I recently attended an event on gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) in Kampala, Uganda, and was struck by the country’s progress using this practice. As Canada works to improve the integration of gender considerations into our budgeting, there’s a great deal that we can learn from the Ugandan experience.

Gender budgeting is good for growth

With a self-described feminist prime minister in power, a commitment to gender parity in the Cabinet, and the recent launch of a Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada is demonstrating its commitment to gender equality. The 2017 budget was this government’s first opportunity to articulate how it will back up this goal financially, and it framed its approach as a first-of-its-kind (in Canada) gender-sensitive budget. With programs such as caregiving credits, extended maternity leave, funding for a national strategy on gender-based violence, and attention to LGBTQ2 issues, the Government of Canada is taking important first steps.

Many countries have used GRB — that is, using fiscal policy and public financial management to promote gender equality — for a long time. They realized that gendered fiscal policies are good for inclusive growth and necessary for achieving gender equality. Rebecca Warner of the International Budget Partnership notes that important gains have been made in countries around the world through GRB, and according to the International Monetary Fund, GRB in G7 countries has led to an increased supply of female labour, improved family benefits, subsidized childcare, and multiple social benefits that promote women in the labour force. A 2017 Economist article provides further examples: “In Rwanda spending aimed at keeping girls in school — such as providing basic sanitation — has led to higher enrolment. In India the use of gender budgeting in a state is a better indicator of girls’ school attendance than higher incomes.” The list of evidence is lengthy.

So what does a gender-responsive budget look like in Uganda?

At the Ugandan workshop, Susan Kavuma from Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) and Margaret Kakande, head of the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit at Uganda’s Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Labour Development shared an overview of how the country’s gender budgeting has evolved since it began in 2004.

In the early days Uganda’s efforts focused on garnering political commitment, providing evidence, and building capacity within those institutions positioned to have the largest impact on gender inequality. This eventually led to the creation of a legal framework and in 2015 the Public Finance Management Act ushered in an innovative certification system. All ministries, departments, and agencies now have to show how they will integrate gender considerations (through planned activities, analysis, disaggregated data, collaboration, etc.) before their budget is approved.

But what does this look like beyond the legislation? Gender-aware budget statements help to institutionalize gender and equity planning in all sectors. All ministries, departments, and agencies propose policy interventions to address priority issues, citing anticipated outcomes, performance indicators, and budgetary allocations. In addition, ministry staff are trained in GRB, and work to collect an increasing amount of gender-disaggregated data. Of course, there are challenges, including a focus on the expenditure side, wavering political will, limited capacity in gender analysis, and the limited availability of gender-disaggregated data.

Impact of think tanks and the role they play

As a result of this gender budgeting work, Uganda has seen increased female representation and participation in governance, more access to funds for women, and gender parity in primary education. That being said, there is still a long way to go, and the government views gender inequality as one of the key constraints to higher growth and social-economic transformation of the economy.

ACODE, a research organization supported by the Think Tank Initiative, is in a position to provide the evidence that policymakers need to continue to strengthen the GRB process. At the Kampala workshop in October, the think tank shared its plans for looking more closely at GRB in the agricultural sector. To do this, ACODE will assess the capacity of government officials engaged in GRB at the local and national level, examine the country’s gaps in monitoring and evaluation, and work closely with relevant policymakers to address these issues.

It will be interesting to follow Uganda’s experiences and to see how ACODE’s evidence informs the country’s policymaking as it strengthens its approach to gender budgeting. There is a great deal that we in Canada can learn from this work as we commit to undertaking this process here at home.

Please note that this post first appeared on IDRC’s Perspectives Blog.