A Case for Gender Responsive Budgeting in Myanmar

A woman with new born baby in Kachin IDP Camp where Oxfam works for humanitarian response. Photo by: Oxfam
Paper author: 
Jasmine Burnley (Oxfam), Melani Hilton (ActionAid), Poe Ei Phyu (Oxfam), Nilar Tun (Care)
Paper publication date: 
Monday, March 14, 2016

A country’s budget can be a powerful lever for social transformation. A budget is the tool a government has to help it translate national resources into allocations which meet the needs and aspirations of its population, and set the country on a path to sustainable and equitable development.

Budgets are not politically ‘neutral’. What gets included in a budget is shaped not only by the people who decide the allocations but also the structures and histories that inform how those decisions are made. If a budget does not account for the different needs of women and men, it is ‘gender-blind’ – i.e., it perpetuates inequality through biased spending. More often than not, national budgets favour men and the groups, institutions and systems that are led by men.

A participatory government budget, which reflects the needs of its people – including women, whose voices are often marginalized – can be used to put in place policies and spending that reduce gender inequality. Budgeting is a cross-ministerial process that is central to how governments function. A participatory, gender-responsive budgeting approach can challenge the deep structural forces that systematically marginalize groups, especially women.

International policy instruments, such as the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), provide the architecture for country-specific interventions that increase gender equality and promote women’s rights.

In Myanmar, the budgetary process is largely male-led; few women participate in formal decision making. Consequently, budgetary allocations that target women’s practical and strategic gender needs remain low.

This briefing paper has been prepared by ActionAid, CARE, the Women’s Organisations’ Network (WON) and Oxfam. It is based on a large study by a research team covering six States/Regions (Ayeyarwaddy, Kachin, Kayah, Magwe, Mon and Yangon), which involved 53 interviews and 13 focus group discussions.

The study’s results demonstrate just how important it is for Myanmar to adopt gender-responsive budgeting in order to reduce inequality and help the country achieve its development goals. However, for gender-responsive budgeting to succeed, budgetary processes (including revenue collection and spending) must be redesigned to be more participatory. They should include mechanisms that promote accountable and transparent governance and reflect the needs of men and women. Above all, budgets that embed gender equality in policy, as well as prioritizing its implementation, will help to propel Myanmar towards economic prosperity and cement its democratic commitments.