Gender budgeting – a critical tool for transformation

By Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

August month, like the month in 1956 that we celebrate each year, has become a hype of women’s mobilization and a festival of ideas on how to advance the struggles against patriarchy and create a better life for all.

The evidence of the positive impact of equality for half the world’s population is becoming overwhelming. When South Africa adopted its own Constitution twenty-one years ago, we cast in stone our commitment to a non-sexist country, for all to be equal before the law.

As we therefore assess the promise of our Constitution, we must debate what more needs to be done to speed up the realization of this promise of true equality.

The need to speed up efforts to emancipate girls and women is being recognized globally.  The United Nations in 2015 concluded that at current pace, it will take us another 70 years to reach gender equality. Thus, a recent International Monetary Fund study on Gender Budgeting in G7 countries recognized that whilst there have been overall improvements in the status of women and girls, significant gaps and exceptions remained. This is in the face of ‘ample demonstration’ of the “macroeconomic gains resulting from gender equality and women’s participation in the labor market.”

Gender budgeting, a key pillar of the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action, is defined as the “use of fiscal policy and fiscal administration to advance gender equality and women’s development.” The policy side looks at taxes and expenditure to increase women’s incomes, and participation in the economy and labour market, access to assets, improve family benefits and subsidize child-care. From a tax perspective, this as a rule includes abolishing taxes that see (married) women’s incomes as “secondary” and more recently tax breaks for single parents.

Australia was the first country to introduce gender budgeting, followed by South Africa (as a civil society initiative), Uganda and Tanzania. Today, many African countries have adopted some form of gender-budgeting. The South Africa civil society programme, called the Women’s Budget Initiative (WBI) ran from 1996-1999. The WBI championed gender disaggregated statistics, and programmes focusing on women (2).

However, although women’s empowerment is an overarching policy goal of the South African government since 1994, gender budgeting has not been integrated as a policy instrument.

Responsive institutions

What is interesting in the current debate about Gender budgeting is the focus on the institutional framework for gender-responsive fiscal policy. It recognizes the need for explicit gender budget statements and auditing. For example, in the budget of the South African Police Services, how does the department seeks to advance gender equality in the allocation of its resources – the composition of its personnel, towards combatting gender-based violence, and so forth?

The aim of gender budgeting as a tool in the end is to ensure gender equality, using fiscal tools. Thus, it needs to be integrated throughout government, in all departments. Gender equality requires interventions in the economy to facilitate women’s access to jobs, capital, assets, professional and managerial positions, as well as subsidized childcare, maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. This is a key component of economic transformation.

As we therefore discuss infrastructure development, the development of the maritime economy, agriculture and land reform, mineral beneficiation, we must use the instrument of gender-budgeting to ensure that women are not left behind.

We can learn from other countries. During the term of Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala as Finance Minister of Nigeria, she used the budgets target of at least 30% of the fiscus towards women, to reward departments that reach this goal. The departments of Health, Agriculture, Public Works, Communications and Technology, and Water Resources were further singled out, given their impact on women’s lives. In Agriculture, for example, a programme of training and to give women farmers’ access to technology and finance to buy inputs was introduced and in Public Works, 1500 women trained in road maintenance. (4)

In Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania, where gender-budgeting and auditing are in response to directives on government priorities on women’s empowerment, there are greater integration of this perspective across government departments and spheres.

It can also not be taken for granted that public servants know how to do gender budgeting, implementation and auditing. The Government of India, for its gender-budgeting (2016-2018) invests considerable resources into training of public servants, civil society, as well as communities (5). In one of its brochures, it answers frequently asked questions such as: what is gender mainstreaming, and the difference between gender equality and gender equity.

Gender budgeting and the developmental state

A developmental state is fundamentally about transforming the socio-economic landscape of the country and its peoples. The focus on women and girls therefore make sense from a rights perspective, as well as from an equality and efficiency perspective.

As an instrument, gender budgeting provides for greater clarity on what needs to be done to translate the promises of equality in our Constitution into tangible outcomes, which can be measured in programmes implemented, resources spent and the impact on the lives of women and girls.


Comrade Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee

1) “Gender budgeting in G7 Countries. International Monetary Fund, April 2017.
2) “Empowerment Case Studies: Women’s Budget Initiative—South Africa”. Case study prepared by Prof. Deepti Bhatnagar and Ankita Dewan at the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) and Magüi Moreno Torres and Parameeta Kanungo at the World Bank (Washington DC).
3) Doing More with Less: A South African Gender Budget Analysis for Health, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Energy and Trade and Industry (2012/13). Motsepe Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Women.
4) “Sub-Saharan Africa: A Survey of Gender Budgeting Efforts”. By Janet G. Stotsky, Lisa Kolovich, and Suhaib Kebhaj. IMF Working Paper WP/16/152, July 2016.
5) “Gender Budgeting. Frequently Asked Questions.” Government of India, Ministry of Women and Child Development.

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