Interview: “Gender-responsive budgeting starts at home”


Academic Emel Memiş provides technical advice on gender-responsive planning and budgeting in Türkiye. Photo: UN Women Türkiye.
Academic Emel Memiş provides technical advice on gender-responsive planning and budgeting in Türkiye. Photo: UN Women Türkiye.

Associate Professor Emel Memiş is a gender-responsive planning and budgeting expert who has studied and worked in Türkiye and the United States of America, with a focus on macro-economics, gender equality, unpaid labour and women’s poverty. While lecturing at Ankara University in Türkiye, Memiş works with public institutions, international bodies and civil society organizations focused on women’s empowerment, to ensure that gender-responsive budgeting is well understood and implemented. Currently with the Implementation of Gender-Responsive Planning and Budgeting in Turkey project, co-funded by UN Women and the European Union, Memiş explains why gender-responsive budgeting is a must. 

What does it mean to make budgeting responsive to gender? 

Consider the budget of a standard household. It is meaningful to ask questions such as: Does a significant part of the household’s budget reduce the burden of the household member who is mostly involved in unpaid labour? Or does it go to areas that mostly benefit men? Where is the money spent and does this spending consider different household needs?

Gender-responsive budgeting starts at home. Who contributes how much to household income is another important question because it affects the distribution of power within the household. Being a woman in a household where two people are employed versus a household where one person is employed has very different economic and social consequences. For example, women may not be able to afford their own needs and act as they want to in society, due to social pressures.

Why does the term “gender-responsive budgeting” sound so complicated?  

Perhaps because we only started to really understand it in Türkiye recently. More people will understand when it becomes a subject of policy at high-level gatherings. Women should ask themselves where they stand in the public budget and whether their needs are considered when budgets are planned. They should ask if an adequate budget is allocated to address their different needs, demands and problems. Is the budget designed in a way to benefit a single woman with two children, for example? How beneficial are the measures taken with public resources for the problems women face in a fiscal or health crisis like the pandemic? Budgeting should be done through inclusive processes and gender-responsive budgeting helps achieve that.

Why do you think we must adopt gender-responsive budgeting processes? 

The critical importance of gender-responsive budgeting comes from the fact that it helps to achieve gender equality objectives within laws, documents, and strategic plans at national and global levels. In this respect, it helps gender equality become mainstream.

Lack of budgeting is the very reason the global women’s movement is still behind in what could have been achieved in terms of rights and status. It is only a recent development that more countries commit to gender-responsive budgeting and integrate it into their processes. Bringing gender equality issues to policy corridors is significant because this is how they become the concern of policymakers. 

What are some of the challenges, and possible solutions, to implementing this? 

First, it requires the full acknowledgement of political actors, both nationally and globally. In economics, there is an assumption that macro-level policies are gender-neutral. This is the main hurdle. Secondly, awareness about gender inequality and knowledge of the budgeting process and how it is implemented in real life must exist together. In other words, experts, public officials and all actors who are a part of the process must believe in gender equality.

Then, there are various ways to implement it. It can start with the most basic budgeting documents. This is what we do with our project in Türkiye. We work closely with senior officials from ministries and other central and local public institutions. We provide them with training on gender-responsive budgeting and encourage them to implement it within their fields. 

How do we advance gender-responsive budgeting in the private sector? 

Gender-responsive budgeting can be a tool for all private sector organizations if they have gender equality commitments. It not only increases performance but contributes to the improvement of the company’s prestige and image in the eyes of the market. Globally, the areas where the private sector should take responsibility have increased. Public and private sector partnerships are more frequent, and this has resulted in companies attaching importance to sustainability issues. The choices the public sector makes, which companies it prefers to work with, whether those companies have gender equality strategies and practices are all also very important. Encouraging the private sector to become gender-responsive, will make it easier to spread to all segments of society.