Gender-responsive budget: a reviewby Mamunur Rashid
THE national budget for 2012-13 was placed by the finance minister on June 7. This year, gender budget reports of 25 ministries have been published. Gender budget reports of four ministries were published in 2009 and it increased to 10 in 2010 and 20 in 2011. Gender budget reports project how much of the allocations made for different ministries will benefit women and girls. While there are some positive steps taken in the budget for promoting gender equality, questions may arise as to how the calculations of gender budget expenditures are being done and to what extent they reflect the reality. There also arises a need to make specific the government’s position with regard to monitoring of the programs and interventions taken under gender budget approach. And if there are any gaps or challenges found, then we need to take further measures to address those. That is because gender responsive budgeting is not just about making allocations for women’s advancement and rights, but it is also about constant monitoring and evaluation.
Positive measures taken in the budget from gender perspective are: direct and indirect allocations of each ministry or department for gender has been identified, income of women up to Tk 2 lakh has been kept tax-free (this is Tk 1.8 lakh for men), Tk 100 crore has been earmarked specifically for women entrepreneurs, and the number of beneficiaries and coverage of safety net programmes has increased, and affirmative actions have been taken for women’s entrepreneurship. According to the gender budget report, the women and children affairs ministry is among the top five ministries to expend the highest on gender. Its total budget is Tk 1,306 crore and it will directly and indirectly spend 85 per cent of its total allocation on gender, in which direct contribution will be around 78 per cent. In the second place is the Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs ministry which will spend 81 per cent of its overall expenditure (Tk 670 crore) on gender and of that 80 per cent is direct. The rural development and cooperatives ministry takes the third place. This ministry will expend around 70 per cent of its total allocation on gender. The disaster management and relief ministry (Tk 5,826 crore) comes fourth, which will expend almost 70 per cent of its total allocation on gender. Ranked at fifth, the water resources ministry will expend 49 per cent of its Tk 1,892 crore on gender, out of which 29 per cent is direct.
In the opposite direction, the top five ministries to allocate the least amount of money on gender are defence (indirect 11 per cent, direct .05 per cent), home (indirect 9.6 per cent, direct .2 per cent), information (indirect 9.4 per cent, direct .2 per cent), housing and public works (indirect 12.5 per cent, direct 1.2 per cent) and youth and sports (indirect 13.4 per cent, direct 3.1 per cent). It shows that there is a lot to do regarding ensuring gender sensitivity of these ministries.
The government has listed out some major gender related successful policies and programs taken in the past three years. These are approval of the national women’s advancement policy, gender responsive budgeting, separate bank loan facility for women entrepreneurs, SME loan for women, free education for girls up to graduate level, and 32 day care centres for female garment workers. Reviewing the overall budget, some observations come to mind. For example, with a view to achieving 7.2 per cent GDP growth rate, Bangladesh will have to heavily rely on export earning of the manufacturing sector, in which the share of garments industries is the largest. We know that women constitute more than 85 per cent of the workforce in this sector. Therefore, without improving their skill and standard of living, it will not be possible to achieve this growth rate. The government needs to seriously focus on this. At present, direct allocation for gender in the industries ministry is only 0.7 per cent, which is not going to help the cause at all.
In the backdrop of reducing cultivable land and growing population, food security is a major challenge for the government. Thanks to continuing subsidy in the agricultural sector, which has contributed to production of rice and other crops in plenty this year, Bangladesh is even considering exporting surplus food grains. Though female farmers have played a huge role here, e.g. in producing different types of food grains in the same piece of land, crops harvesting, seed preserving etc, they are still not recognised as farmers. The budget needs to ensure capital, skill and subsidy for female farmers to enable them to contribute more effectively in ensuring food security. Women also need market management and cold storage facilities along with strategies to prevent intermediaries to ensure that female farmers obtain fair price for the crops or products they produce.
One major concern that prevents women from playing an effective role in rural development is continued violence including early marriage, dowry, sexual harassment and domestic violence. That is because gender issues are not considered in the planning and budgeting processes of local government institutions. For a lack of direction or policy stance, local elected bodies and representatives cannot spend the money to address issues that affect women and girls. Special or separate allocations need to be made in the budget in order for local government institutions to take effective measures against violence against women, including early marriage, sexual harassment, domestic violence and dowry. Fighting climate change is also an important agenda for the country. Bangladesh is recognised as the most affected country when it comes to climate change. Different initiatives have been taken to fight natural disaster and climate change. It is widely recognised that women and adolescent girls are the hardest victims, but very few of us recognise that women and girls are also the silent force of resilience when it comes to fighting natural disasters. We need to promote women’s role in addressing climate vulnerabilities through affirmative action in the budget.
The country has made significant progress in advancing the concept of gender responsive budgeting. We need to capitalise on the prospects made from series of programmes and interventions up to date. Proper implementation of the budget will be a huge challenge due to a gap in gender sensitivity among those responsible to implement the programmes. The government’s attention will be a key to address that. If that can be done successfully, then Bangladesh will be able to set a landmark in establishing gender equality.
Mamunur Rashid is coordinator, GDCC, Steps Towards Development.
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