SOUTH AMERICA: Lessons From The Andes on Budgeting to Close the Gender Gap

Tuesday, November 29, 2011
IPS News
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

Three countries in South America's Andean region, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, have a great deal to teach and share with those meeting in Busan, South Korean this week to discuss, among other things, how to make sure that development aid incorporates a gender focus in order to be effective.

"Tell me what you spend on and I'll tell you what your priority is," Juana Quispe, who lives in one of the dusty shantytowns in the hills on the outskirts of Lima, told IPS.

She is convinced that only if the government invests in reducing inequality between men and women will progress be made on that front, just as she puts a priority in her own budget on feeding her two children.

Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru have taken different steps to recognise the different needs, concerns, interests and realities of men and women, and to assign resources to reducing inequality.

U.N. Women has created gender responsive budgeting (GRB) as a special tool for combating this inequality.

Quispe bases her views on her experiences in her bleak dun-coloured working-class neighbourhood which is home to thousands of migrants from the country's impoverished highland regions.

But she concurs with what Mónica Novillo, head of advocacy and lobbying at the Coordinadora de la Mujer, a Bolivian umbrella organisation made up of 26 women's groups, told IPS.

"It is only possible to close the gender gap if public policies are implemented towards that specific objective, and if these policies are adequately funded," she said in La Paz.

U.N. Women stresses that reducing gender inequality requires not only incorporating the issue in public policies, but also assessing the effectiveness of the funding earmarked for that purpose by national governments and of the development aid that is received.

The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, running from Tuesday Nov. 29 to Thursday Dec. 1 in Busan, is seeking to improve the impact of development aid, under the premise that the effort will require a priority focus on gender.

In this respect, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru have a great deal to offer, in terms of the progress they have made as well as the pending challenges.

Peru, for example, has made advances on the legislative front. A law that went into effect in 2007 stipulates that each of the country's 25 administrative regions must have a plan for promoting equal opportunities for women.

And the general budget law was amended that same year to require that all government institutions assess their policies and programmes with a view to adopting a gender perspective.

"No other country has a law with that mandate," Karen Suárez, coordinator of GRB in U.N. Women Peru, told IPS. "This is a huge stride, because it is obligatory."

But the new laws have not yet been fully implemented. So far, 17 of the country's regions have drafted an equal opportunity plan for women, while only five have a full understanding of the requirement that gender spending must be assessed, Cecilia Beltrán, who heads the women's rights section at the Defensoría del Pueblo (ombudsman's office), told IPS.

"The reality is different in every region, and these differences are not yet seen," said Beltrán, who added that "gender budgeting and its implementation with a view to closing gaps is not being prioritised."

In the central government, the Ministry of Economy and Finance is promoting the implementation of budgets that reflect concrete results. In the view of U.N. Women, this could help make the effort to reduce inequalities more effective.

Under this approach, four pilot programmes are being carried out at the national level, related to projects involving productive activities, to diversify the traditional focus of programmes against violence.

"Our aim is for not just any activity related to women to be seen as investment in reducing inequality. That means both a greater effort and a change of mentality are needed," said Suárez.

U.N. Women estimates that in 2011 Peru has earmarked 151 million dollars, or 0.7 percent of the budget, to visibilising and reducing the gender gap. But that amount only includes regional and central government programmes against domestic violence and assistance for children, as there are no complete figures yet as to what has been spent on gender questions in the country.

Suárez says it is first necessary to work on establishing clear, specific criteria on what GRB means – on the part of the Peruvian government as well as in terms of international cooperation.

"Without that, it is very difficult to monitor the budget and the results," she added.

Ecuador has taken its own approach. It has a unique gender equity office in the Finance Ministry, since the 2008 constitution stipulated that a gender focus must be incorporated in the national budget and planning.

To live up to that requirement, the ministry adopted gender equity among its functions in the 2010 budget, under the letter "K". That same year a new planning and finance code was established, which includes a focus on equality and stipulates the incorporation of expenditure to close the gender gap.

"The funds for gender equity were all over the place, and this way we found a transparent way to identify where they were and how to target the resources," Soraya Arévalo, director of gender equity in the ministry, told IPS.

In 2010, the so-called "Función K" won an international prize in Germany, among other reasons because of its transparency, user-friendliness and availability to be replicated by any other country in their computer systems.

For the 2012 budget, Ecuador has improved that function with a "spending orientation classification" system – a computer accounting code that makes it possible to register and group all of the national government's expenditure on behalf of women.

"It also makes it easier to link the budget with public policies and national planning," said Arévalo, who noted that employees in the public sector in the country's seven regions have already been trained in using the new tool. She added that representatives of women's groups taking part in a national meeting said it was easy to use and very useful in their oversight work.

With this new classification system, in the national budget for 2012, 1.245 billion dollars in expenditure – 7.5 percent of the total - has already been projected for closing the gender gap. And this figure includes only current expenditure of the central government, she said.

Using Función K in 2011, only 31 million dollars in expenditure were registered, "because it was more complicated to discern" this kind of spending, she said.

Arévalo said the classification system will also facilitate informing donors about what is needed to close the gender gap, and will make it easier for them to verify how their aid is being used.

In Ecuador, the focus on GRB has been growing at a national level because the incorporation of a gender focus is a constitutional mandate for all branches of the state. But rules about budgeting with a gender perspective are only binding for the central government, and not for municipal and provincial authorities.

In Bolivia, by contrast, these efforts have emerged at the local level.

Since 2006, municipal governments have had to assign resources to the gender policy programme. And since July 2010, the framework law on autonomy and decentralisation has made a focus on gender equity mandatory, and requires that planning mechanisms be created with the participation of civil society.

Due to the process of growing local and provincial autonomy in Bolivia, the promotion of these issues "at the local and indigenous levels takes on special importance to guarantee that public policies reflect the diverse realities of women," Novillo told IPS.

The head of advocacy at the Coordinadora de la Mujer said "this is a historical moment for putting women on the agenda at the local and national levels," and for gender equity to be taken into consideration as a step forward in the development of people and the reduction of poverty.