Budget needs to be put under a gender lens

Date: January 1, 1970
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Caught up in the business of daily survival, national budgets often go unnoticed by the very people that they should most be designed to help.

Imagine a poor woman in one of the Zambian shanty compounds in the early hours of the morning. She does not see the need to follow the national budget address by the minister of finance because she feels the pronouncements would not in any way impact on her  livelihood.  Worse still, she feels she has better things to do to ensure that her orphaned grandchildren have their next meal.
On the other hand, the members of the press are curious about the budget. However, their interests are the major macro-economic pronouncements that the minister makes.  The pronouncements, as is always the case, are void of gender concerns.
From pro-poor budget to growth budget, the Zambian media reveals its affection for   ‘business as usual.”  There is no place for the vulnerable members of society for whom the micro-economic pronouncement in every budget adversely affects their livelihood.
The day’s headlines should have headlines that show how the corridors of power prefer the dominant hegemony of patriarchy over gender equality and other equity issues.
In interviews with the media, the first-ever Minister of Gender and Development Rosemary Banda discussed the government’s resolve to engender the national budget. However, there are “grey areas”  that  among other things, include inconsistency on the part of the country Central Statistical Office (CSO) to make available gender disaggregated data.   
Catholic Commission for Peace, Development and Justice (CCDJP) economist, Kufekisa Akapelwa points out that every time the CSO releases information on poverty levels currently standing at 75 percent, gender disaggregated data is missing.
“For a government to ensure that adequate funding is not only provided to the health sector but that  the HIV and AIDS pandemic is effectively addressed, don’t we need such data to be included when allocating amounts to these critical  sectors? We need to know how many women and men are affected or infected before we have what is mostly called growth budget,” Akapelwa notes.  
The much-orchestrated 5th National Development Plan has not taken gender concerns into considerations. Sectors such as tourism, from which women would be well poised to benefit, are gender- blind.
Akapelwa asserts that there is a lack of, “civil society participation in the budgeting process which coupled with the fact that very few women are in decision-making positions impacts negatively on attaining national development.”
She also notes that lack of clear-cut policy to fund “gender pronouncements” which should aid policy documents.
Saul Banda, Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) Programmes Officer, challenges the media to churn out more stories about the suffering of human beings, more than they do with mere micro-economic indicators that include inflation and the Gross Domestic Product.
“The media should go another mile in bringing to the fore the gender disparities when it comes to national budgeting other than parroting political and economic pronouncements avoid of the humane face.”  He adds: “the budget does not take place in a vacuum; it is therefore important to scrutinise policy documents like the NDP which determines the outlook of a national budget.
“We should not only look at how much is allocated to education  and agriculture but also anaylse whether there is equity in provision of agriculture subsidies which favour men who are the majority decision-makers both at government level and cooperative level.”
Shadreck Banda is a journalist and a GEMSA member in Zambia. This article is part of a special series of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service produced ahead of the SADC Heads of State summit in Lesotho from 17-18 August by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance comprising ten NGOs that promote gender equality in the region.

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