practitioners from different countries and initiated the preparation of more formal gender budgeting processes, later on translated into ministerial circulars manuals and instruments. More information is available at the website of the “Institut pour l’égalité des hommes et des femmes” amont others.
… in local projects?
The Belgian Cooperation has maintained a long-term collaboration with Morocco and initiated gender budgeting processes through a delegated cooperation with UNIFEM (UN Women) in 2000. In Morocco we work closely with the Centre of Excellence for Gender Responsive Budgeting of the Ministry of Economy and Finances.
In 2014, an overview was presented of the gender responsive budgeting processes in Morocco by the representative of the Centre of Excellence during the World Human Rights Forum in Marrakech stating that the gender budgeting process (obliged by law) has shifted to a budgeting process “sous le prisme des droits humains”. This is an interesting shift in conformity with the international systematic orientation towards human rights and a rights-based approach to development. More information can be found on the website of the Ministry of Economy and Finances, which also refers to the annual reporting (including statistics) on gender indicators. A comparison of their reports over the years indicates that data collection and monitoring has improved and that more departments have got involved (all departments are obliged to report in a gender sensitive way). However, fewer resources have been invested in evaluation and few analyses have been conducted to measure the impact on the field of these gender budgeting processes. Do these processes empower local women? Do they improve their living and working conditions or their employment opportunities? Do they create environments where women’s fundamental rights and freedoms are respected, protected and fulfilled?
One of our BTC programmes in Morocco is on capacity building. It features trainings, capacity building and study tours (to Belgium) dedicated to the exchange of practices on gender responsive budgeting. In support of this capacity building programme, I conducted several backstopping missions and organised several gender budgeting trainings (in collaboration with a Belgian NGO) for the project staff and the representatives of partner institutions at national and regional level.
As another experience in collaboration with one of our programmes in the field, I would like to mention my contribution to a seminar on donor practices in gender budgeting. It was organised by the ITC/ILO in collaboration with UN Women in 2014 and took place in Turin. Together with the gender focal point for the Ministry of Finances, Economy and Planning in Rwanda, an overview of the Rwandan GRB processes in the health sector was presented. Again, it was underscored that legislation plays a crucial role, as well as continuous awareness-raising, training, and clear guidelines and instruments.
What are – in your mind – the reasons for GB being pursued to a higher/lesser degree?
In my opinion it’s crucial to link gender budgeting processes to a clear set of objectives. For example the SDG 5 could be a starting point in some of the ministries concerned in order to learn about what gender budgeting processes can mean for the PFM cycle.
Fostering, as already mentioned, a vivid exchange with academics, experts and practitioners from abroad, would be a good starting point, too. Colloquia bring different partners and actors together.
And last but not least, legislation is essential, as is a strong institutional entity which takes the lead regarding all processes and which is responsible for assessing impact and for reporting on progress made by all actors involved.
Which are the main challenges to consider prior to implementing Gender Budgeting?
At organisational level…
…it is important to understand the position of colleagues and the management.
Both have, in some cases, developed an allergy to “gender” (I would not call it “gender fatigue”, though). In my opinion, gender is often considered as acting “against men”. This perception needs to be contested, which is a long-term process. So, the first thing to do is intensive awareness-raising (at high level). Then, I would take time to analyse the situation and point out figures and data. Evidence-based information is the greatest eye-opener (even if it hurts, like for example statistics on women in the organisation, vertical and horizontal segregation). As a next step, it is important to find allies also at high level (ministries, public administration, embassies…), to create entry points for support in addition to the work from bottom-up, aiming at specific win-win situations and generating little by little the necessary political will. And last but not least: Never give up!
More particularly, colleagues desire – in relation to cross-cutting issues – simple guidelines, permitting them to understand what the key question is or what this is all about. Consecutively, they want to be able to “integrate gender budgeting” in an independent way and without too much help from others. If this is not the case, they prefer to delegate the task of gender budgeting and rely on gender experts (which is not the purpose of course when we are talking about gender mainstreaming).
Members of the management staff usually have other preoccupations. Integrating gender in the budget means “engagement”, “engagement” means “accountability”; for some “managers” this is just one step too far. For different reasons: In their mind-set, budget for gender equals fewer budgets dedicated to other more “sectoral” actions. Accountability for engagement also means priorities among cross-cutting issues; again, more budgetary resources allocated to gender entails fewer budgetary resources allocated to other cross-cutting issues (environment, handicap …). And finally, gender budgeting is a gender mainstreaming instrument and too many articles and assessments report negatively on the results. Consequently, managers have little faith in gender mainstreaming processes and implicitly also in gender budgeting processes.
Which role does politics play?
In my experience politics plays a crucial role in getting gender budgeting on the agenda. Once gender budgeting is incorporated in legislative terms, one has a basis to refer to. The fact that Belgium adopted a Gender Mainstreaming Law in January 2012 has set the fundaments for further details in ministerial circulars, guidelines and other instruments like concept notes and checklists.
Belgium’s Gender Mainstreaming Law obliges the integration of the gender dimension in budgetary preparations by imposing a gender note for each budgetary project of expenses. The fact that this is an obligation for all departments, state services and enterprises as well as institutions of public interest creates a certain ‘competition’ among public entities, which can be constructive, when reporting on progress (sort of blaming and shaming).
