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Exploring Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Ecuador and South Korea

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headshot of Juan Pablo Martinez Guzman

Assistant Professor Juan Pablo Martínez Guzmán's work explores the factors shaping budgetary decision-making processes and the role of social equity in public budgeting. In this Q&A, Guzmán discusses the challenges and successes of gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) in Ecuador and South Korea, providing valuable insights into GRB implementation dynamics and addressing resistance, leadership support and strategies for global integration into government workflows.

In your research on gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) in Ecuador, you mention that GRB raised awareness about gender issues but faced resistance from some officials. What types of challenges or resistance was encountered? How did it impact the practical implementation of GRB in Ecuador’s policy-making processes?

In very broad terms, national budgets are prepared from the bottom up, with each agency or department submitting a budget request to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. It reviews all requests and negotiates with each agency. Within this context, the most impactful resistance to Ecuador’s GRB reform has come from the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The fact that leaders and budget analysts at the Ministry pay little attention to GRB data trickles down into all agencies as they realize that investing too much effort into GRB will be fruitless. In other words, the Ministry of Economy and Finance creates a disincentive for agencies to invest time and effort into GRB. It would just take a different approach from the Ministry to create the opposite scenario and raise awareness for GRB throughout the government.

Your Ecuador study emphasized the importance of leadership support in the success of GRB initiatives. Can you share examples of institutions whose leadership actively promoted a gender-oriented analysis? How did it contribute to meaningful policy changes? For institutions whose leadership did not support GRB and therefore did not implement policy changes, what types of challenges did those institutions face? 

While leadership at the Ministry of Economy and Finance has not been positive, leaders at many agencies within the Ecuadorian government took active steps to ensure that GRB was taken seriously within their institutions. For example, in one agency, the budget director had the authority to empower their staff by arranging brief excursions to witness firsthand the challenges faced by women. These challenges could only be effectively addressed by incorporating a gender perspective into policymaking. In another agency, a budget leader ensured that their agency’s planning meetings incorporated thorough discussions and training on gender equity. This significantly fostered understanding and encouraged active contributions to gender-related issues. On the other end, agencies where leaders were not invested in GRB could pay little attention to it as they knew that they wouldn't face any pressure from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to do any better.

Your research extends to South Korea, where you explored the integration of GRB into a performance-oriented budgetary structure. Can you share some of the administrative obstacles faced when integrating GRB with performance systems? How do these challenges differ from those encountered in Ecuador?

While the budgetary context is very different, some of the administrative challenges were similar in both South Korea and Ecuador. Unlike that of Ecuador, South Korea’s budget process is very advanced in how it incorporates performance information into budgetary allocations and benefits from one of the most capable civil service systems. In fact, South Korea is known for having a well-institutionalized and very methodical performance budgeting system. However, Korean reformers also suffered from resistance within the main budgetary institution, also called the Ministry of Economy and Finance, which often tried to limit the influence of GRB in budgetary decisions.

One way to address volatile contextual challenges, such as political and economic changes, is to enshrine reforms within the law to ensure that they must be followed even when the climate is adverse.
Juan Pablo Martínez Guzmán

Your research highlights that GRB's equity orientation is linked to higher vulnerability to the political context and resistance from civil servants in South Korea. How can policymakers address these challenges and create an environment where GRB's equity goals align with the political climate and ensure continued support from public officials?

The political climate has been much more of an issue in South Korea. While in Ecuador there is a broader social consensus about the need to increase gender equity (particularly in tackling issues of violence against women), the political climate in South Korea has been an active barrier. The current President campaigned against reforms like GRB and promised to eliminate the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

One way to address volatile contextual challenges, such as political and economic changes, is to enshrine reforms within the law to ensure that they must be followed even when the climate is adverse. This needs to be complemented with communication campaigns that can dispel myths about equity-oriented reforms. However, ultimately there is not much reformers can do to strengthen reforms when the political climate is against them.

Based on your broader research and findings, how can GRB be better integrated into the workflow of government institutions worldwide to ensure that it translates into tangible policy interventions and does not become just a bureaucratic requirement?

There is no roadmap that can be applied in every context, but there are a few steps that can be helpful regardless of the specifics. Those steps include enshrining reforms within a legal framework that ensures continuity, developing a medium-term plan for training and to explain to civil servants the value of the reform, securing funding for implementation, and addressing the concerns that key decision-makers might have about how the reform will impact them directly. The road might be very different for each government, but the goal should always be to make equity considerations a standard component of budget analysis. If it is, then policies will become better able to produce tangible societal results.

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