En-Gendering Jamaica’s Budget

Marcia Forbes PhD

Published Date: 

January 15, 2013

A Solid WROC

With the talk at every level of Jamaican society being about the IMF and the critical role the coming relationship with this institution will play in the country’s future, it makes good sense for civil society to understand more. Titled “Economic Literacy and Gender Budget Analysis Training Course for Civil Society”, this programme was designed to do that. Under the auspices of the insightful and forward-thinking Women’s Resource Outreach Centre, training was offered to 30 persons for a small fee and on a first come first served basis.
Support from the UN Women, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), 51% Coalition and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) facilitated the training which started in January and will run over two months. Featured speakers have been drawn from the local, regional and international arenas. Areas to be covered include ‘Understanding the Macro-economic framework of Jamaica’, ‘The Debt Crisis in Jamaica’, ‘The Jamaica National Budget Process’ and ‘Fore-sighting & Scenario Planning for Job Creation in Jamaica’.

PBC Jamaica

Under the direction of its newly appointed Executive Director, Keith Campbell, a seasoned broadcaster, the decision was made to video tape the training sessions for later broadcast via PBCJ. This is a wise way of helping to make the information available to a wider population. While some may argue that PBCJ’s viewership is small, that does not negate the value of the approach.
PBCJ could make the content available to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) which could present ‘bite-sized-pieces’ across free-to-air radio and TV stations in time allowed for Government broadcasts. More Jamaicans need to have a deeper understanding of where we are and the implications of our IMF ‘deal’ at different societal levels.
A part of the mandate of the PBCJ is “the dissemination of news, information and ideas on matters of general public interest” and to promote “the vitality of democratic institutions”. In covering the training sessions the PBCJ is on the right road regarding its mandate.

Gender Responsive Budgets

Jamaica’s debt stands at $1.7 trillion. This is a huge amount of money! As a percentage of gross domestic product, debt repayment gobbles up about 140%.  Gender responsive budgeting (GRB) cannot address this challenge in the short or even medium term, however, this approach to budgeting is very likely to bear long term benefits for Jamaica. It started in Australia as far back as 1984 and is now used in some 50 countries, mainly Commonwealth nations.
As the resident representative for UNDP, Dr Arun Kashyap, pointed out, “UN Women partnered (with) the Moroccan government to incorporate a gender perspective into the on-going budget reform process that led to the prioritizing of family planning, maternal health clinics, vocational training and increased access to microcredit for women. GRB is now completely anchored in the national budget reform process....” It helps to foster gender equality, “a necessary condition for inclusive and sustainable development”, Kashyap noted. A budget crafted on the foundation of sustainable development is sine qua non for Jamaica as the country works to pull itself out of its debt trap.
To quote from the brochure prepared for the training programme – “Gender budgeting is not focused on establishing a separate budget item for women!” Neither is it “aimed at increasing spending on programmes for women.” Rather this approach seeks to ensure that the collection and allocation of public funds benefit all groups, including women. It aims to “build the capacity of government and civil society to understand and address the differential needs of citizens.”

Transforming the Development Agenda from the Inside Out
The above sub-heading was the title of Dr Mariama Williams’ presentation in the first training session. This Senior Fellow with the South Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, placed Jamaica’s challenges within the context of the global environment. Two key points in her presentation were that:

  1. “Instability in macroeconomic performance in developing countries is mostly explained by external influences, from both trade and financing (United Nations 2008, pp viii-x).”
  2. “The volatility of developed country interest rates and global liquidity has the strongest impact on developing countries, (Akyüz 2012a).”

Against that very sober backdrop, the argument of transforming the development agenda from the inside out takes on the spectre of a challenge of David versus Goliath proportion. As the bible story goes though, David was victorious. Can Jamaica be equally victorious? It will require many brave Davids and numerous ‘slingshots’. This translates into making the most with what we have. Jamaica has many women who have already taken up their slingshots to fight the Giant. The next move is to en-gender the budget.