International Women’s Day: Understanding Gender-Responsive Budgeting

(Disponible en français : Journée internationale des femmes : Comprendre la budgétisation sensible à la sexospécificité)

International Women’s Day – observed every year on March 8th – provides Canadians with an opportunity to reflect on women’s achievements and to promote the advancement of gender equality.

This year, Canada’s theme is #MyFeminism, “inspired by the role feminism continues to play in shaping Canada and countries around the world.” At the international level, the UN Women’s theme is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.”

Beyond International Women’s Day, many governments and parliamentarians have committed to advancing gender equality by implementing gender-sensitive policies and initiatives. Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) is one such initiative.

What is Gender-Responsive Budgeting?

According to the Council of Europe, GRB can be understood as a “gender based assessment of budgets incorporating a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process and restructuring revenues and expenditures in order to promote gender equality.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes that there is no standard model of GRB. The scope and quality of GRB can vary significantly. As well, GRB can be enacted by a country through a number of means, such as the establishment of government policies or the passing of legislation.

National Budgets are Often Gender-Blind

A national budget is a government’s most significant economic policy statement, signalling social and economic priorities by outlining revenues and spending for a financial year.

A number of GRB stakeholders – for example, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) explain that national budgets are often assumed to be gender-neutral, but they are actually “gender-blind,” because they do not recognize the differing effects of government spending on women and men, and often inadvertently reinforce existing gender inequalities.

GRB initiatives can expand their analysis to include additional identity factors such as socio-economic class, gender identity, age, geography and ethnicity.

The Canadian Experience with Gender-Responsive Budgeting

(i)        Initiatives at the Federal Government Level

In 1995, Canada signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which included a call for “the integration of a gender perspective in budgetary decisions on policies and programmes.”

As a response to the Platform for Action, the Government of Canada developed The Federal Plan for Gender Equality in 1995, which committed the federal government to implementing Gender-based Analysis (GBA) throughout federal departments and agencies. The Federal Plan also stated that “federal departments and agencies will monitor the impact of fiscal restraint and budget cuts over the next three years to ensure that they do not disproportionately or adversely affect women and members of other designated groups.”

While the Government of Canada officially adopted GBA – which evolved into Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) – no GRB initiatives were initially established at the federal level.

In 2005, the federal government’s Expert Panel on Accountability Mechanisms for Gender Equality, in its report Equality for Women: Beyond the Illusion, examined GRB and issued the following recommendation:

Let the Minister of Finance set the example. We believe that drawing from international lessons, the Minister of Finance could apply gender-based analysis rigorously to one key area of the 2006 Budget.

In March 2017, Budget 2017 included a Gender Statement, which:

Sets out how decisions made in the current budget were informed by gender considerations, with the ultimate goal of delivering the best possible outcomes for Canadians in all their diversity. This first attempt will inform and improve the process used for future statements.

On 27 February 2018, the federal government released Budget 2018, which stated that “no budget decision was taken without being informed by Gender-based Analysis Plus.”

Furthermore, in Budget 2018 the federal government announced that it will “introduce new GBA+ legislation to make gender budgeting a permanent part of the federal budget-making process” with the goal of “extending the reach of GBA+ to examine tax expenditures, federal transfers and the existing spending base, including the Estimates.”

(ii)      Parliamentary Initiatives

In 2008, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women’s report, entitled Towards Gender-Responsive Budgeting: Rising to the Challenge of Achieving Gender Equality, included a list of 27 recommendations on implementing GRB at the federal level. For instance, it recommended that:

  • Status of Women Canada take the lead on the initial design and delivery of the GRB process; and
  • The federal government table legislation specific to GRB, with the creation of an Office of the Commissioner for Gender Equality which would gain responsibility for the implementation and accountability of the GRB process.

International Examples of Gender-Responsive Budgeting

For over a decade, international organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have encouraged governments to implement GRB.

Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals – outlined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – is to achieve gender equality, and it includes as one of its indicators of success, the “proportion of countries with systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” including budget allocations.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s 2016 report more than 80 countries have implemented some form of GRB. While many GRB initiatives are launched and run for a few years, they often do not continue on a permanent basis.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, the successful implementation of GRB depends on a number of factors:

  • political will and political leadership;
  • high-level commitment of public administrative institutions;
  • improved technical capacity of civil servants;
  • civil society involvement; and
  • [availability of] sex-disaggregated data.

Selected international examples of GRB include:

  • Australia: In 1984, the Australian federal government undertook the first nationwide GRB initiative in the world, which ended in 2014.
  • Belgium: Belgium’s Gender Mainstreaming Act of 2007 provides the legal basis for the compulsory identification of government funds earmarked for the promotion of gender equality and imposes a “gender test” for every new policy measure. The Institute for Equality of Women and Men is responsible for administering this law.
  • Sweden: Sweden’s GRB initiative is upheld by “high level political commitment.” The government of Sweden says that it implements GRB in the following manner: “The gender equality effects of budget policy are evaluated, […] a gender perspective is continuously applied in the process and […] revenue and expenditure are to be redistributed to promote gender equality.”

Additional Resources

Centre Hubertine Auclert, “La budgétisation sensible au genre,” Guide pratique, 2015 [available in French only].

International Monetary Fund, “Gender Budgeting in G7 Countries,” Policy Papers, 19 April 2017.

Ronnie Downes et al., “Gender Budgeting in OECD Countries,Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate, 2017.

Author: Laura Munn-Rivard, Library of Parliament