Using Budgeting for Gender Equality

In researching for this post, I learned that, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, “in 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).”

More than 185 countries have ratified this convention and more than 50 countries have applied governmental budgets towards implementing practical action towards it – called Gender Budget Initiatives. These countries use and monitor their budgets with an eye towards the effects of the budget on gender equality issues.

Budgets affect gender roles at the nationwide level.
How can a nation’s budget affect discrimination against women? The UN Development Fund for Women article states that “The most direct impact is through distributing resources to people via expenditure and claiming resources from them via taxes and fees. Budgets also have secondary impacts on people through the effect they have on employment levels, inflation, and levels of economic growth. These impacts are frequently different for women and girls, than for men and boys.”

I did not know that some countries taxed women at a higher rate than they did men! I did not realize that user taxes on clean water could cause women in poorer countries to miss out on opportunity because they are otherwise occupied in hauling and boiling water because the family can’t or won’t pay the water use fee.

If you want to read more on how national budgets affect gender issues, check out Budgeting With Women in Mind on the International Monetary Fund website.

If budgets affect gender equality at the national level, what impact do our household budgets have on gender equality?

Budgets affect gender roles at the household level as well.
Whether you have a formal budget or not, your household uses money in particular ways. With a budget, the ways you use money are purposeful and planned. Without a budget, they may be random.

Random spending can obviously be done by either gender. Random spending will most likely result in less advantageous financial fortune. Random spending can ‘entitle’ the breadwinner to spend on what they want, as opposed to what the family unit needs. Without a budget, the non-breadwinner partner may feel that he or she is not entitled to spend – especially on personal items.

When I was first married, my spouse joined the army. I quit my job to join him in living quarters near the base. We had babies and I stayed out of the workforce to care for them. During that time, money was tight. We really didn’t have a budget – but we were both like minded on staying out of debt and trying to save money to send the kids to college.

The big difference, in my mind, between our spending habits, was that my spouse felt very free to occasionally spend some comparatively big bucks on items of personal interest only. I did not. In fact, I was so constrained that when I needed to go back to school to learn a new trade to become employable once again, I felt that I first needed to find a way to earn the money to pay for the schooling – even though family resources could have (and probably should have) been used.

Use a budget to help your household distribute available resources in agreed upon ways. Budget’s are where the rubber hits the road on implementing values and goals –  by allocating money to activities that move the family toward those.

Both partners and all children in the family unit should benefit from budget activities. Money should not only be allocated to the current breadwinner for educational, clothing, client entertainment and other enrichment activities, but also to the stay at home partner – working equally hard at household and child rearing tasks. Agreed upon principles should guide money allocated to child rearing.  Long term values and all goals, including financial ones should be factored in to your family budget.

Budget monitoring and implementation – as well as most other daily financial tasks – such as bill paying – are more frequently done by women than by men, according so some research. That same research shows that men more frequently handle the long term financial planning, investments and taxes.

Be more than a budget.
If you are the partner who does monitor the budget and deal with the daily household finance chores, consider switching roles with your partner. Have your spouse take over your role and you take over his or hers – at least for a while and maybe on a continual switcheroo schedule.

For years, I paid the bills, balanced the checkbooks and did none of the longer term planning. Now he pays the bills and I do the investing and most of long range planning (I still haven’t convinced him of the need for him to balance the checkbooks thought lol).

Research also shows that more women than men stick to the budget, but of course popular literature typically portrays the wife as the shop-a-holic. What should you do if your spouse derails the family budget?

Dealing with an over budget spouse.
Even if you have a family budget that you both agree to follow, there can still be instances when one or the other of you doesn’t follow the budget. When Your Spouse Spends Too Much discusses three categories of over spenders and gives suggestions on how to deal with each.

In my mind, a key is to take time to understand where each of you is coming from when you overspend. When one partner breaks the budget, they may be compensating for something else going on in their lives.

I think another key is to think hard about the real consequences of breaking the budget. Is it really going to ruin your financial future, or is it a minor irritation?

What is your partner signaling when they overspend? Are they trying to tell you they feel controlled? Are they rewarding themselves for some perceived (or perhaps real) past deprivation? Are they depressed? Mad? Stressed?

Does your budget reflect appropriate family and individual goals and allow room for each partner to venture out on their own when desired? How does the way your family manages money affect your gender roles and vice versa?

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2012.

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