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Addressing the Absence of Gender Responsive Budgeting in American Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Shilpa Viswanath
June 29, 2018

Public budgets are an influential apparatus dictating the allocation and distribution of public resources. When sieved through, public budgets are an honest reflection of a government’s spending priorities. Nonetheless, public administration scholars Marilyn Marks Rubin and John R. Bartle in a special report titled “Integrating Gender into Government Budgets: A New Perspective” published in the Public Administration Review in 2005 argue: social and economic structural differences between men and women cause marked differences in the impact of government resource allocation and expenditure especially, in sectors such as public health, public education, public transport and public childcare. Structural differences between men and women refer to women earning and saving less at interrupted intervals, women being over-represented in the unpaid care economy and women having discontinuous work histories. Similarly, Diane Elson, a gender economist and social scientist at the University of Manchester in her 1999 paper “Labor Markets as Gendered Institution: Equality, Efficiency and Empowerment Issues” published in World Development concludes if public revenue and public expenditure decisions have differential impacts on men, women, transgendered, disabled and minorities then, the public budget statement that is presented as a “neutral” financial aggregate is hardly neutral.

Acknowledging these discrepancies in public resource allocation and their consequences on building sustainable economies and societies, 187 countries around the world have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)—a landmark international bill that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world—and have consequently implemented gender responsive budgeting at the federal, state or local levels since 1985 . United States is one of the few countries in the world not to have ratified the CEDAW despite the efforts of several states, counties and cities in the country that have passed resolutions urging ratification.

As practitioners and scholars of public administration, we have in the recent past acknowledged that “gender parity” is indispensable in determining how public goods and services are delivered to and utilized by society at large. Gender parity is also crucial in determining how public institutions function exclusively of and in interaction with society. Ensuring the complete development and participation of half of the nation’s human resources has implicit implications on innovation and effectiveness of public sector institutions. Yet, the theme of “gender” barely surfaces in the field of public financial management in the United States. And while there exists expansive gender responsive budgeting research and teaching in the international community, in the United States there is no reference to gender responsive budgeting in public administration academia or practice. A preliminary content analysis of public budgeting syllabi (publicly accessible) from 25 MPA programs (accessed from NASPAA’s roster of accredited programs) indicates complete absence of the mention of gender responsive budgeting themes. The lack of integration of gender responsive budgeting as an administrative issue and a teaching filed could imply that an entire generation of public sector practitioners are not being prepared for or oriented in the field of gender responsive budgeting and thereby lack any sort of empirical training and research to base their “gender” sensitive policies, planning and decisions.


Table 1: Qualitative Gender Indices in United States

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2017 ranks the United States a meagerly 49th on gender parity. The World Economic Forum’s report benchmarks 144 countries around the world on their ongoing status of gender parity across four thematic dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Table 1 presents a snapshot of qualitative gender indices in the United States as reported by the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The United States, an industrial super-power, fares inadequately on every gender related index that is released by various multi-lateral organizations each year. These indices are a small reflection of the glaring and blatant gender based, socio-economic and political inequalities present in the American society. Yet, feminist scholars in the field of public administration have never fully addressed the issue of gender within the framework of public finance and budgeting.

As women in the present day American civil society continue to mobilize themselves under the fourth-wave of feminism, it is quintessential for the field of public administration to consider the explicit gender inequalities in American economy, society and polity, while teaching public financial management and while designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating a public budget statement.

Author: Shilpa Viswanath is a Ph.D. Candidate at Rutgers University – Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration. She was an ASPA Founders Fellow in 2018 and is secretary of ASPA’s Section for Women in Public Administration (SWPA). She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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