Hitting the headlines with better stories on gender-responsive budgeting in the Western Balkans
The way state budgets are developed affects every aspect of women’s lives. For this reason, seven media experts and twenty-two journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo1 and Serbia recently joined an online regional dialogue to discuss ways to improve the reporting of gender-responsive budgeting issues.
Held on 12 September, the Media Reporting on Gender-Responsive Budgeting dialogue saw participants explore why too few informative stories on this critical topic appeared in the media and how to improve this situation.
A recent study on media reporting on gender-responsive budgeting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, conducted by Mediacentar Sarajevo and UN Women shows that media outlets report on budgets on a regular basis, but the coverage is one-sided. It usually boils down to political disputes, curt indicative figures, press statements and politicians’ general statements about the budget.
”There is a lack of analytical articles about budgetary proceedings, especially from a gender perspective,” says Selma Zulić Šiljak, co-author of the research. “Inquiry into specific budget items, its spending and budget scrutiny in terms of whether it ensures equal and fair distribution for all, is simply not how the mainstream media report on budgets,” she said.
“Budget reporting should be more focused on what the people need and on the problems that they face on a daily basis,” says Ermira Lubani, Gender-Responsive Budeting Programme Specialist in UN Women Europe and Central Asia Regional Office. “Media coverage can and should encourage citizens to follow processes related to public finances and budget. It should show them how they can be involved and advocate for issues that matter to them; and they can generally contribute to the transparency of public spending,” she said.
“We don’t have many journalists who are focused on the economy, and this is an issue because younger journalists have difficulties getting involved and covering this topic,” says Aurora Sulçe, executive producer for business of A2 CNN in Albania. “It is a challenge to explain to journalists the issues in the economy and the importance of gender-responsive budgeting,” she said.
Meanwhile, journalists who report on these topics said they faced difficulties getting the information they needed to report on these issues, with institutions rarely facilitating timely access to additional information.
“A significant number of employees in institutions do not understand what gender-responsive budgets are, and we must make an extra effort to explain to them what we are looking for or to find those who understand the issue,” explains Selma Učanbarlić, freelance journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Journalists who report on this topic face numerous obstacles even to get basic information on gender-responsive programmes,” she said.
“There is certain information publicly available that could be a good start for media stories, but journalists are the ones who need to put the pressure on the institutions, to ask them to be more transparent and to provide more information,” explains Milica Janjatović, Project Coordinator at Novi Sad School of Journalism. “The institutions will not do it by themselves, the media outlets must do it,” he said.
Journalists and editors from the Western Balkans concluded that the media plays a crucial role in promoting gender equality and putting pressure on decision makers to allocate public money in a fair manner, while considering and respecting the needs of all citizens. In their opinion, professional and responsible work of the media maintains democracy and trust in the governing institutions and influences political responsibility.
The online media dialogue was organized by UN Women and Mediacentar Sarajevo as part of the regional project, Transformative financing for gender equality towards more transparent, inclusive and accountable governance in the Western Balkans. This effort is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). It has been underway since 2020 and was designed to support the governments in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia to better integrate gender equality into all stages of national and local policymaking as well as budgeting processes.
1 All references to Kosovo on this text should be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).