Accountability, efficiency and transparency of the State need to go beyond the engagement of citizens to include progress towards social equality and empowerment of all marginalised groups in decision-making.
In order to address gender issues more equitably and promote women’s rights, gender responsive budgets (GRBs) are increasingly being used as vehicles for championing good economic governance.
GRBs refer to the allocation of financial resources in a manner that is equally responsive to the needs and interests of women and men, girls and boys. This type of budgeting enhances the State’s economic governance and financial management by providing feedback on whether it is meeting the needs of different groups of women and men, girls and boys.
For both State and non-State actors, GRBs can be used to promote transparency, accountability and participation. In addition, they can provide information that allows for better decision-making on how policies and priorities should be framed and revised and the level of accompanying resources required to achieve gender equality.
Over the last decade, the rise in the use of GRBs across the globe can best be described as phenomenal. To date, many development agencies including co-operating partners have either specific GRB programmes or are supporting initiatives of this scope at the national level. Ironically, the extent to which this trend manifests itself progressively in Zambia appears far-fetched due to, amongst other factors, limited thematic expertise and information around GRBs and a fluid framework governing the national budgeting process.
The legislative, oversight and representational roles that MPs play make them a critical link for enhancing GRBs. In reality, the process of ensuring that MPs in Zambia provide a link for interrogating and providing collective engendered constituent views is plagued with capacity and structural paucities. The capacity of the National Assembly, which is the ultimate oversight institution mandated by the Zambian Constitution to approve the budget, to analyse the national budget from a gender lens and articulate gender targets, is weak due to inadequate technical staff with skills in budget analysis. A pool of budget analysts housed within Parliament to provide advisory services to MPs would greatly enhance gender responsive budgeting in Zambia.
For example, MPs can participate in the budget consultative process at district and provincial level as members of the District Development Co-ordinating Committee (DDCC) or the Provincial Development Co-ordinating Committee (PDCC).
However, these meetings are quite often inconsistent and not well co-ordinated and normally result in MPs being excluded. Further, the capacity of the principal oversight institution, the National Assembly which is best positioned to assist MPs, is somehow compromised because of inadequate technical expertise in gender responsive budget analysis.
In order to address the concerns that hinge on the diligence of the GRB process in Zambia, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), in collaboration with the Non-Governmental Organisations Co-ordinating Council (NGOCC), recently organised an orientation session on the same subject at the National Assembly of Zambia for selected MPs working in targeted areas of the two organisations remit. The session was conducted in December 2012.
This initiative is one of several interventions supported by Panos through its governance capacity development window on the Atwaambe project (Governance and Transparency Fund) aimed at creating a cadre of MPs that can meaningfully engage with their constituents using evidence-based approaches.
This effort not only augments the many initiatives that contribute to the National Assembly of Zambia’s vision of a model legislature for good governance and democracy, but also strengthens a key output of the Parliamentary Reform Programme of bringing Parliament closer to the people.
Over the past decade, an analysis of the national budget shows that overall a lot more requires to be done to make the budget more gender responsive. There are isolated gender allocations, which is commendable. But these are mainly allocations on special occasions such as the International Women’s Day and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.
This has led to organisations such as NGOCC advocating for a national budget which expressly indicates gender targets. For example, the number of maternity clinics to be built in areas where these facilities are absent or too remote must be deliberately planned for to curtail incidences of women travelling long distances and oftentimes giving birth on their way to maternal health facilities.
The interaction with the parliamentarians during the GRB orientation session affirmed a number of challenges that require fixing to make the process of budgeting more gender responsive. Whereas the Constitution of Zambia provides for the presentation and approval of the budget, there is no comprehensive piece of legislation that provides for an elaborate consultation process in the budget process.
It is, however, worth noting that generally, Zambia is party to key international conventions on gender equality at the level of the United Nations, African Union and Southern African Development Community.
In addition, the Budget Call Circular from the Ministry of Finance provides for a directive on gender budgeting. It calls on ministries, provinces and spending agencies (MPSAs) to address specific gender concerns in the budget preparation process.
However, the absence of a planning and budgeting act dilutes effective participation of various stakeholders in the entire budget process.
The setting up of a Monitoring and Evaluation Unit at the Ministry of Finance is a welcome move that will enhance the capturing of gender disaggregated information to feed into budget impact assessments during post-budget implementation analysis.
The Unit should be strengthened to assist MPSAs in coming up with a gender-friendly framework for capturing data during planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of sector specific initiatives and projects.
This would greatly assist in dealing with the inadequate gender disaggregated data at the national level. Similarly, other State institutions such as the Central Statistical Office should also strengthen the collection of disaggregated gender statistics across sectors.
GRB requires unreserved government support and scaling up to include sensitisation and training to grassroots-based organisations and elected representatives across the country.
In order to make the budget more gender responsive, government should encourage a participatory approach that promotes the articulation of budget beneficiaries by gender, emphasises a bigger resource envelope around service delivery as opposed to meeting administrative expenditures and also addresses women’s and men’s development priorities, including girls and boys.
The author is Regional Programme Manager for Governance and Development at Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), a regional communication for development organisation working across Southern Africa.