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Sri Lanka’s first report on ‘Gender, Disability and Employment’ focuses on gender budgeting for inclusivity

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UN Women, together  with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, last week launched a report on ‘Women with Disabilities and Their Access to Economic Opportunities: Through the Lens of Gender Budgets’ today. The study is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka to use a gender budgeting framework to examine government plan, policies and budgets and its impact on women with disabilities.   

The 2012 Census of Sri Lanka revealed that there are more women with disabilities than that of men in all age groups. However, women comprised only 15% of employed persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka, which highlights a stark gender gap and a discrepancy in access to opportunities. 

Speaking at the event, the UN Women Country Focal Point – Sri Lanka Ramaaya Salgado, noted that “women and girls with disabilities face multiple and intersecting levels of exclusion, discrimination, abuse and marginalisation. Therefore, they often confront additional disadvantages as compared to men with disabilities or other women.”

In this study, 400 persons with disabilities covering four districts were surveyed on difficulties faced in entering and remaining in the labour force. Evidence shows that they encounter multiple barriers in access to economic opportunities and women with disabilities are twice as disadvantaged. A gender budget study was also conducted to reveal gaps in programmatic and budgetary commitments, despite several policies and legislation promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.

In his address, Republic of Korea to Sri Lanka Ambassador H.E. Heon Lee stressed the importance of national budgets for gender equality. He noted that: “This research study is vital because not only does it look at why these gaps exist, but it also examines how national programs and most importantly, national budgets can promote women with disabilities access to more inclusive and accessible employment and livelihood opportunities.” 

He cited good practices implemented by the Republic of Korea, which included development of “a Gender Budget Statement analysing the impact of the National Budget on women and men”.

Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development Secretary Dharshana Senanayake highlighted a few gender budgeting initiatives that have commenced in Sri Lanka. She noted that: “In 2016, the Cabinet had approved a minimum of 25% allocation of investment in rural economic development projects to benefit women, which is targeted at 10 key Ministries, Provincial Councils and District and Divisional Secretariats.”

She further noted that “the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs is fully committed to take forward gender budgeting principles to ensure inclusive and equitable policy implementation”.  

To support this endeavour, the report provides a set of recommendations to create an inclusive, accessible and enabling social environment to ensure women with disabilities enjoy equal rights and opportunities. It calls for a thorough review of the National Action Plan for Disability from a gender perspective to ensure that indicators are gender-responsive and the targets are sex-disaggregated. Further to that, the report recommends that gender-sensitive key performance indicators in Budget Call Circulars should be expanded to include disability dimensions wherever relevant.

Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) brings together two domains which are not commonly linked together: gender equality and public financial management. Globally, gender budgeting has emerged as a strategy that ensures inclusive and efficient use of state resources through better development planning and focused allocations. Good policies and budgets should have an equal impact on women and men, across diverse groups.

A budget is the most comprehensive statement of a government’s social and economic plans and priorities. In tracking where the money comes from and where it goes, budgets determine how public funds are raised, how they are used and who benefits from them. Therefore, implementing commitments towards gender equality requires intentional measures to incorporate a gender perspective in planning and budgeting frameworks and concrete investment in addressing gender gaps.

Gender-responsive budgeting is not about creating separate budgets for women, or solely increasing spending on women’s programs. Rather, gender-responsive budgeting seeks to ensure that the collection and allocation of public resources is carried out in ways that are effective and contribute to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

It should be based on in-depth analysis that identifies effective interventions for implementing policies and laws that advance women’s rights. It provides tools to assess the different needs and contributions of men and women, and boys and girls within the existing revenues, expenditures and allocations and calls for adjusting budget policies to benefit all groups.

Gender-responsive budget analysis, along with legislation and other practical policy measures, can address gender bias and discrimination. It is a step not only towards accountability to women’s rights, but also towards greater public transparency and can shift economic policies leading to gains across societies.

More than 90 countries have engaged in GRB worldwide, of which 65 are supported by UN Women. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, about 29 countries have initiated GRB work (UN Women, 2015). Australia pioneered the idea of GRB in the mid-1980s, followed by the Philippines which started GRB work in 1991. In 1995, the Commonwealth Secretariat sought to build on the successes of the pioneering initiatives and began a five-country pilot project in Barbados, Fiji, St Kitts and Nevis, South Africa and Sri Lanka, leading to wider acceptance of GRB as a strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Since then, the GRB landscape in the region has continued to evolve in a rich and dynamic way and it is marked by great diversity in terms of the actors that are engaged and the scope of work. Also, GRB in different countries has evolved along varied trajectories. In some countries, GRB work has expanded to include additional sectors and actors and devolved to sub-national levels of government. Other countries have refined their approaches, including adopting newer tools and directives, while others have aligned their budget reform processes and poverty alleviation programs with GRB frameworks.

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