By Nyaguthii Wangui Maina*
As the Third International Conference on Financing for Development drew to a close last week, two messages that rang through the discussions when it came to achieving Gender Equality was that firstly, there is need for gender responsive tax and budgeting; and secondly, more money is required for women’s mobilization groups, especially those working at the grassroots level.
However, what is gender responsive budgeting? What does it ideally look like? Was it reflected in the text of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda outcome document?
Borrowing from the analysis of UN Women, national development plans and strategies identify development priorities and articulate how these will be implemented, financed and monitored. Often, gender equality commitments are not adequately considered or included during the design, implementation and financing stages of planning. Despite efforts to formulate national action plans for gender equality and sectoral gender strategies, these are rarely integrated in national development priority setting and plans. Implementing gender equality commitments requires governments to take a series of actions including formulating policies that remove gender-based discrimination and guarantee women’s rights. Such actions require financial resources, institutional capacity and accountability systems that should be integrated in national plans and budgets in order to enable implementation.
Ministries of Finance have the mandate to set up public finance management systems, define budget ceilings and ensure sound macro-economic frameworks. Gender analysis supports ministries of finance to make better budget choices by highlighting existing gender gaps and the impact of public expenditures and revenue-raising on women and girls.
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda was anticipated to be an instrument that would deliver in addressing some of the gender financing gaps as well as unlock the barriers. Did it deliver as much? Arguably no.
In their very well-articulated Op-ed in the Guardian, Ana Ines Abelenda and Nerea Craviotto argue that the text is almost entirely devoid of specific proposals that can be swiftly implemented to champion for women’s rights and address gender inequality. In my opinion the text has also to a large extent strongly diverted attention from the role of states in removing the global obstacles to development abdicating their duties through public finance and domestic resource mobilization to the heavily dominated and unregulated private sector.
The two cement this concern and reverberate succinctly as follows, “Rather than encouraging states to remove obstacles to development, mobilize official development assistance and commit adequate public resources, this approach puts the emphasis on private sector contributions,” – the very same sector that is highly unregulated and has evidently exacerbated women’s rights in the social and economic sectors. The article continues, “As a result, little attention is given to structural barriers to women’s economic rights or their ability to access, own and control economic resources. The unequal distribution of unpaid care work, poor access to health care services and natural resources, persistent gender discrimination in the labour market – all went largely ignored by the Addis delegates.”
“In addition, many OECD governments are shying away from aid commitments, preferring instead to rely on private sector contributions in the form of foreign direct investment and public-private partnerships. Again, this is problematic. As the women’s working group argues, private sector activities, including public-private partnerships, are promoted in the Addis agenda with scant regard for accountability mechanisms to uphold human rights standards, including environmental and social safeguards. Moreover, insufficient attention has been paid to the cost of public-private partnerships and the quality of services and infrastructure they will deliver.”
It is indeed common knowledge that national fiscal & tax systems must undergo deep reforms in order to ensure fairness and progressivity and as Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, Executive Director UN Women articulated, “To close persistent gender gaps in health, education, employment, justice, and decision-making, the chronic underinvestment in women and girls must be urgently reversed.”
Is the fight over? From the various arguments written during and after the conference, I would say the general mood is that it is far from it; social justice advocates have chosen to see the conference as a foundation to address inequalities within and among states and particularly in championing for girls and women’s rights. Financing their future is a reality, but the work has only just begun. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International put it well when she stated as follows, “Citizens from all around the world must continue to challenge rigged rules that favor vested interests, and governments must listen. 2015 can still deliver the change we need towards a fairer future.”