When a Feminist Initiative is Institutionalized: Feminist organizations and researchers pioneered the field of gender budgeting and 15 years later the government institutionalized it. Yet, it is not enough. Gender responsive budgeting cannot be reduced to data-rich statistical reports that are published along with the budget. It also requires taking into account the voices of women
What is Gender Responsive Budgeting?
Gender responsive budgeting is a method of integrating the needs, the life experiences and perspectives of women in conventional, mainstream, budgeting and economic decision-making processes. This method utilizes budgets to expose patterns of differential allotment of resources so that they can be reallocated more equally and gender gaps in the access to public resources and services, will be narrowed.
Gender budgeting is used to challenge the hegemonic paradigm that underlies public policy-making and resource distribution and generate a feminist shift in it. Thereby, it contributes to the disbanding of the gendered assumptions on which policy planning models are based such as the one positioning women as the family´s main caretakers and men as the main breadwinners.
Women’s Budget Forum
To advance gender budgeting and in the spirit of similar initiatives abroad, Barbara Swirski, founder and past executive director of the Adva Center, established the “Women’s Budget Forum.” The forum functioned from 2004 through 2012, uniting some 35 Jewish and Arab organizations. The unique model of operation involved fieldwork and the cumulative experience of the member women’s organizations, with research and advocacy. The forum analyzed the state budget and the Arrangements Law, and examined the impact of various aspects of the Israeli economic policy on women. For example: a gender audit of the direct tax reduction policy applied in Israel since 2003; the implications of budgetary cuts and the privatization of social services on women; a gender analysis of employment, entrepreneurship and vocational training programs and more.
The forum´s work is considered the first step on the way to integrate gender budgeting in Israel. The feminist organizations and researchers pioneered the field of gender budgeting, contributed to the increase in public awareness, and advanced more equal policy. This phase, was characterized by feminist commitment, familiarity with the actual needs of women on the ground, solidarity and an increase in reach through the media, enlisting the support of politicians and duty-bearers, CSOs coalition-building and international collaborations.
A political window of opportunity was opened about a decade after the forum was established. With the support of MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), a governmental committee for gender analysis of the national budget was established in 2013. The coordinator of the committee appointed by then finance minister, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), was the deputy director of the budgets department at the ministry of finance, Yael Mevorach. The committee´s recommendations were presented to the minister of finance in July 2014 and approved by the cabinet in October 2014. The government decision mandated a gradual integration of gender auditing to the budgets of government ministries and administrative units. The audit is published in the official budget books of the various ministries.
The government decision and its implementation mark the second stage of the process – the institutionalization stage. At this point, new stakeholders join in – the budgets department in the finance ministry, the ministry for social equality, treasures, planning and strategy specialists from the government ministries and others. At the same time, the role of the feminist organizations changed and now is focused on working with the government (versus criticizing it from the outsides) and assisting in the development of tools and outlines for the audits, training of officials from the various ministries and a constructive monitoring of the work.
The anticipated third phase is the integration stage in which gender considerations are accounted for in budget allocations and policy planning processes. This transition will most likely be challenging and require overcoming opposition on behalf of government officials assigned to do the gender auditing work – be it for lack of in-depth understanding of the concept or a large workload. In addition, relevant data is often unavailable and existing data is often limited in scope.
Numbers are not enough: Potential Downfalls in Partial Implementation of Gender Budgeting
Once institutionalized, gender auditing might become a strictly technical project. Government ministries will learn the requisite tools: collection of gendered data, indices and an ability to assess the gender impact. Yet, it is not enough. Gender responsive budgeting cannot be reduced to data-rich statistical reports that are published along with the budget. It also requires taking into account the voices of women. Thereby, feminist organizations cannot rest on the laurels, their new assignment is to oversee the process of integrating gender auditing in the state budget, offer alternatives, and put feminist economics agendas on the table.
One of the focal challenges ahead is to translate the field-based feminist knowhow to the government bureaucratic terminology whilst maintaining the objective observer perspective. At the same time, feminist economic analysis must be further advanced. For example, an analysis that takes into account unpaid work and its crucial role in maintaining society´s social fabric and the job market. Furthermore, gendered roles, occupational segregation and the underestimation for “feminine” professions such as care professions must be challenged. These issues counter current economic perceptions that dominate economic policy-making that hails budgetary austerity, low taxation and the over-appreciation of technical capacities: derivatives of the neoliberal capitalist policy.