Tuesday, February 28, 2017
At its simplest, gender budgeting sets out to quantify how policies affect women and men differently (see article). That seemingly trivial step converts exhortation about treating women fairly into the coin of government: costs and benefits, and investments and returns. You don’t have to be a feminist to recognise, as Austria did, that the numbers show how lowering income tax on second earners will encourage women to join the labour force, boosting growth and tax revenues. Or that cuts to programmes designed to reduce domestic violence would be a false economy, because they would cost so much in medical treatment and lost workdays.
As well as identifying opportunities and errors, gender budgeting brings women’s issues right to the heart of government, the ministry of finance. Governments routinely bat away sensible policies that lack a champion when the money is handed out. But if judgments about what makes sense for women (and the general good) are being formed within the finance ministry itself, then the battle is half-won.
Gender budgeting is not new. Feminist economists have argued for it since the 1980s. A few countries, such as Australia and South Africa, took it up, though efforts waxed and waned with shifts in political leadership—it is seen as left-wing and anti-austerity. The Nordic countries were pioneers in the West; Sweden, with its self-declared “feminist government”, may be the gold standard. Now, egged on by the World Bank, the UN and the IMF, more governments are taking an interest. They should sign on as the results are worth having.