Money talks À“ budget commitments needed for gender equality

Money talks À“ budget commitments needed for gender equality

Date: January 1, 1970
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With the annual 16 Days of Activism just around the corner, there is once again increasing attention to issues of gender equality. This year, 16 Days follows two recent events that have the potential to make a significant impact on the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda in SADC.

The first was the adoption of a SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (Gender Protocol) at the Summit in August 2008. The second was the 3rd High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Accra, Ghana, soon after the Summit in early September, 2008.
The significance of the first development is that it provides a new window of opportunity for gender activists in the region to push governments to deliver on their promises to achieve women’s empowerment, through a legally binding document that, once ratified, has 23 targets to address inequality in core areas relating to women’s rights by 2015.
The significance of the Accra High Level Forum on aid effectiveness is that it brings into sharp focus the fact that gender equality must be at the centre of discussions on aid in which ever form, and that reversing inequality in concrete terms to achieve people centred development costs money.
By extension, therefore, SADC governments and international financial partners must recommit financially to support a gender equality agenda that delivers results, which have hitherto been lacking in many respects.
For example, among the Protocol’s targets is commitment to achieving 50% women in all areas of decision-making; ensuring that all Constitutions in the region provide for gender equality not contradicted by any law or custom; as well as a range of targets for women’s economic empowerment by 2015. All of these strategies have cost implications for governments in terms of advocacy, education, awareness, and putting in place laws and mechanisms to ensure compliance.
The Protocol also commits governments to developing gender sensitive strategies to prevent new HIV infections and ensure universal access to treatment for women, men and children; ensure the appropriate recognition, psychological support and allocation of resources to HIV care workers, the majority of whom are women; as well as promote the involvement of men in the care and support of People Living with AIDS. All of these require government budgets to cater for these increased services.
According to the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment are twin strategies, amongst others, that inform the regional integration agenda and cut across all sectors. This has a direct bearing on how SADC Member States respond to the issues in these sectors.
Linked to this is the requirement that they allocate resources in ways that maximise opportunities, address complexities, and produces outputs and outcomes that impact positively on the lives of men and women in the region (for example results based budgeting). Governments thus have a direct responsibility to allocate resources for gender equality interventions from a domestic revenue base, supported by development aid.
It has been pointed out elsewhere, that whilst focusing on greater efficiency and accountability, the new aid modalities pay scant attention to gender equality concerns. The Paris Declaration, for example, only makes one reference to gender equality, and has been criticised for not getting the balance right between structural reforms of aid mechanisms and the social dimension of aid.
Coupled with this is the little or no impact of calls by gender activists in SADC for governments to mainstream gender into public expenditure tools such as budgets. This results in public expenditure that is largely unresponsive in addressing gender inequalities on the ground. Countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania have gone some way towards mainstreaming gender into national budgets, but the impact in reversing inequality is yet to be measured.  
If financing gender equality is inextricably linked with the success of development efforts in SADC, how has the region fared? The SADC Gender Protocol is a good reference point for highlighting the level of responsiveness of governments in achieving gender equality. It focuses on the issues at the core of achieving qualitative change in men and women’s lives, with an emphasis on promoting women’s rights.
There is progress at policy level and the enactment of gender sensitive legislation has increased, however, gender inequality is still pervasive. An example is gender-based violence (GBV). The target in the SADC Gender Protocol is to halve current levels of GBV by 2015, yet little very little work or resources have gone towards developing indicators to measure the extent of the problem, in order to design better targeted interventions.
State funded service provision to address GBV is scanty in most countries in the region, and very little is going towards prevention efforts. Yet there is evidence of a deadly link between GBV and HIV, with limited efforts being made to address this.
Institutional mechanisms to facilitate gender mainstreaming are relatively weak in the region. Very few gender machineries in SADC are well resourced, most are understaffed and have little political influence. The Zimbabwe Minister of Gender was reported recently publicly pleading for more resources from government and donors to fund the implementation of the new domestic violence law!
The SADC Gender Unit, with the responsibility of carrying out the Secretariat’s gender mainstreaming mandate internally and at Member State level has 2 members of staff and a technical advisor. Gender and women’s groups’  engagement with the state as key players in aid effectiveness processes has yet to develop a more coherent and cohesive position on how to take forward the so called ‘hard issues’ such as trade and the economy.
Very few, for example, are addressing the gender responsive budgeting issues programmatically, or directly challenging the gender blindness of macro economic policies and aid modalities in their work. Funding in the women’s movement is also a constraint.   
According to a survey conducted by the Association of Women in Development, of 229 respondent organisations in sub-Saharan Africa, 30% had budgets under US$10,000, 42% between US$10,000 and US$ 50,000, 18% between US$50,000 and 500,000, and only 1% had budgets bigger than USD half a million.
The sample works mostly with children, rural women, indigenous women, women with disabilities, farmers, HIV positive women, and focus on issues related to violence against women, poverty, education, health and economic rights, children’s rights, conflict and HIV and AIDS. nearly half of the organisations surveyed worldwide received less about the same funding since 2000.
Given the importance of these rganisations in implementing programmes and services for women, it would then seem that the growing awareness of the  importance of gender equality and women in development processes is not being matched by financial support.
Clearly a shift is required. Governments and aid partners must agree and advance the highest common denominator when it comes to financing gender equality. This would require mainstreaming gender in the current aid modalities (with clear indicators to measure impact), followed through with ensuring that at national level this is reflected in budgeting and expenditure mechanisms.
For this region, instruments such as the SADC Gender Protocol, must frame this process in terms of gender equality priorities, targets and indicators. Development aid must also go towards supporting the women’s movement to bring financing for gender equality into the centre of their discourses and practices. The journey thus remains long and challenging.
Pamela Mhlanga is the Deputy Director of Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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