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A growing number of fragile states have taken steps to make their budget more gender responsive. But questions remain for economists and policy makers about what can be achieved, and how.

My new book, Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) in Fragile States: The case of Timor-Leste, is the first international publication addressing the potential of gender budgeting in fragile state contexts. It uses the case of Timor-Leste to explore whether gender equality can be pursued in parallel with establishing economic and institutional fundamentals. It looks into the political dimensions of budgets to show that gender-focused institutions across parliament, government and civil society, can combine to influence positive changes in budgets and policy processes. It also looks into the potential of gender analysis to inform positive changes and highlights how this potential is framed by a range of political, institutional, cultural and technical features.

When in 2008 the government of Timor-Leste committed to adopting gender responsive budgeting, it outlined a focus on improving public policy and service delivery. Since then, an array of political strategies, and institutional arrangements have led to positive changes in budgeting and political processes.

Despite this, changes in budgeting processes have yet to filter through to measurable outcomes for women and children. Women and their dependent children have endured much of the impact of Timor-Leste’s poor development performance, and gender inequality has persisted. Two statistics illustrate this point, first the 2009-10 demographic and health survey estimated maternal mortality to be high at 557 deaths per 100,000 live births. Second, the 2007 living standards survey found that women’s illiteracy rate was high as 54.3 per cent for women above 18 years old. This is higher than the 36.8 per cent of men in the equivalent age bracket who reported being unable to read and write. Women in rural areas are particularly disadvantaged, with 61.1 per cent of women aged above 18 years reporting an inability to read and write.

The adoption of gender responsive budgeting posed particular technical, political and institutional challenges given that Timor-Leste was emerging from a devastating political and security crisis. From the outset, the pursuit of gender responsive budgeting raised a degree of concern, with some cautioning against embarking on new approaches before establishing the fundamentals of economic policy and institution-building. I show in this book that gender responsive budgeting initiatives can make a significant contribution to institution building, state resilience and gender equality by increasing the demand for accountability, transparency, and improving policy and budgeting processes and decisions.

Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, I reflect on a decade of gender responsive budgeting efforts in Timor-Leste. Qualitative data included interviews with key stakeholders inside and outside of government, with a focus on the practice and the meaning attributed to gender responsive budgeting, and how it has contributed to gender equality. This book also delves into the policy potential of gender analysis. An education administrative dataset, the Education Management Information System, provided an ideal source to illustrate how to produce a report card on the relative performance of primary schools against gender-related indicators.

I developed gender-relevant indicators that measure school performance, and compare them across districts and sub-districts. Three indicators were used to illustrate this potential: share of enrolment that is female; share of students that are in a grade that is age-appropriate or higher; and, share of teachers who are female. I also used living standards survey data to add social and economic indicators relevant to understand the observed gender gaps in school performance, and ultimately to provide policy directions for how Timor-Leste can improve its gender equality outcomes in education.

This analysis shows where resources are needed to improve effectiveness and equality in the sector and was used in consultations with key policy actors to explore the potential of gender analysis in budget and policy processes. While welcomed, analysis alone is not sufficient to produce budget and policy changes. These consultations highlighted the need for a deeper understanding political, institutional, cultural and technical characteristics that frame the potential of gender analysis.

My book shows that gender responsive budgeting can play an important role in the debate on state fragility-resilience, and argues that fragile states should not defer gender equality in the name of getting the economic and institutional basics right.

The new book Gender Responsive Budgeting in Fragile States: The case of Timor-Leste will be launched at the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute after the public lecture on ‘Gender responsive budgeting and breastfeeding policies: insights from the Asia-Pacific region’ on 11 September 2017.

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