This is a paper presented by a member of the Kenyan National Assembly, Dr Joyce Laboso at the 40th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Africa Regional Conference in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Capital.
The Millennium Development goals (MDGs) are a set of eight (8) goals that were agreed upon at the UN Millennium Summit in New York in 2000, and aimed at fast tracking progress in achieving sustainable development and redressing inequalities all around the globe.
The MDGs contain time-bound targets in key sector areas to be achieved by 2015 in tackling the most pressing issues facing the world today namely- poverty, hunger, illiteracy, gender inequality, child and maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation.
The achievements in all the eight (8) MDGs provide a strategy through which countries can address human suffering and especially the plight of women who constitute more than 50 per cent of the total population.
In this regard, governments must seriously and systematically ‘engender’ efforts to achieve all the goals.
Such efforts must, of necessity, include engendering the national budgets by systematically and deliberately allocating resources for activities that address the plight of the disadvantaged gender which in Africa is women.
Gender Budgeting – What is it?
It is the process of incorporating gender concerns in the entire budgeting process. On the whole, budgets are gender blind. Gender-blind budgets do not consider that women and men have different roles, responsibilities, capabilities and commitments. They ignore the economic and social differences that exist between women and men.
A gender budget is therefore a budget that has accounted for the direct and indirect effects of a government’s expenditure, allocations and revenues on both women and men. Making sure there is a specific allocation for programmes specially tailored to address the concerns of the disadvantaged gender.
Why a Gender Budget ?
Gender Budgeting is important and relevant to governments in various ways. It assists to promote equity, equality, efficiency and transparency in the budget process including the realisation of social, economic and cultural rights and good governance. It offers a practical way of evaluating governments inaction or action and the progress made towards gender equality by focusing on the weight of government’s financial commitment attached programmes and their impact on the lives of women. The budget can be used as a tool to consciously ensure that governments and other government institutions focus on disadvantaged groups such as women, youth people with disabilities (PWDs) and people living with HIV and AIDS.
Gender budgeting allows governments to prepare and review their national budgets through promoting policy and resource allocation from a gender perspective. It further proposes that government expenditure on programmes and projects reveal a differential impact between men and women that aims at improving the life of women and girls especially in marginalised areas.
A gender budget can also act as an instrument for holding the government accountable to its gender equality obligations. Sustainable development requires a deeper understanding of the fact that men and women have different development priorities needs and constraints and are therefore affected differently by development interventions.
50:50% budgetary allocation for men, women, boys and girls is not enough to address gender imbalances for gender budgeting but the percentages should be as per the identified needs of men, women, boys and girls after analysis. A gender budget thus attempts to transform budgets from an exercise of resource allocation to tools for social change.
Why Focus on Women?
Gender budgeting is not about women. However, women, especially in Africa have been disadvantaged for many reasons and for so long and this notwithstanding that they constitute majority of the population in the continent. For example, there has been low level of representation in parliamentary politics where most decisions affecting women are made.
The economy has a gender hierarchy because of the social construction hierarchy because it is made up of the productive and reproductive activities and the latter is the woman’s domain. Productive activities are given monetary value and go into the GDP whereas reproductive activities happen mostly within the households and are not accounted for in the GDP. E.g., When a woman takes care of her children, it is reproductive and is not accounted for, whereas when she takes her child to a day care centre to be looked after, she pays for the services and it becomes productive services. The same as when one washes their clothes at home; it is reproductive whereas when one takes them to the laundry, it is productive services.
Women have unique insights and gifts to the development process which need to be exploited. They are resource mobilizers as seen from their merry-go-rounds in the community; they are peace builders because they understand the consequences of wars, violence and conflicts on them; and they are united towards achieving goals as demonstrated in their numerous successful self-help women groups. Women play multiple roles in the society and therefore it is of utmost importance to educate them and allow them to have a voice in decision making that is critical in achieving the MDGs. Empowering women will accelerate the achievement of these goals. For example, access to education and health is key indicator to economic growth, poverty reduction and alleviation of child mortality rates and eradication of malnutrition.
Situation in Kenya
In Kenya, there exists gross inequalities between men and women. The economic disempowerment of women constitutes a major obstacle to the government’s efforts at alleviation of poverty. According to the Kenya Integrated Budget Household survey (KIBHS), 2005/6, women constitute 50.5 per cent of the total population. The survey further reveals that poverty has gender dimensions; with female headed households being more likely to have higher poverty prevalence compared to male- headed households.
Within the East Africa region, Kenya has the lowest percentage of women representatives in Parliament. In the current 10th- Parliament, there are 22 female Parliamentarians out of a house of 222.This mere 10 per cent representation has major implications on the articulation and implementation of women’s agenda in Parliament. The fact is that women are under represented in decision-making positions notwithstanding a Presidential directive that in all public service appointments, there must be a one-third representation of women.
Women remain largely absent at the levels of policy formulation and decision-making and are underrepresented in policy decision making positions. Even where they are present, they may not be equal participants due to rampant masculinity. Women are the central caretakers of families yet continue to experience suffering occasioned by oppression, violence and exclusion from full participation in nation building. They are central to community development initiative which characterises rural development practices and policies. Therefore, have the potential to boost economic development through their actions. Their centrality to communal life makes their inclusion in decision making essential, and subsequently the need for gender responsive budget.
The budgetary process in Kenya has gradually focused on gender issues. Poverty, education and health sectors have been given priority in the budget allocation process and the expenditure awarded to these sectors has also increased tremendously. In Kenya, the government has developed poverty eradication policies and strategies such as the National Poverty Eradication Plan, NPEP (1999-2015); the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, PRSP (2001-2004), the National Development Plan, NDP (2002-2008) and the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth & Employment Creation, ERSWEC (2003-2007) which all need to be fully implemented and require full participation of men and women. Free primary and secondary education that takes it mandatory for all children who have attained the school going age to access education has been crucial in bridging the wide gap between male and female access to education. In the past priority in education by most cultures in Kenya was given to the boy-child who was viewed to have more potential value to the families while the girl child was neglected since her role was seen to be mainly focused in the domestic domain which is deemed by the society as requiring no formal education.
Role of Parliamentarians
Parliament through the enactment of gender responsive legislation will ensure that resources are allocated to meet the needs of various sectors of society. Gender sensitive budgetary estimates: Parliament has a key role to ensure that budgetary estimates that are approved are gender sensitive and promote gender equality at all levels of society. Oversight on gender sensitive expenditure by government: Through its oversight functions, Parliament can in reviewing government expenditure and investment examine gender concerns and put government to account. Gender Budgeting Sensitisation of communities: MPs ought to support sensitization initiatives for their constituents on gender and the economy to enable women to realise positive change e.g., enable the women to engage with CDF, LATIF, Constituency Aids and Bursary fund, Youth and Women funds. In doing this, the MPs should collaborate with other government structures, including local government, provincial administration and with civil society groups.
MPs must recognize the local governance structures at the lower level and gender sensitise them to be gender sensitive and to mainstream gender in their work. Parliament has demonstrated political leadership in the domestication of the international MDGs following the establishment of the Parliamentary Caucus on Poverty and the MDGs with the objective of exercising advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring the country fast track implementation of action programmes to reduce poverty and achieve MDGs by 2015. Parliament has also established a Committee on Equal Opportunity.