This chapter examines gender biases in the way services are resourced and designed, and shows how women’s physical and social access to services is often constrained. Practical ways of improving accountability in service delivery include: gender-sensitive mandates that bring gender equality into the remit of every public service; incentives to reward responsive performance; sanctions for neglect of women’s needs; performance measurements and monitoring to ensure that outputs benefit women.
Services matter to women because they support their rights to health, education and a decent life. If services fail, women’s well-being can be seriously at risk. Service delivery failures do not only affect women. But they affect women differently and more acutely than men, particularly if they are poor. Women are often less able to substitute for poor public provision by paying fees for better services.
Gender biases affect the design, delivery and accountability of public services in many countries. Poor people have fewer opportunities to inform policymakers of their needs or effectively demand better provision. This often holds for women too, with additional gender-specific ways in which services fail women. Services are often designed and delivered with men rather than women in mind. This reinforces women’s dependence on men and limits the opportunities that services should create for women. These gender biases are not always obvious.
Making services work for women is difficult under conditions of illiteracy, remoteness, under-resourcing, corruption and patriarchal social conditions. But the case of girls’ improved access to education shows it is possible to improve service delivery even in resource-scarce contexts.
There is no quick fix to the complex problems of biases against women in public services. However, women around the world have engaged in a variety of activities along a spectrum of ‘voice’-based (demand) and ‘choice’-based (supply) initiatives to improve accountability. Mobilisation aimed at improving service delivery can have lasting effects on women’s participation in civil society and their engagement with the state. In addition:
- ‘Voice’ based initiatives enable women to interact with service providers, improve delivery methods, provide feedback about service quality and monitor and review performance. This can create the conditions to get services right for women.
- ‘Voice’ and ‘choice’ based approaches can complement each other, but ‘choice’ is sometimes not an option for women when their purchasing power is limited.
- A citizen’s right to information is an essential tool supporting women’s efforts to monitor service improvement.
Good services for women are a key test of government commitment to national and international agreements on gender equality and women’s rights. While there has been notable progress in passing laws and making policies, budgeting for and delivering the actual services is the true measure of accountability.