This was necessarily so because the National Budget is the most important statement of Government commitment to national priorities.
When Finance Minister Tendai Biti presented the 2012 Budget proposal, he referred to it as a "pro-poor" budget. This can be interpreted to mean the budget is focused on addressing the needs of the poor.
It is a given fact that women who constitute 52 percent of the population in Zimbabwe also constitute the majority of the poor, do most of the work, contribute the least to decision-making and own the least assets. It is therefore important to establish how the budget commits towards addressing the gender gaps.
For the next four weeks, we shall be sharing with you in parts the snapshot of the gender dimensions of the proposed 2012 Budget. This week will focus on allocations to the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and the Health portfolios.
In his 2012 Budget Statement the minister acknowledged that disparities arising from gender and other peculiarities have often meant that budget interventions are not always responsive to the needs and demands of citizens in a neutral way.
He highlighted that the Ministry of Finance in formulating Expenditure Proposals, Treasury Budget Call Circulars, always calls on ministries to integrate gender issues from the strategic planning stage, through to consolidation of their expenditure proposals.
The target is to ensure that policies deliver to women and men, boys and girls more equitably. The minister further encouraged line ministries to use gender budgeting as a tool for gender inclusiveness in the budget process.
The minister highlighted that gender-sensitive budgeting is not about increasing allocations or having separate budgets for men and women, but rather, it is about re-orientation of programmes within sectors in order to promote more effective use of resources to achieve both gender equality and human development.
While the minister expressed Government's intention towards addressing gender equality and equity, the 2012 Budget remains far below standard in terms of gender mainstreaming.
Only six out of 37 ministries were allocated specific gender mainstreaming budget lines, namely Public Works (US$50 000), Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development (US$20 000), Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education (US$30 000), Regional Integration and International Co-operation (US$2 000, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs (US$5 000). Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development got (US$100 000).
While the initiative is an improvement from previous budgets, the rest of the budget is composed mostly of general mainstream budget lines with the assumption that women as citizens of Zimbabwe will also benefit from the resources.
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, which is overally responsible for gender mainstreaming, received a vote allocation ranking number 26 out of 37 ministries.
More so, the allocation constitutes 0,28 percent (US$ 10 063 000) of the 2012 Budget marginally increasing from 0,23 percent in 2011. Already this illustrates that gender mainstreaming.
Further, the ministry was allocated US$100 000 for gender mainstreaming and US$3 million for the Women's Development Fund, which fund is meant to be a revolving fund for economic empowerment and an increase from US$2 million in 2011.
However, the Budget does not disaggregate how many women will benefit from the fund and what level of empowerment will the fund achieve given that the majority of women are poor?
Moreover, the US$2 million fund voted for the ministry in 2011 was never disbursed. While the increase in allocation is a positive development, if the funds are not disbursed, allocation becomes irrelevant in ensuing years. If the fund is availed, the ministry should state the number of women benefiting from it. The fund should disaggregate beneficiaries by demographic characteristics such as age and geographic location
Given the level and intensity of the work to be undertaken by the ministry such as the review of the National Gender Policy, and that 31 ministries do not have specific gender mainstreaming lines, the allocation to the ministry remains meagre.
Ministry of Health and Child Welfare
Despite considerable progress in the past decades, the country continues to fail to meet the health care needs of women at key moments of their lives, particularly in their reproductive years.
The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause during her lifetime is about 36 times higher compared to a woman living in a developed country. Maternal mortality is the health indicator that shows the widest gaps between rich and poor, both between countries and within them. The National Budget is a critical tool for bridging these gaps.
The total allocation of US$345,7 million to the health vote is still far off the agreed budgetary allocation in the Abuja Declaration of 15 percent.
While the allocation for the health sector would reach 15 percent combining the Government contribution (about 9 percent) and other sources, the ministry has no control over the focus of other sources of funding such as malaria and cholera funds. Currently, the per capita health expenditure is at US$27,78, falling short of the World Health Organisation target which is US$34.
Women cannot maintain their health and that of their families without access to safe and affordable reproductive services. It is commendable that a modest US$10 million is allocated to maternal and child health care, a development likely to bring stability to the perennial problems related to the subject.
However, maternal and child health components should be separated in order for targeted interventions and budgets to address them comprehensively. At least 5 percent of the health budget should be allocated to maternal health in order to curb maternal mortality currently at 795 deaths per every 100 000 live births.
The US$348 000 allocation towards reproductive health needs boosting especially in the face of the current HIV/Aids pandemic. Disbursement of the health budget from Treasury should be timely and adequate in order to meet the urgent needs of the health sector.
Besides the obvious gender-specific issues such as maternal health, there has not been a deliberate attempt to disaggregate budget lines from other line ministries by gender.
For the Budget to be more gender sensitive, it should include more gender-specific budget lines for each line ministry.
As long as there is no gender mainstreaming within sector policies and budgets, even those ministries that have received significant budget allocations for empowerment of poor people may continue to marginalise women. Next week, we look at the gender dimensions in the education and agriculture votes.