Gender-sensitive budgeting improves the welfare of all

31.8.2009 10.03
News item N5-50562
Under the government's budget for next year all ministries will assess the gender impact - or lack of it - of the budget for their administrative sector. "A gender sensitive budget improves the welfare of everyone, not only women", says Senior Officer Hanna Onwen-Huma of the MSAH's Equality Unit.

"At present, the gender perspective is articulated in the budgets of the MSAH, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and the Ministry of Education, because their budgets mainly produce services for people. And people are men or women, boys or girls", says Onwen-Huma.

"It has been harder for other ministries to specify the people and their genders that are the subjects of their budgets."

Onwen-Huma says that the distribution and examination of statistics in terms of gender often helps us to see gender biases. Nearly all statistics concerning people are available concerning men and women separately, and so information can be found from current statistics. Presenting this data in graphic curve form enables one to perceive new trends.

For instance, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy has shown in its budget proposals the great difference in the level of unemployment among young women and men. Unemployment among young women was 14.3 % in March of this year, and 29.4 % among men. Statistical data is the basis for paying better attention to the education and working life of young men in planning activities and budgets.

Gender differences must be brought into the open

She stresses that, for instance, activities aimed at raising the age of retirement need to take into account gender as well as other factors. There are differences between what men and women find important at work. Attention needs to be given to what are the things that keep women and men in working life. It may be necessary to use different methods when approaching sectors that employ predominantly either men or women.

What works in the interests of one gender usually improves the well-being of the other.

In this respect, narrowing the health differences between men and women is important. Prolonging male life expectancy would make men more equal in relation to women. By making an input on improving the lifestyles of men and having better health care it would be possible to increase the well-being of families. Grandfathers would live longer, and women would not have to take care of sick men or have to spend their old age alone as widows.

If men were to make more use of family leave, there could be various consequences. If fathers were more used to being with their children, it might not be so evident that in the event of separation or divorce their children would necessarily be in the custody of their mothers. This could lead to more disputes about child custody, and these may in time diminish, as mothers became accustomed to trusting fathers to take care of their children.

Passing the gender baton

"Gender impact assessments are like relay races, where the baton is passed from one runner to thenext: from civil servant's preparations to the government and from the government to parliament", says Onwen-Huma.

"Including a gender perspective in the budget is a message from the government to parliament that gender impacts are taken into account in allocating budgets. A gender perspective will not be taken up in the budget unless it is not genuinely and effectively included in the preparations.In Finland, a gender perspective is included in the budget document. This has to be very concise, because the budget document cannot be greatly expanded. In Sweden, for example, equality is the theme of a separate appendix to the budget.

"The appendix to the budget is able to open up issues more, but it can also easily be ignored. It can also be left on its own and not mainstreamed in the budget process. A gender perspective is of significance only when it is conspicuous at the right point", Onwen-Huma points out.

On the other hand, the inclusion in the budget of the same terse phrases on equality can imply that the gender perspective remains mere decoration year after year.

"The Equality Unit provides support, creates methods and gives training, but it does not seek a gender perspective on behalf of the ministries. They have to do it themselves."

Follow-up

The obligation to mainstream the gender perspective has featured in the budget guidelines drawn up by the Ministry of Finance since 2006. The 2007 budget included a gender impact assessment, and since the budget of 2008 Finland has committed itself to gender sensitive budgeting by its adoption of the 1995 Beijing guidelines, which oblige governments to include a gender perspective in national budget processes and in preparing legislation.

Finland's Act on Equality between Women and Men also stipulates gender sensitive budgeting. According to the Act, each authority must systematically promote equality in its operations.

So far, attention has been paid to mainstreaming a gender perspective in preparing the budget. The Equality Unit has brought together the matters concerning gender and equality of the 2009 budget. This is being dealt with by the monitoring group for the Government Action Plan for Gender Equality.

"The next stage is to develop follow-up, by examining how attention to equality has been implemented. This balance sheet has an important role to play in follow-up work", says Onwen-Huma.

Merja Moilanen
Translated Mark Waller

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