gender responsive budgeting (GRB) conference in Penang. I have had conversations about GRB and whether to include it in training potential women candidates. A few Google searches failed to turn up a clear discussion of GRB; I never read more than a few paragraphs. I am not going to try to do what others (in my opinion) have failed to do and explain GRB. Rather I will describe an approach to introducing an "emerging" topic, in other words a way to organize a terrific conference.
The conference's local, regional, and international participants represented different sectors and disciplines. I learned something from everyone I met. The first person I met was a professor from a Department of Public Administration in China. She does research on GRB and serves as an advisor to the government. In Malaysia neither departments of public administration nor government-PA faculty interactions are common. Nevertheless, the conference was like being back in my home (USA) PA department. I often heard "outcome based budgeting," "logic models," "monitoring and evaluation" and other terms that I hadn't heard since I retired. I was back in my disciplinary home!
The conference followed the Malaysian conference "drill." An opening ceremony and conference launch at 9, a tea break (so celebrity welcomers and launchers can gracefully exit), one or two sessions, lunch (1:00 is a favored time), another session, a tea break, another session. After each session the presenters and facilitators receive "tokens of appreciation." In this case small items from recycled materials made by a self-help local project. Dinner may be included; it is usually around 8 (to allow for evening prayers). A typical tea break has a vegetarian noodle or rice dish, fruit pieces, a curry puff or similar snack, and of course, tea and coffee. The tea break allows for networking and building the foundation for future relationships. At this conference a former colleague at USM helped me lay such foundations.
|Presenting tokens of appreciation|
- Session 1: The origins of GRB, how it is implemented, what it has accomplished as told by a UN Women regional specialist, a member of the Kerala's Institute of Local Administration faculty, and an economist and GRB consultant from Austria
- Session 2: Designing participation to empower marginalized groups and identify needs as told by a German political scientist and a Portuguese architect and researcher. Giovanni Allegretti's paper deserves a close read; he wrote about going beyond doing more than gathering a group, even a randomly selected one, together to have meaningful participatory budgeting.
- Session 3: Case studies from Penang, Kerala, and Korea.
- Session 4: Tools to incorporate a gender perspective into the budget process presented by the Austrian economist, a local planner from the Philippines, and a project team head in Malaysia's Ministry of Finance.
- Session 5: How GRB is institutionalized in state and local governments as experienced in Penang, Indonesia, and Nepal.
I was reminded of program evaluation (the skill that dominated my career) - a methodology that broke into a thousand pieces or more accurately, a several different, but widely accepted, methods. GRB builds on over half a century of government budget practices designed to spend the public money wisely and reach specified objectives. The critical component of GRB is the explicit attention to women - do women have different needs? do implemented government programs discriminate against women? do government policies and programs impact men and women differently? GRB does not directly indicate how much a government should allocate money to "guns versus butter." Rather it uses a gender perspective to identify needs and impacts. Men are not ignored (although transgendered and LBG persons may be). GRB should pick up negative impacts on men especially young men and a gender lens should identify such gender-specific concerns. Specifically mentioned were issues of under performance of young men academically and in the workplace and methods to get new fathers to take advantage of parental leave opportunities. GRB tries to sensitize participants to look beyond women to consider the perspectives of the disabled, the elderly and other marginalized groups. And returning to my introductory comment about public administration, during the Q & A a presenter answered the GRB was within a government's purview, because allocating public money is a government's responsibility - a reminder of the value of a MPA.
The conference did not attempt to say "Here is how you implement GRB." Rather participants learned what they should think about in implementing GRB and assuring that it lasts beyond the next election. It was mentioned that civil society groups have a role to play during the time when governments change parties, when some initiatives get lost. Bravo to the women of Penang's Women Development Corporation, a part of Penang's State Government, who took the lead in implementing GRB and organizing the conference.
On the technical side, we saw a presentation from the Philippines where a local government is using a GIS to track budgetary outcomes with data from families in the city. I was amazed to see the information collected, including family planning methods utilized in households, due dates for pregnancy's. The presenter did admit that it was expensive to collect the data items (316) and in the future they will reduce the data collection effort. From an American perspective it is useful to note that people around the world have good and useful ideas....and actually implement them rather than talk them to death. For instance European towns and cities are partnering with South American counterparts to learn about implementation of participatory budgeting....an example of ideas from the southern hemisphere influencing the north.
To not mention dinner would be a terrible oversight. The evening started with drummers and dancers. Then a group of young people from who had participated in Penang's GRB pilot project in a low cost council flats did a short skit - a talk show where they talked about their projects. The dinner was amazing: a platter with appetizers and small salads, chicken soup, sotong (squid) and prawn dishes, a vegetable platter, a fried fish and nasi goreng, and a dessert.
|One of the dance groups|
|Young housing residents talking about their projects|
|We were in awe of this|
young dancer's flexibility
|One of the courses - meaty and tasty|
|I am in the center.|