HOW much do governments in Pakistan spend to empower women? What are the trends in allocating and expending budgets for facilities and institutions that help women and girls get equal opportunities and live in dignity? Are there gaps in essential and strategic investments that can be plugged to help reduce gender parity?

A gender budget tagging methodology developed for the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2023 helps answer these questions. It maps budgets to assess the quantum and nature of approved allocations and actual public spending likely to help women and girls access services like education, healthcare, training, credit, justice, security, disaster response and social protection. Public funds are also ranked on the basis of their relevance to empowering women.

Gender-tagging of the provincial budgets of Punjab and KP over the past three fiscal years, FY2020-21, FY2021-22 and FY2022-23, shows approved allocations with a high gender-relevance ranged from 4.8 per cent to 6.73pc of the total budget, and spending was between 5.8pc to 7.53pc of the total expenditures. Budgets marked as high relevance have a principal purpose of supporting gender equality. These typically include funds for schools, hospitals, start-ups and other financing mechanisms designed to benefit women and girls. They also include public resources for creating and running shelters and providing other facilities that help respond to violence against women.

High relevance allocations were not the only gender-responsive investments made by the provincial governments. Rs1,315,409 million, or 36pc of total allocations over three years in KP, and Rs4,113,273m, or 44.43pc of the total in Punjab, were allocated for public services like universities, tertiary care hospitals, irrigation, and transport. These amounts are of medium relevance, as they likely benefited women and girls even though gender equality was not the deliberate purpose of these budgets.

Gender-responsive budgets will help provide more equal opportunities, which can be a strong engine for macroeconomic stability.

An additional Rs554,999m, or 15pc of the cumulative total three-year budgets in KP, and Rs1,265,760m, or 13.67pc of the total in Punjab, represent low relevance funds; ie, amounts that may create an enabling environment for gender equality by supporting, for example, agricultural research that will assist women who depend on farming for food and livelihood. Going forward, more granular information, including sex-disaggregated data, will help governments show whether such public spending gives women and girls access to equal opportunities and rights, demonstrating government compliance with domestic policies like the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Women Empowerment Policy, 2017, and the Punjab Women Development Policy, 2018, as well as international obligations such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Categorising gender-responsive budgets shows that the largest share in fiscal years 2020-23 was provided for social services in Punjab and KP. This included funds for education, healthcare, and basic services like drinking water. This was followed by budgets for women’s economic empowerment, which support the access of girls and women to income opportunities and contribute to economic activity. This included funds for vocational training, credit, mobility, and facilities like working women’s hostels that make it possible for women to take jobs away from their families and hometowns.

An analysis of Pakistan’s federal budget for FY2023-24 shows that the largest share of gender-responsive budgets, Rs499,940m, was allocated for social protection, which includes support for social safety nets like the Benazir Income Support Programme. Ninety-four per cent of the amount categorised under social protection is highly relevant; ie, designed for gender equality. Rs139,720m expended for climate change supports adaptive and mitigation measures such as afforestation, solarisation and research on climate trends. However, in this category, dedicated funds are needed to develop the resilience of women, poor and others that are most vulnerable to climate shocks.

The information generated by gender tagging of federal and provincial budgets helps understand what is funded, how much is funded, where the funding gaps are, and how to better allocate resources. Using such information and analysis for sustained and more impactful outcomes requires three priority actions.

First, integrate methodologies like gender budget tagging in the financial data management systems of the federal and provincial governments, so that robust data and analysis, including trends over time, are regularly made available to assist legislators, policymakers and government officials in making gender-responsive budget choices.

Second, provide more detailed information on current and development budgets to help more accurate gender tagging. Descriptions of budgets often do not provide enough information to judge their gender relevance. Some headway has been made to improve data contained in project planning documents, like the PC-1s. These efforts should be further expedited and skills of government officials upgraded so that they are able to produce more detailed PC-1s.

Third, use the information generated by gender tagging of budgets for in-depth assessments to help more impactful use of public resources to empower women and increase their agency. For example, providing schools and colleges for girls is important to reduce gender parity. But equally important is an assessment of how budgets can overcome challenges like high dropout rates of girls after primary school, estimated at 32pc. Also required are strategic investments, like including content in education curriculum that helps reverse pervasive social discrimination against women and girls.

Ranked 142 out of 146 countries, Pakistan is nearly at the bottom of the Global Gender Gap Index 2023, reflecting the grim realities of women, who make up 49pc of the country’s population of 241.5m. Gender-responsive budgets will help reduce gender disparities and provide more equal opportunities, which can provide a strong engine for macroeconomic stability, stimulate economic growth, reduce income inequality, and make better development outcomes possible.

According to the UNDP, $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. But gender equality should not only be pursued for economic growth and inclusive development. It should be promoted because the ability to live with independence, dignity and freedom is a fundamental human right.

The writer is the executive director of the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation.
rdohad@oakdf.org.pk

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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