Engendering the work of a parliament, including the laws it passes and the budgets it adopts, is to ensure that parliamentary processes and procedures award equal time and attention to the voices and concerns of women and men. It also means that the laws and budgets adopted should reflect their respective inputs.
One of the most important means of engendering the work of parliament is to ensure that both women and men have approximately the same number of seats within the institution. It is assumed that once women have been elected to the parliament in critical numbers that the institution will reflect this new perspective in its work. However, there is no need to wait until new measures and policies result in equal representation. A parliament can work immediately to build its capacity to reflect the unique perspectives of men and women.
A second means of engendering a parliament is to establish rules and procedures within the institution that require greater reflection and consultation with women, so as to balance any historical male bias in the work of the institution. The new rules may include greater use of public consultations by parliamentary committees, new standing committees or multi-party groups to promote the aggregation of women’s voices when laws are being passed, and requirements for a minimum number of women as parliamentary committee chairpersons or seats on committees.
Resources are also critical. The parliament must ensure there are extra resources to enable committees and individual MPs to conduct specific outreach and dialogue with women, particularly from marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious minorities. Resources can also be assigned to regular engagement with CSOs that represent women’s interests.
Whether the parliament is passing a law or adopting the annual state budget, broad consultations that include the voices of women and experts that represent the interests of women will be critical to any parliamentary document having legitimacy.
The ultimate objective of the efforts to increase women’s participation in the work of parliament, whether as an MP or a citizen, is to ensure the draft laws and the state budgets adopted reflect the needs and priorities of women and men equally. There is a historic bias towards the interests of men in the laws and funding of almost all governments. Institutionalizing the role of women in the workings of parliament is a critical step in addressing these inequalities. However, it is as critical that MPs and parliamentary groups understand the necessity for the laws passed and funding approved to be reflective of the needs of all citizens. Once this has been achieved, either be education or political demand (or both), the work of parliament will be engendered.
Gender Responsive Budgets
Historically, budgets and their accompanying expenditure programs overlooked the role of women in the economy. The reason behind this was that in many places female economic activity has been mostly limited to the unofficial care economy – household work, child-care, care for the sick, disabled and elderly as well as voluntarily work in neighborhoods – while budgets tended to concentrate on the male-dominated paid economy (p.57-58). Nevertheless, since the early 2000s the value of women to the global economy, and more notably, the moral importance of gender equality have been acknowledged by the international community and gender responsive budgeting (GRB) has become a useful tool to promote gender equity through fiscal policy.
The overarching goal of GRB is to ensure that policies reflect the interests of men and women equally and address existing gender-related imbalances in a society. Within this context, especially in developing countries, GRB should be by used by all actors implicated in the formation of the budget, including parliament, government, civil society as well as other actors, to analyze and act upon the linkages between the paid and the unpaid economy. For example, when examining the government’s budget, parliaments should consider the extent to which “slashing funding for public services such as child care requires women to provide more unpaid labor at home”. Such practices impair an economy’s efficiency because women are prohibited from contributing to the official economy and moreover, constitute an obstacle to the attainment of gender equality. To avoid such a scenario, parliaments can use GRB to oversee government’s pledge to gender equality by examining whether expenditure programs allocate sufficient resources to bridge gender gaps in capabilities, opportunities and decision-making power. (p58)
How does GRB work?
GRB is all about analysis. In order to have parliaments adequately examine government revenue and expenditure from a gender perspective, representative institutions have to perform a GRB analysis that considers several questions. They first have to check whether existing laws and gender initiatives have been translated into adequate budget allocations. Consequently, parliaments need to verify if government targets and indicators related to gender equality are sufficiently clear and concrete. Next, budget allocations across different sectors in support of gender equality have to be examined to conclude if they can achieve the targets and indicators set by the government.
For more information on gender budget analysis as well as its constraints please consult the following study.
How can parliaments implement gender analysis of the budget?
Creating networks - budget drafting stage
Parliaments can start discussing the gender sensitivity of a budget together with civil society, the government and other actors as soon as the budget’s drafting stage commences. Taking advantage of the fact that budget proposals build on past years’ budgets, parliaments can reach out to civil society, academia, the private sector and the public to demand their opinion about previous budgets and potential points of improvement in relation to gender equality. Committee meetings, are a tool for parliaments to hear the opinions of those groups and hold discussions on GRB. They can solicit public feedback from civil society, experts and academia that can feed into parliamentary scrutiny during the review stage. Especially in parliaments that have gender committees and/or female caucuses in addition to dedicated budget committees, committee hearings can be held more regularly and embark on in-depth gender responsive budget analysis. Other forms of public consultations that can be utilized by parliaments to facilitate GRB during the budget drafting stage range from the informal (i.e. public forums; reporting sessions) to the technical (i.e. surveys) and to the simple (i.e. request for submissions via SMS).
To instigate additional discussion on the topic and gather more expertise, parliamentarians can work with a secretariat’s gender unit and/or commission external research. The findings of the secretariat or the requested research can then be discussed at the plenary and during committee meetings to familiarize MPs with aspects of the budget that concern gender equality. Such discussions, especially when attended by dedicated members of civil society, academia and the private sector, can lead to the creation of gender budget networks that can effectively scrutinize related government actions (p64).
Finally, parliament can obtain information on a budget proposal that can deepen public discussion and proposals before the review and approval stage is through its budget committee. The latter can request information from line ministries and distribute the information to the gender committee/caucus, civil society and other interested actors.
Putting knowledge into practice – the review and approval stage
The review and approval stage of the budget cycle is the first phase that allows parliament to effectively scrutinize the government. During this stage, parliaments can use the information gathered through committee hearings, commissioned research and encounters with citizens, the secretariat, specialized NGOs and academia to influence the government to engender its budget proposal. This can be done when the government releases the Pre-Budget Statement and the latter is scrutinized at the plenary. Especially, when repeated on an annual basis, parliament’s practice of mainstreaming gender equality during the budget discussion can generate a tradition of government oversight which can prompt the executive to issue gender-aware budget statements for each sector budget – indicating the expected impact on men, women, boys and girls (p64). Lastly, parliament and civil society can have even more influence on the budget, where the pre-budget statement is subject to legislative approval (for example in Brazil).
Keeping the government in check – the implementation stage
Upon implementation, parliament has at its disposal a handful of tools to oversee the line ministries’ policies. These include, among others, parliamentary questions (oral and written), debates and, as a last resort, interpellation. Another method to examine the gender sensitivity of a budget is via compliance audits executed by Supreme Audit Institutions. Such audits can examine whether the budgeted government programmes contribute to increasing gender equity within a society and also improves the accountability and transparency of the budget process as well as the effectiveness of budget policies (p58).
In conclusion, it is good to incorporate gender analysis in the preparation, implementation, audit and evaluation of government budgets. By doing this parliament can encourage cross-sectoral debates on GRB and prompt the government to put on “gender lenses” when formulating the budget (p61).