This study examines how public processes can contribute to improving women’s status. “Gender budgeting,” which refers to the systematic examination of budget programs and policies for their impact on women, has been tried in a range of countries in recent years. Australia was the first country to formally incorporate gender budgeting into its budget process by developing the concept of a “women’s budget” to address inequalities between women and men. Government ministries and departments were required to provide an analysis of the impact of the annual budget on women and girls, focusing mainly but not exclusively on public expenditures.
Gender budgeting is sometimes seen as outside mainstream research on budgeting. This study attempts to place it squarely within that mainstream and to show that gender budgeting is just good budgeting—budgeting that properly accounts for the positive externalities that are derived from improving women’s opportunities for health care, education, and employment. Studies show that programs and policies designed to improve women’s economic opportunities lead to higher rates of economic growth (Stotsky, 2006).
Section II presents and assesses evidence on the linkage between poverty and women’s lack of opportunities for educational, social, and economic advancement, highlighting data on key indicators of inequality, such as access to education and average longevity. Sections III and IV examine critically the literature on gender budgeting, survey some experiences, and suggest directions for moving forward with these initiatives. Section V concludes with implications for the work of the International Monetary Fund.
Key findings include: (i) Measures of inequality in key economic, social, and political indicators show that women are disadvantaged relative to men, but in many areas, such as education, differences are narrowing; (ii) The concept of externalities underpins the arguments for including gender considerations in budget policies. Other arguments have a weaker economic basis but may be more socially or politically compelling; and (iii) The experience to date with gender budgeting, which entails looking at gender issues comprehensively within the budget, has been mixed, though some initiatives are thriving. These conclusions have the important implications that to become more useful as a budgeting tool, gender budgeting should be mixed into budget processes in a way that generates tangible improvements in policymaking and policy outcomes. International Monetary Fund surveillance and program work should be geared toward ensuring that fiscal authorities take into account the potential external benefits of reducing gender inequalities and enhancing the status of women. Research in a number of areas can enhance the value of gender budgeting, including measuring the differential incidence of fiscal policies by gender and the benefits of reducing gender inequalities.