Gender budgeting and public policy: the challenges to operationalising gender justice in India

Keerty Nakray

Dr Keerty Nakray discusses her Policy & Politics article article Gender budgeting: does it really work?

This year marks the culmination of the Millennium Development Goals 2015 (MDGs) which provide the watershed for the global community to evaluate its development victories and failures. It is time to engage in collective reflections on lessons learnt and also to re-evaluate strategies in order to continue efforts to improve the quality of people’s lives. The MDGs reflected the consensus amongst world leaders to address eight goals: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability and to develop a global partnership for development.

Gender equality was one of the ambitious goals of the MDGs with gender budgets receiving widespread endorsement as one of the most important strategies to achieve it. However, to the dismay of the feminist movement, gender budgets have failed to address structural power relations between women and men.

Globally, the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing endorsed gender budgeting, and it was included in the Platform for Action declaration signed by 189 states. This declaration provided the impetus to maintain gender budgets as a means of mainstreaming gender concerns within government mechanisms. This marked a departure from existing approaches that largely focused on specific projects for gender empowerment, without taking into consideration the structural contexts in which gender inequality is created.  It also demonstrated the importance of state commitment to achieve gender equality through its own administrative mechanisms, rather than just through non-governmental organizations.

In line with international developments, the Government of India presented its first gender budget as a central part of India’s financial budget in 2005 to reflect the exact expenditures on various gender related programmes. In such a deeply patriarchal society, this was a landmark moment for the Indian feminist movement which, in keeping with the transnational movement had advocated mainstreaming gender through budgets. However today the feminist movement is critical of gender budgets which had previously considered as a panacea. This is due to the failure of the governmental and non-governmental sector to take into account all the gender budget procedures that need to be implemented to achieve tangible gender equality outcomes.

In my article Gender budgeting: does it really work? I conclude that global advances towards gender equality require multiple strategies of which gender budgets are an important tool towards ensuring government commitment to gender equality.  However, gender budgets have to be embedded within the radical politics of the feminist movement to question power hierarchies perpetuated by both government and non-government organizations.

Dr Keerty Nakray, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School and Visiting Fellow, Feinstein International Centre, Tufts University.

If you enjoyed this blog entry, you may be interested in a similar article: Gender mainstreaming: a five-country examination by Olena Hankivsky

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