Let’s balance the books on gender

7 Feb 19

When hard times hit, it is invariably women who are worst affected. But gender budgeting can help target public resources more effectively, CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman argues. 


Despite advances in gender equality, a number of enduring inequalities between women and men persist.

Women continue to experience inequalities in pay, in employment and promotion opportunities, and the proportion of their incomes derived from social security.

Women often still have more responsibility for unpaid work, such as caring for children, older or disabled people, and domestic work.

For many women, this results in a greater reliance on public services, and can limit the amount of time they have for paid work and other activities.

It also means that when public services are withdrawn, or social security spending is reduced, women are badly hit, with black and Asian women among the worst affected by changes to the tax and benefit systems.

Gender analysis of budgets aims to challenge the assumption that budgets are gender-neutral – that budgets do not have impacts that reinforce gendered outcomes.

It examines how budgetary allocations affect the economic and social opportunities of women and men. And it aims to redistribute resources to achieve more equal outcomes and advance equality.

Budgets have long been thought of as purely technical exercises, balancing income and expenditure.

‘Despite advances in gender equality, a number of enduring inequalities between women and men persist.’

With public finance managers under increasing pressure to ensure value for money and demonstrate efficiencies, it must be recognised how effective gender analysis and wider equalities analysis of policy and spending decisions make for more targeted allocation of limited resources.

In turn, this can achieve better outcomes from public money and improved results for service users.

Gender budgeting is increasingly prominent in public finance management at all levels of government.

Almost half of OECD countries (15 out of 36 members) have introduced, plan to introduce, or are actively considering gender budgeting. Austria and Iceland having introduced legislation to support gender budgeting as part of constitutional reforms. In the UK, Scotland is leading the way.

The Scottish Government is the only devolved government to produce an Equality Statement as part of its budget process, which it has done since 2009.

Why is the case for gender budgeting so strong?

We must ensure that the raising and spending of public resources does not aggravate existing inequalities or result in unequal and unfair outcomes for different people. Gender budgeting will create more effective targeting of public resources, resulting in improved outcomes from public policy decisions and resource allocations.

Public authorities across the UK should be looking into ways in which public finance professionals and organisational processes can include gender analysis. The OECD lists gender-responsive budgeting as one of the key tools for implementing equality.

With ongoing reforms to public services, developing practice in policy and financial scrutiny and advancing outcomes-based policymaking and resource allocation are among the ways that public administration organisations can integrate gender analysis in their decisionmaking.

Gender budgeting is a question both of social and economic justice and more effective public resource management.

By improving our understanding of the structures that contribute to different experiences for women and men, and the unequal social and economic outcomes that they create, policymaking and the allocation of public resources can be transformed to re-orientate outcomes more equally.

Ultimately, public spending is about the common good. Gender budgeting seeks to reveal persistent and enduring inequalities so that public resources can be best directed to eliminate them.

CIPFA’s ‘thought piece’ piece, Gender Budgeting for Public Finance, argues against making an assumption that budgets are gender-neutral. It can be downloaded at bit.ly/2UbpKK8

  • Rob Whiteman
    Chief executive of CIPFA since 2013, after leading the UK Border Agency and the Improvement & Development Agency. Previously, he was CEO at Barking and Dagenham council.

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