Forget Women’s Issues. Governments Need THIS.
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Gender issues belong at the heart of our government’s policies, and yet visit a campaign or legislative website and you’ll likely find a section dedicated specifically to “Women’s Issues.”
Certainly these sections serve a purpose: to call out individual policy proposals and actions on behalf of women. While the intentions behind them are noble, this is a misguided approach to policy. It sidelines gender from all of the “other” issues, even though the economics tell us that women’s issues impact everyone.
From healthcare to social security, from the environment to education, women’s issues are inherent in almost every policy.
What we need more than “Women’s Issues” is gender mainstreaming: applying the gender lens to every policy to ensure they aren’t inadvertently adversely impacting women and consequently our broader economy.
One method of gender mainstreaming is gender budgeting.
What Is Gender Budgeting?
At its core, gender budgeting is about analyzing fiscal policy to quantify different impacts on men and women. This is critical not only to ensure fairness but also to create sound fiscal policies that lead to better economies.
It’s about investment and returns.
We tend to think of government budgets as being gender-neutral, but that is not the case. Let’s look at one example in the US: the retirement age. Imagine we raise the retirement age for social security, or in other words, delay the payout of social security benefits. Raising the retirement age would disproportionately hurt women.
Why? Because women live longer, find it harder to get a job in their later years due to the intersection of age and gender bias, and are more likely to rely on social security as their only source of income.
When we use gender budgeting as a tool to craft policy, we can make informed decisions that direct how we tax and spend money. Applying the concept of gender budgeting to the retirement age example would ensure that women over the age of 65 are not more than twice as likely to live in poverty.
Hopping across the pond to Britain, we find that if the government moved 2% of GDP from infrastructure spending to the care sector, they would create twice as many jobs. (That’s 1.5 million jobs instead of 750,000.) The examples I could give are endless.
Gender budgeting isn’t just about women or fairness. It’s about sound fiscal policy.
The Pillars of Gender Budgeting
There are two main tenets of gender budgeting: spending and revenue.
Start with spending. Applying the gender lens to government spending establishes two outcomes:
That spending is not unintentionally leaving out men or women.
That spending is viewed as an investment with the greatest amount of return. (Refer back to the example I gave about Britain reallocating GDP from infrastructure to care.)
Now move to revenue. Applying the gender lens to new and existing tax measures would help us determine adverse effects to men and women. These effects are distinctly delineated by gender. For instance, before 1995, women in South Africa were more heavily taxed than men. Then in 1995, South Africa removed gender discrimination from its personal income tax.
Embedding gender budgeting at the heart of a country’s policies certifies that as fiscal decisions are being made, they are being made with gender in mind to ensure the maximum return.
Gender Budgeting at Work Today
Despite what we think, fiscal policy is not gender neutral, and so gender budgeting must be mainstreamed into each spending and tax policy.
A 2016 analysis of Britain’s 2010 to 2015 austerity measures found that women shouldered 85% of the impact of the spending cuts because they earned less and were more likely to be single parents. Gender budgeting, as you can imagine, did not play a role in these austerity measures.
An example of when gender budgeting did play a role in crafting policy occurred recently in Canada. In his 2018 budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau implemented both a gender-based analysis and a gender results framework. Morneau did this with the goal of ensuring that spending and tax policies are bending toward gender equity.
He understood the significance of tapping into the economic potential of Canadian women to unleash $150B in GDP growth.
What this tells us is clear. We need to mainstream gender budgeting so that we can operationalize the gender lens within the heart of decision making.
Gender budgeting is about economic growth. Nordic countries are a shining example of how gender budgeting spurs economic growth. By focusing on gender budgeting and the inclusion of women in the formal economy, those countries have seen as much as 20% growth per capita. Yes, you read that correctly.
Gender budgeting is sound fiscal policy. It’s leveraging the full capability and capacity of our labor base. It’s fairness and it’s truly equity for all®.