Who benefits from public spending? Gender responsive budget policies support inclusive societies

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Photo: Maxim Zolotukhin / World Bank Photo: Maxim Zolotukhin / World Bank

There is a growing recognition that crises like the COVID-19 pandemic impacts men and women differently.  In many parts of the world, women have been losing their jobs at twice the rate compared to men. More women are in frontline healthcare jobs than men which put them at a higher risk of exposure. Governments’ responses to COVID-19 need to adequately take gender considerations into account for an inclusive and sustainable recovery. This includes the understanding that government budgetary decisions and the public financial management (PFM) systems that underpin them also affect men and women differently. For instance, supporting childcare can facilitate better workforce participation of women who still predominantly bear the burden of caring for dependents; and similarly, changes to taxation of secondary household earners can better incentivize women to re-join the labor force. 

Over the last decade, including gender-specific information in the budget process, such as how public spending is expected to impact women and men, has been gaining traction.  While a recent count of countries that integrate gender in PFM concludes that more than 80 countries have undertaken some form of gender responsive PFM, the depth, breadth and intensity vary. 

Recent analysis of governments’ budget measures in response to COVID-19, conducted by UNDP and UN Women, demonstrates that most measures lack gender sensitivity. In cases where budget measures do include gender considerations, only 18 and 11 percent, respectively, aim to address women’s economic security and unpaid care which remain key challenges that women face globally. 

To support a sharper focus on gender responsive public finances, the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) developed a supplementary framework on assessing gender responsive PFM (GRPFM). Several countries have conducted PEFA gender assessments.

It is critical that GRPFM is not an “add on” – but integrated into the existing PFM systems and processes throughout the budget cycle. The initial assessments indicate that governments integrate gender in PFM in various ways. Here are some interesting tentative observations: 

  • Preparing gender budget statements and conducting ex post gender impact assessments of budget policies are the two most commonly used PFM tools.
  • Some countries perform ex ante gender impact assessments of budget policies but they typically focus on expenditure policies and rarely on revenue measures.
  • Gender impact analysis is often required as part of feasibility or prefeasibility studies for major investment projects. However, it is not always systematically integrated into the preparation of new investment proposals. 
  • Some ministries of finance use budget circulars to request line ministries to present the impacts on new budget policies on gender. In a few cases, presentation of sex-disaggregated data in budget policies is required.
  • Some countries include gender information in the budget proposals, with varying degrees of comprehensiveness. 
  • The collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data are key for the design, implementation, and evaluation of budget policies. This information is often collected and presented as part of the line ministry performance plans. 
  • Carrying out ex post gender impact assessments could be better integrated in the government evaluation processes.
  • Legislative scrutiny of budget proposals for their impact on gender and gender equality, is still at a nascent stage.

PEFA gender assessments demonstrate that public budgeting decisions and PFM systems rely on a clear articulation of gender equality priorities envisioned by the different countries, the underlying challenges they face, and a good understanding of how they fit in the broader context. Although gender responsiveness can be introduced in any budget system, an effective, accountable, and efficient overall PFM system will help ensure its success.  

PEFA’s gender framework offers guidance on how countries can capitalize on the existing PFM processes to ensure that boys and girls, men and women – as well as specific groups of people such as minorities and people with disabilities – equally benefit from public services such as schools or clinics funded through national budgets. This is particularly important at a time when countries are trying to recover from COVID-19 by building more inclusive, resilient societies. Well-executed GRPFM will help ensure that policies that promote equal access to jobs, health care and education for women, men and other groups of people are well implemented. Gender responsive PFM helps create a more inclusive society where everyone can participate in the economic and social development of their country.

Please look out for our events, knowledge products and updates on Gender Responsive PFM in PEFA Secretariat social media announcements: 

Contact PEFA Secretariat to share your own experiences and questions in GRPFM or to indicate your interest in using the PEFA gender assessment: services@pefa.org


Urška Zrinski

Senior Public Sector Specialist

Tia Elise Raappana

Senior Public Sector Specialist, PEFA Secretariat

Holy-Tiana Rame

Senior Public Finance Specialist, PEFA Secretariat

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