Gender responsive budgeting: economic empowerment for meaningful inclusion

The agenda of social and political inclusion has received much attention in Nepal during the past decades, but less priority has been given to economic inclusion of women. It is high time to focus on specific economic empowerment programs targeted to women to lay a strong foundation for meaningful inclusion.

Pragya Lamsal

It is imperative to look at the budget from the perspective of gender responsive budgeting (GRB). It is worth mentioning here that developed economies have a much longer history of using fiscal policy to tackle inequality and promote inclusive growth than underdeveloped ones.

Nepal’s policies and strategies have a sense of inclusive growth, reduction in inequality and poverty, distribution of equal opportunities to the most disadvantaged and marginalized sections of society. In Nepal, gender responsive budgeting and gender mainstreaming policy are adopted in the national development plans that aim at reinforcing gender equality and women empowerment. Similarly, a Gender Responsive Budget Committee has been established within the Ministry as part of broader efforts to institutionalize GRB in Nepal. Further, there is a mandatory provision that local bodies have to allocate at least 10 percent budget for programs directly linked to women. 

The government has classified three major categories for Gender Responsive Budget, ie, directly responsive, indirectly and neutral. If more than 50% of the allocation directly beneficial for women, it is called directly responsive to women. If 20 % or more and less than 50 percent of budget directly beneficial for women, it is fall under indirect responsive whereas less than 20 percent of budget beneficial for women is categorized as gender neutral budget.

The government’s spending on social sectors has yielded some good results including that of progress in maternal mortality ratio, increase in life expectancy, school enrollment ratio of girls along with others.

It is important to continue increased spending on social sectors such as health, education and sanitation, given their enormous impact on women. GRB is particularly important in a country like Nepal where water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) falls under low priority on the list of family investments.  Time spent by women and girls to fetch distant water is itself an indicator that government should promote GRB and ensure interventions that are focused on brining sources of water closer to homes.

Despite progress in social sectors, the budget still lacks specific programs that can contribute meaningfully on women’s economic empowerment.

Nepal’s challenge going forward is to devise a new approach of gender responsive budgering that nurtures entrepreneurship for inclusive growth.Along with the allocation of budget in social sectors, it is high time to invest in entrepreneurship schemes to lure more women into entrepreneurship. Women’s engagement in entrepreneurship can ensure better and effective empowerment. For example, women are doing their best in Micro and Small Enterprises (SMEs). A study by IFC shows that women own about 14,300 small and medium enterprises, accounting for two percent of the country’s GDP and employing over 200,000 workers. Women’s involvement in business and entrepreneurship always presents an opportunity to the nation to empower women and ensure sustainable economic growth.

Nepal’s consecutive fiscal policies, however, has failed to incorporate these issues. The government should realize that gender responsive budgeting is not all about spending on women rather it is spending on women for lasting empowerment. Effective results are always as important as allocating buget.

The emphasis must also have been given on the strengthening of key institutions that can empower women in an effective manner with lasting effect.

As the world has decided on new global Sustainable Development Goals, it is high time that our government should focus on concrete for women empowerment. The budget has failed to introduce any new programs as such and has given little hope that it will play much role in women’s economic and social empowerment.

We have been through a massive earthquake and subsequent aftershocks recently. In this context, we need to focus on reconstruction activities and the government needs a robust implementation plan. Be it clause related to women or reconstruction, the government should not repeat the trend of making big promises and delivering less.

On the part of gender responsive budgeting, it is never too late to take corrective action. The government must ensure that the voices of women are also heard in the budget making process in the years ahead. It is always important to hold dialogues with women from all walks of life to discuss key issues and women’s expectation pertaining to gender responsive budget. Goal of empowerment cannot be achieved by formality of including gender responsive provisions in budget speech but from the real promises and actions by policymakers.

Chart
Gender Responsive Budget Size in Nepal
SN
Fiscal Year
Direct Responsive
Indirect Responsive
Neutral

2015-16 (72-73)
22.27%
47.98%
29.75%

2014-15
21.93%
45.04%
33.03%

2013-14
21.75%
43.94%
34.31%

2012-13
21.51%
44.13%
34.36%

2011-12
19.05%
45.78%
35.17%
(Source: Ministry of Finance, Nepal)

(Lamsal is a Kathmandu-based communications professional working with WaterAid Nepal. Email: lamsalpragya@gmail.com)



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