Which role does the public administration politics play?
The public administration is probably more difficult to convince, since not only the gender machinery (e.g. the ministry in charge of promoting gender equality) but all other departments involved in the Public Finance Management cycle, are concerned. These are mostly less sensitive regarding gender issues.
If the gender machinery is in charge of integrating gender budgeting processes, part of the responsibility is policy-making, developing guidelines, manuals and checklists. They can create/provide diverse platforms, for input from various actors (academics, experts, civil society…), or for training or feedback regarding gender budgeting from mainstream administrations. Experience shows that even if they are responsible for the gender budgeting processes, additional capacity building for the staff involved is crucial.
Nevertheless, if the gender machinery is not the entity in charge of introducing and promoting the gender budgeting processes, tensions can exist between the proper gender machinery and the ministry leading the gender budgeting processes (e.g. ministry of finances and planning), the latter being a stronger entity, with more budget and a better position within the government to address decision-making processes. One could argue that the gender budgeting process is better off within a strong ministry. In any case, transparent collaboration and clear distinction of responsibilities and tasks (training, awareness-raising, campaigns, monitoring and evaluation) between the involved entities is a prerequisite to reduce risks of conflicts and increase success.
Which role does the academia play?
The input from academics and other practitioners is essential for giving gender budgeting policies, guidelines, processes and instruments legitimacy. Involvement of experts is a perfect entry point for clarifying concepts and models, exchange experiences, learn from lessons abroad and create a common language. Researchers often collaborate with bilateral and multilateral organisations, build strategies, develop plans, assess projects and processes and provide feedback for policy improvement. During a couple of decennia numerous experiences have been capitalised, nourishing several networks, platforms, references and databases. Some of these shall be pointed to by the links below:
Which role does civil society play?
As academics and experts, civil society organisations play various roles. Different organisations provide trainings, capacity building, awareness-raising on gender budgeting. They publish articles and manuals and deliver services (conducting analyses, performing assessments, evaluating progress, drafting strategies and action plans) for bi- and multilateral organisations. However, since any certification in this field is lacking, trainings and consultations differ in quality. The most adequate way forward is peer-learning from sister organisations/entities with similar settings (e.g. bi-, multilateral; governmental/non-governmental; public/private) working in similar conditions (e.g. ministry, agency, local administration) and environments (e.g. international, partner countries, Europe, Benelux…).
Describe a particular G(R)B project or a G(R)B initiative!
In 2012, I developed a tool called the ‘Gender Budget Scan’ for internal use at the Belgian Development Agency (BTC). The Gender Budget Scan (GBS) is a tracking device adopted for all new BTC interventions in the field (in all sectors and in all countries). It is mandatory for all new project and programme designs.
Experiences (2012-2016) demonstrate a manifest interest from colleagues, members of formulation teams, depicting the exercise as user-friendly. The GBS categorises in four categories of expenses: gender blind, supporting the gender machinery, gender sensitive and gender transforming. The purpose is to screen every budget line of an intervention (in the drafting phase). The process of budget screening is an easy one guided by three questions. Colleagues are keen on applying it when finalising their project/programme document. The new gender strategy of our ministry of development cooperation refers to the GBS and sees training on the GBS as a way to contribute to the institutional cultural shift. Several presentations have been given regarding the GBS as for example during the International Colloquium in Paris in December 2014 (1975 – 2015. C’est encore loin l’égalité ?).
On the basis of the GBS, it is possible to aggregate budgets geographically and at sectoral level. Through this exercise one can deduct for example how much budget is to be attributed to ‘transforming activities’. This provides strong argumentation for the implication of more (national) expertise during the implementation of interventions and the execution of activities. This is so because someone has to guide and nourish these transformation processes. Simultaneously, the GBS displays how much money is being reserved for collaboration with the gender machinery, or for support to the gender machinery. Do we rely on their expertise? Do we strengthen their capacities? In other words do we conceive the gender machinery as the national duty-bearer for promoting gender equality?
What are the main targets and key aspects of this project/initiative?
The GBS is compatible with the OECD/DAC Gender Equality Policy Marker. Whereas the GE-Policy Marker provides general “information on the degree to which members implement the agreed policies in their aid programmes”, the GBS permits to transcribe these intentions during the planning phase. Consequently, it facilitates tracking these intentions throughout their implementation, monitoring and evaluation (projects and programmes). During the project/programme implementation, the GBS gives a detailed overview of how much financial resources are allocated for gender-related activities at each reporting stage. As such, accountability for gender engagement is strengthened.
Which steps have already been taken, which milestones already been reached?
Awareness-raising, coaching colleagues, trainings, advise and supporting colleagues during formulations. While emphasis has been put on the formulation phase in the very beginning, it is now shifting towards the implementation phase. As such, the GBS is work in progress. For more information consult the Resource Package on Gender Mainstreaming in EU Development Cooperation, which includes reference to the GBS and other tools used by the international community. This Resource Package is an inspiring and perfect entry point for new initiatives on gender budgeting.
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