With the opportunity provided by the Gender Equality Review and the commitment to feminist principles by the Welsh Government, the time is ripe for the Government to step fully into a gender analysis of its budget process. With the framework of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the implementation of integrated impact assessments, that step into gender budgeting is clearly aligned with the policy direction.
Gender budgeting is an approach to policy making that puts gender analysis at the heart of the policy and budget process, bringing the two together in a whole systems approach. It also completes the policy circle by bringing in spending and revenue decisions. It is not a process of setting separate budgets for women and men.
There are clear lessons for the Welsh Government from our international evidence review on gender budgeting. To ensure strategic direction, there is a need for political leadership, and leadership and engagement at the operational level by Welsh Government departments. At the operational level, robust equality analyses and the production and application of equalities data are essential for ensuring that the diverse realities of people’s lives inform policy and resourcing decisions. Parliamentary engagement is critical for providing input as budget proposals are formulated and for effective scrutiny and accountability during budget implementation.
Experiences of gender budgeting at different levels of government reveal the realities of the resistance that can exist in the face of the drive to change established ways of working. Gender budgeting is a transformational approach to policy making that requires a commitment to gender equality as a legitimate political goal. The commitment of the Welsh Government to feminist principles and the pioneering framework of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, are evidence of a determination to innovate.
Other governments who have taken steps to innovative and transform policy making through gender budgeting include Iceland and Austria for whom the political opportunities of constitutional change provided the catalyst. Devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament and Executive similarly provided a political ‘moment’. Over almost twenty years of activity, gender budgeting is still not fully implemented in Scotland, reinforcing the need for maintaining pressure – inside and outside government. There have both been setbacks and positive advances along the way, including the innovative production of an Equality Budget Statement since 2009: the only one of its kind in the UK. Developing practice since 2005 in the autonomous community of Andalucía has produced a series of institutional arrangements, tools, and models for policy making including the G+ method and a series of gender audits to evaluate outcomes. At the city level, Barcelona City Council is committed to gender analysis of spending commitments across its policy and programme lines, under the two core pillars of its strategic approach to governance – feminist government and social justice.
Examples of gender budgeting at different levels of government – national, devolved and regional, local councils – exist across Europe. This activity and research has produced a range of tools, methodologies and approaches that the Welsh Government can draw on as it moves forward.
Over many years, the analysis of the UK Women’s Budget Group has consistently revealed the unequal and discriminatory impacts of public spending decisions on women and men. Particularly in the recent years of ‘austerity’, Black and Asian women, women lone parents of disabled children and older women have been the worst affected. The analysis by this civil society organisation demonstrates two key lessons for the Welsh Government. First, the important role civil society organisations play in policy development, as is clear in Wales with the leadership of Chwarae Teg on the Gender Equality Review. Second, that the analysis of the UK Women’s Budget Group has been necessary to reveal the unequal outcomes of public policy reveals the serious deficiencies of UK government practice in relation to gender analysis. Gender budgeting has been recognised internationally as “good budgeting”. It is also an approach to ensuring compliance with legislative requirements. In the UK, and its constituent countries, gender analysis is a requirement of the Public Sector Equality Duty within the Equality Act 2010.
Gender budgeting examines the allocation of resources, redistributes resources so that public finance targets gender equal outcomes and seeks to remedy existing and persistent inequalities. This approach to public finance and to active gender equality policy is internationally recognised, promoted and supported by the OECD, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. How many more reasons then does any government need to act to introduce gender budgeting?
Devolution has produced significant divergence in the content and approaches to policy making between the devolved administrations and the UK government. We have shared learning between the devolved administrations and can continue to build innovative practice by working to advance shared ambitions on equalities and human rights separately in Wales and Scotland as well as together.
The current focus on gender equality and the clear roadmap from the Gender Equality Review provides the moment for the Welsh Government to respond to the exhortation of “Deeds not Words”. It is time to be bold in its actions as a feminist government.
About the author:
Dr Angela O’Hagan is the lead author of ‘Tackling Inequalities through Gender Budgeting’ for the Wales Centre for Public Policy. She is the independent Chair of the Scottish Government Equality and Budgets Advisory Group and a member of the Management Committee of the UK Women’s Budget Group. She is a Senior Lecturer in Equality and Public Policy at Glasgow Caledonian University. She is a contributor to the Wales Centre for Public Policy podcast on gender budgeting available at: