Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Pakistan: Interview with Marion Boeker and Dr. Elisabeth Klatzer

Political economist and human rights experts underlined that any money spent in the current crises must focus on the needs of both women and men. FES Pakistan had a conversation with two of them discussing how to achieve gender equality through budgetary allocations, especially in Pakistan's context. Take a look into the meaning of gender-responsive budgeting, examples from different countries and implementation in Pakistan in this interview article.

Many countries across the world have been developing laws and policies to address gender inequalities, but limited financing remains a key obstacle as mentioned by United Nations ESCAP. Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) has been recognized internationally as an approach to close the gaps between men and women. In the case of Pakistan, it has worked on this approach since 2003. Read more in the strategy paper for implementing gender budgeting in Pakistan by Women's Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) and FES Pakistan.

Why is gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) crucial? What are worldwide experiences of implementing GRB? What should be way forward for Pakistan in promoting gender equality through budgetary allocations? FES Pakistan conversed with the two experts from a background of political economy and human rights. 

Dr. Elisabeth Klatzer is political economist graduated from Vienna University of Economics and Harvard University. She is a senior expert in Public Finance and Gender Equality and focuses on transforming economic systems towards sustainable systems based on gender, climate and social justice.

Marion Boeker is director of Consultancy on Human Rights and Gender Issues, an independent human rights expert based in Berlin, Germany. She has been working since 1995 internationally on implementation processes of gender-responsive budgeting, which for her is a tool to guarantee gender equality and women's human rights steadily.

What does gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) mean, and what is it good for?

GRB is an important approach to promoting good governance. It means integration of gender equality and sustainable development goals in budgeting and strategic planning. Thereby it contributes to ensuring sustainable development, accelerated economic growth, and well-being for all people living in Pakistan.


What are some innovative and progressive examples of countries successfully incorporating gender-responsive budgeting into their national policies?

There is GRB work in the region; however, GRB in Nepal and India for example, has no holistic methodological approach. Pakistan can move ahead and become a shining example of GRB by building on various elements from other experiences, i.e. the Gender Responsive and Participatory Budgeting pilot project in Penang, Malaysia. This peoples’ centered practice can be adopted for Pakistan's s cross-national process. South Korea and Timor-Leste could also be good partners for exchange about their practices. (See an overview of Asia in a booklet by United Nations ESCAP.)

Also, Morocco is an excellent case.  Highlights are a good legal basis, coordination in the Ministry of Finance, and a newly established Center of Excellence on Gender Budgeting in the Ministry of Finance tasked with research, coordination, and writing an annual report and Results Based Budgeting integrating Gender Aspects. There has been great progress in health, education, and other areas with important improvements for women over the years.

Uganda is an example in which women Members of Parliament have plaid an important role. In collaboration with the Parliamentary Budget Office and Civil Society, the Parliament has promoted attention to women’s needs and gender equality in budgeting and made important progress in access to services, like health, especially maternal health, education, water, promoting women’s empowerment and the further development of the country.

A number of African countries have long term GRB experience and holistic approaches of combined national and sub-national levels as i.e. Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa. We think, Pakistan can exchange with these countries the inclusion of rural women into the process since they dominate in the population.

Austria has set up a system of obliging all public institutions to pursue gender equality in their budgetary work and gender equality goals are implemented in all budget chapters. The Parliamentary Budget Office has an important role to provide analysis and the Court of Auditors provides audits which include gender perspectives to ensure continued focus on gender equality progress.

In your experience, what evidence-based strategies have shown the most promise in achieving gender equality through budgetary allocations?

In general, a good analysis of the baseline situation and analysis of the impacts on budgets on different groups of women and men provides important information for evidence-based budgeting. There are many examples. Pakistan itself has made great efforts of evidence-based strategies by investing in the education of girls, especially in disadvantaged areas. Especially since the first Gender Budgeting efforts, there has been continuous work in investing in education and, in particular, promoting girls’ education which we see that it really pays off.

An example is the promotion of women’s work. In Austria, for example, based on the analysis of the needs of different groups of women and their situation in paid and unpaid work, many efforts have been carried out to improve gender equality. Over many years, the labor market service has devoted 50% of its funds to women and set up many special programs for women in the labor market to support their professional training, entering the labor market, and acquiring special skills which help women to get better positions and better-paid jobs. Also, the provision of child care for free for all children in the City of Vienna in Austria is an important step towards equality and prosperous economic development.


How can gender-responsive budgeting be utilized to address intersectional issues and the unique needs of marginalized groups?

A participatory approach is the key. Pakistan can install Round Tables at national and provincial, district/town levels to listen to all groups about needs, obstacles, and recommendations for change. Parliamentary committees can make regular public hearings and invite representatives from these various groups and experts for a more precise policy, budget planning, and evaluation, mainstreamed in the budget processes.

