Financing for gender equality: one piece of a much broader picture

9 July 2015

With the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) due to start on 13 July, the topic of financing for development is high on global agendas. The conference will bring together high level political representatives, non-governmental organisations and business sector stakeholders, and the result will be an inter-governmentally negotiated and agreed outcome document, with the potential for great impact on the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Gender equality advocates have welcomed the draft outcome document's recognition of the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment in order to achieve sustainable and equitable growth and development. But they argue that the draft does not go far enough, and that FfD3 represents a key opportunity to examine the broader macroeconomic climate and the ways that it exacerbates gender inequalities. The majority of macroeconomic policies, for example, are blind to the fact that women and men tend to have different economic roles and responsibilities, as well as different access to productive resources. In most cases, women are at a disadvantage, especially as they are usually expected to take on the bulk of unpaid care work.

Areas included in current debates around financing gender equality in development include: overseas development aid and the levels of funding allocated to gender equality and women's rights; improving the mobilisation of domestic resources to free up funds for gender equality objectives; and how to ensure that funding from new development actors and investors is gender aware and responsive.

In the BRIDGE team we recently completed a piece of work on the second area – the mobilisation of domestic resources – in which we outlined ways in which public funds could be collected and spent in more gender equitable ways. We considered the gender dimensions of taxation and expenditure policies, and made suggestions on the prioritisation of public spending to maximise returns on equality. We noted a disconnect between gender responsive budgeting (GRB) approaches and public finance management reforms, and outlined the benefits of bringing the two together more. We called for more comprehensive data to enable examination of the gender impact of fiscal policies and systems, and we emphasised the importance of involving the right mix of actors (including gender advocates in government, civil society including women's organisations, and donors) in the development, implementation and evaluation of such policies and systems. The recommendations we made are not just relevant for those managing resources in developing countries; gender aware and participatory budgeting is greatly underutilised in many countries, including here in the UK.

However, it is important to remember that governments may have limited capacity to raise and spend revenue and to decide how their deficit or surplus is managed, because of global economic trends and international rules and structures outside of their control. This is an issue that goes beyond the area of financing for development, as recent events in Greece and the Eurozone highlight. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that macroeconomic policies characterised by high tax revenues and high public expenditure are likely to be more conducive to inclusive growth, and that fiscal policies that emphasise cutting expenditure and minimising taxation make it harder to change budget priorities towards improving the lives of the poor, and particularly of poor women. Reducing public spending impacts disproportionately on these women; they are doubly disadvantaged by cuts in income and a transfer of caring responsibilities back to them when services are cut.

As we approach the important discussions about to begin at the FfD3 conference, and in September at the UN summit to adopt the post-2015 agenda, it is worth listening to the arguments of those advocating for the rights of the world's most marginalised, and stepping back to look at the broader picture. The new SDGs will be universal – those responsible for economic policy making in all UN member states; whether in the poorest countries, in emerging economies, or in the austerity focused governments of Europe, will be expected to consider the human rights of all their citizens, and therefore to create gender aware economic policies that support, rather than penalise and marginalise, the poorest.

An outline of the gender equality issues relevant for the FfD3 conference, and a selection of useful resources can be found on the BRIDGE website.

Jenny Birchall is Gender Convenor in the BRIDGE team, part of the Gender and Sexuality Cluster at IDS. She can be found on Twitter @jenny_ids

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