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Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Ethiopia’s Country-wide Social Accountability Program

This academic paper which I wrote together with Ellen Pieterse PhD and Tadelech Debele, provides a unique insight into how we developed gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) as a Social Accountability (SA) tool for citizens at the at the lowest tier of government in Ethiopia.


Initially, very few CSOs chose to work with the GRB tool developed at the start of the Ethiopia Social Accountability Program (ESAP). It provided limited implementation guidelines and also gender expertise was not well developed among the CSOs. We invited an Ethiopian gender consultant and engaged with CSOs, communities, and government gender experts in an action research process to make the GRB tool work.


Our paper includes three in-depth cases, which show how GRB was localised and contextualised by SA practitioners. Case 1 describes the action research that made GRB more suitable to addressing gender inequalities in service delivery. These activities led to the development of the GRB tool with 6 implementation steps, which is detailed in case 2. The third case give an example of GRB tool implementation by one of the CSOs.


The GRB tool starts with the CSO identifying and mobilizing local gender and budget expertise, which can support the social accountability process. In Ethiopia, this usually involves the Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office; the Financial Transparency and Accountability expert; and experts from the sector offices. The process is timed to coincide with the budget cycle, so that citizens can influence budget decisions and review. Before conducting gender analysis, awareness is raised among service providers on the government’s gender policies for service delivery. Then gender analysis of service access and benefits is facilitated where community members are involved in comparing the impact of budgetary decisions on women to that of men. Citizens and service providers are then brought together to discuss local budgets and set priorities for gender equitable spending on public services. This leads to prioritization of spending on improvements that promote gender equality. Citizens subsequently monitor that service improvements indeed benefit women and men as agreed during the budget discussions.


Did gender equality in service delivery improve?
Interestingly, the CSOs had already completed a full cycle of the SA process before the new GRB tool was introduced. Focusing on the same services, the communities’ priorities changed. All six case studies show that new issues were prioritised. In Debre Markos town, GRB highlighted sexual harassment of school girls. The community had already identified the need of a fence to protect students from residents who could wander into the school yard at any time. The gender analysis highlighted the negative impact of drinking houses in terms of the harassment of school girls by their customers. The issue was raised during the interface meeting, and local authorities subsequently moved the drinking houses to the other end of town.


Analysis and conclusion
Budgets often perpetuate gender disparities. In Ethiopia, where the promotion of gender equality is enshrined in the law, ESAP encountered secondary schools with no separate toilets for boys and girls, and agricultural extension services that focus solely on crops grown by men. Ethiopia’s basic services may on paper appear gender neutral, but in practice they are not.


At national and sub-national level, technical knowledge is required of how budgets and policy processes work. It is important work for the few educated, activists, and (some women) parliamentarians. At local government level, ESAP’s GRB tool brings abstract gender policies to life for men and women, service providers and district officials.

We hope that our work will inspire other SA practitioners to use GRB for local government budgets.

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