In the midst of the 56th session of CSW, it was interesting to look back at some of the outcomes of one of the previous CSW sessions and think about how gender issues have progressed since then. Gender-mainstreaming seemed to be the theme of panel 3 as countries discussed the importance of making specific provisions and budgets for gender issues throughout all government ministries and departments.
The panelists from Austria, the US, Cambodia, Morocco, and Ecuador each provided unique strategies and accounts of prioritizing gender in government financing. The panelist from Austria made a particularly convincing appeal for governments to change their budgets from input-oriented to output-oriented ones. In his country, ministers are now required to detail five objectives for which the ministry’s money will be used. Of those 5, at least one has to be gender-related. In this way, ministers set goals and are held accountable to the Parliament at the end of the year for reaching these targets. This not only helps dedicate money for gender issues, but also ensures that those funds are used for what they are intended for.
Along the same lines, the panelist from Morocco noted that fighting inequality means fighting corruption. I think this point is rather poignant because it addresses the fact that dedicating money for a cause is not helpful if that money disappears into thin air with little to show from it. He went on to say that financing has to come from public and private spheres as well as civil society and that it has to be based on accountability and transparency. While I whole-heartedly agreed with what he said, I would have liked to see further discussion on ways of dealing with corruption.
The panelist from the US spoke about how social budgets could be grown through economic reform. Speaking about the dangers of macroeconomic policies, such as those advocated by the IMF, she noted that they often constrain growth, employment opportunities, and therefore, public revenues. She suggests, for example, that inflation is often related to low productivity as a result of a lack of access to social services. Investing in social programs, therefore, could help battle inflation without altering monetary policy.
The finance minister from Ecuador likewise spoke about ways of ensuring that funds are available when needed. She said that the key is planning… and not just creating year plans, but rather multi-year plans. Since economic crises do not just end after a year, having a multi-year plan can ensure that vulnerable sectors are sufficiently funded even in turbulent times.
When the floor was opened to the other countries and participants, I noticed that they were all so eager to talk about the poverty and gender plans that they had in place. It sounded to me like everyone had everything figured out and they were doing well on their own. I may be slightly exaggerating, but the point is that it felt like everyone was paying lip service to the issue at hand and the need to prove that they have made progress. What I would have rather heard is numbers of participants reached… and not just numbers, but percentages of eligible women taking advantages of the services that they offer. I would also like to hear about the challenges that they have been facing rather than what they have done. Interestingly enough, the panel chair sensed the robotic nature of it all and urged the participants not to read and to be more interactive so that everyone could benefit from a productive debate.