The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) imposes obligations on governments with respect to gender equality and non-discrimination. What implications do these obligations have for government budgets? How can gender budget analysis help in monitoring compliance with CEDAW? This report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) establishes a framework for the analysis of budgets from a gender equality perspective. Taking a rights-based approach, it shows how budget analysis can help monitor CEDAW compliance and how CEDAW can establish criteria for gender equality in budgets.
CEDAW requires that all government measures be non-discriminatory and ensure the achievement of substantive equality between women and men as autonomous possessors of rights. It is not possible to judge whether a government budget meets these requirements with reference to just one indicator. A step-by-step approach is necessary, examining particular dimensions of the budget separately and taking into account their interactions. Important insights and findings include:
- Establishing how public expenditure promotes gender equality is complex, since expenditure intended to benefit women may reinforce traditional unequal gender roles.
- Key sources of revenue (income tax, value added tax, excise tax, import duties and user fees) all risk explicitly or implicitly discriminating against women.
- If appropriately designed, personal income tax could reduce inequality in disposable income between men and women and between rich and poor women.
- The incidence of value added tax (VAT) is higher for poor consumers. Since women tend to have lower incomes than men, VAT therefore implicitly discriminates against them.
- Neoliberal macroeconomic policies affect women more adversely than men in regard to unemployment.Additionally, cuts in expenditure aimed at reducing budget deficits have affected women disproportionately.
- Women are not participating on equal terms with men in budget decision processes, which are often structured in such a way that effective participation is difficult.
Government budgets should be constructed and implemented in ways that respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Greater efforts should be made to institutionalise capacity for gender budget analysis in governments and civil society. Such efforts should be linked to the CEDAW reporting process. Further recommendations include:
- The proportion of public expenditure that goes to females should be at least equal to their share of the relevant population (i.e. for schools 50 percent to females and 50 percent to males is an appropriate benchmark; for maternal health 100 percent for females; for poverty alleviation programmes, the female share of the population below the poverty line).
- Monitoring compliance with CEDAW necessitates following money from the budget appropriations and investigating substantive outcomes in terms of gender equality and women’s well-being.
- The revenue mix most suited to CEDAW implementation would include high reliance on income tax (reformed to promote substantive gender equality). It would also include exemptions on VAT for basic necessities.
- Such a revenue mix would include excise taxes on non-necessities consumed mainly by men and no user fees for basic health and education services. It would also include exemptions and subsidised fees for water, sanitation and electricity.
- Special measures are required to increase women’s presence in participatory planning and budget processes, committees scrutinising and responsible for budgets and parliaments and councils.
- Macroeconomic policies should aim to create decent work and reduce female unemployment. Debt should be cancelled to allow highly indebted poor countries to increase expenditure critical to the well-being of women.