Do you see the potential for GRB in Pakistan?

Absolutely because Pakistan had adopted it partly already since 2003/08 with interruptions is a strategy, political will, and lots of expertise in the country among the civil society and politicians. GRB can make SDG tracking and successful use of SDGs in all areas more precise. It will cover, first and foremost, women's gender equality and status. Still, in its full holistic methodology, it will finally be a human rights budgeting and cover the whole population's needs and improve justice and equality, constitutional goals, for all.

A great potential lays in using GRB in rural and remote areas including in such areas which are still hindered from unfolding its potential because of high-security conflict issues. It can help to finally find solutions to the lack of land and inheritance rights for women, a climate-friendly and sustainable agriculture, and help to build peace and security by widely spreading education and more wealth in dialogue processes.

A high potential is Pakistan's female and male eager and highly interested youth in future IT or Solar energy,  entertainment technology, and entrepreneurship which some provisions of the budget 2023-2024 are fostering;- but, which needs to be enhanced by providing more secure labor market protection for women and more inclusive work live balance measures for all as i.e., by more child care and better and safer public transport. The linkage of educational institutions with the employment market could be promoted  and more women could be motivated by better conditions to work. This applies not only to the private sector but to the  job sector of NGOs.

The efforts  for upcoming tourism is a chance to focus on sustainable eco- tourism and  secure a solid labor rights basis i.e., with participatory tourism boards including 50% of women. The investment in tourism can be connected with an extension of a sustainable and safe Public Transport  which serves all citizens, especially rural and remote women, to access jobs and infrastructure as well as  education and health facilities.

Gender Budgeting aims at increasing equality by both public expenditures and public revenue as well. A gender equality focus of taxation is significant. First and foremost, it is important to have enough public revenue to have the resources to spend for the much-needed public programs. Raising public revenue is very important to get more independent from the burden of international loans and the economic policy recommendations of international partners such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We know that currently, the tax revenue is very low, the tax-to-GDP ratio is around 10-11% in Pakistan, which is among the lowest in the Asian-Pacific region. The capacity of the government to reduce gender inequalities and to promote prosperous economic development is determined to a large degree by the amount of tax revenue it raises. Of course, it is also important who pays how much in taxes. Currently, some areas of income and economic activity are undertaxed, such as large-scale agriculture, real estate, and services. We know that this is a sensitive issue because it affects some of the more powerful stakeholders in the country, but it is very important that everybody understands that good public services and good public infrastructure, funded by progressively raised income and wealth taxes, will benefit all people in the country and will provide a basis for a prosperous development, meeting and overcoming the current economic challenges.


How was your experience introducing the concept of GRB in Pakistan, and what should happen next?

We were impressed by the commitment of the Women's Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) and the civil society stakeholders' experience and willingness to contribute as well as the political will. There has been a broad expertise for a long but a lack of exchange. A National GRB Action Plan could be the bases for this and create a commitment and fix the methodological framework. The idea for an Action Plan could be promoted  now and during the election.  This can help to prepare all stakeholders in all provinces across Pakistan to join the process after election. Parties could include GRB in their manifestos and agree on this tool no matter who wins the election. We heard a lot that the registry of NGOs is difficult. This should be improved to empower civil society and its valuable contribution. It would be an asset to establish a coordinated network, province-wise and national, of NGOs and civil society actors, researchers, experts on GRB, and a GRB resource center and information and data platform.

It needs budget support or finances added by funds from a foundation or UN entities like UNDP or UN Women who support globally. Basic finances are also needed for the National Assembly and Government to deliver this in the long run properly.


How to implement GRB in the economically challenging times that Pakistan is currently experiencing?

Yes, we know that Pakistan is facing tough times. Many of the current problems are created by the international environment, such as the high inflation or also devastating environmental catastrophes like floods and loss of fertile soil.

Any money spent in the current crises needs to focus on the needs of both women and men. Taking the voices and needs of women fully into account means that building back can happen much faster and much more effectively.

Many economic studies show that increasing gender equality contributes to increased economic growth and prosperity. So, in times of financial crises it is even more important to invest wisely and equitably, investing in women and the services women need. It will pay off manifold by contributing to overcoming economically difficult times faster.

Also, increased transparency on public spending and increased participation by allowing for a good process that includes both women and men equally in decision-making about important economic policy decisions and about how to spend scarce financial resources is of utmost importance. If Pakistan chooses to pursue this path, we will see positive effects and more prosperous development ahead.

Interview by: Sidra Saeed, Program Advisor, FES Pakistan

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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