by Meagan Manas, cross-posted from NCCC Women’s Ministries

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:35-40

In this spirit, a group of women gathered in 1879 to found the Women’s Home and Foreign Mission Society in the American Lutheran Church. Through collections gathered in “mite boxes,” this organization has collected more than a million dollars to fund various projects around the world. Some of the first projects included financing women missionaries, including two female missionary doctors, Dr. Anna Sarah Kugler, and Dr. Betty Nilsson, and building schools, both coeducational and for girls only, like this one in China.

A Woman manages her product at a market in Accra, Ghana

A Woman manages her product at a market in Accra, Ghana

According to the Women’s Funding Network (WFN), “It is estimated that women hold more than 51% of the personal wealth in the United States, and they are set to inherit trillions of dollars more as the World War II generation begins to transfer its wealth. Women are expected to control 60% of the wealth in the United States by 2010.” The mission of WFN is to connect these women with opportunities to fund other women around the globe, women who are in poverty and truly the least of “the least of these.”

The movement, led by women inside and outside of the ecumenical community, to consider specifically women and children in the world’s poor when writing policy or contributing money is now seeking a new target: gender budgeting in all levels of our communities, governments, and world.

What is Gender Budgeting?

Most of us are familiar with the idea of women’s missionary societies collecting loose change, or even with women philanthropists contributing to women’s organizations. But for many, “gender budgeting” is a new term. A helpful resource booklet from Anglican Women’s Empowerment  explains it like this: “Gender budgets are not separate budgets for women, but are general budgets planned, approved, executed, monitored, and audited in a gender-sensitive way—making sure that women, men, and children are all treated fairly.” Gender budgeting is based on the practice of gender analysis, which “recognizes that there are different social rules for men and women and different responsibilities, opportunities, and needs” and “addresses the underlying power relationship between women and men over time and across cultures.” Understanding more about gender roles and the dynamics of power in gendered relationships helps us to analyze the ways in which men and women benefit differently from programs and policy.

Why gender budgeting?

Jesus’ call to serve “the least of these” is recognized in gender budgeting’s aim to evaluate if policy, programs, and funding help women or continue to marginalize them. For example, according to materials from Women Thrive Worldwide, “In sub-Saharan Africa, women produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs both for household consumption and for sale. Yet, female farmers receive less than 10 percent of credit provided to farmers and own only 1 to 2 percent of all land in developing countries.” Programs implemented to help farmers in this region of the world are often aimed at farm-owners, which benefits the men who own the farms, and not the women who make up the vast majority of the agricultural workforce. More case-studies like this are available through Women Thrive.

Gender budgeting is not only about women, though. The reality is that “women are at the greatest risk of being poor worldwide. Research and experience have shown that women in poor countries are more likely to use their income for food, healthcare, and education for their children, helping to lift entire communities out of poverty.” Gender analysis and gender budgeting are aimed at uncovering the structures of power that keep women, men and children entrenched in poverty and working to make sure programs for foreign aid and the work of NGO’s and governments do not fall prey to those same systems.

Recently, the National Council of Churches signed on to a letter by Women, Faith and Development Alliance urging our senators and representatives to incorporate gender budgeting as they consider Foreign Aid Reform, noting that both U.S. and International “poverty reduction efforts will fall far short of their potential unless both women and men benefit, particularly since women are more likely to invest extra income in the health and education of their children, helping to break the cycle of poverty. Expanding economic opportunity for women also decreases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, trafficking and gender-based violence.” The letter (pdf) has been signed not only by Christian organizations and women’s organizations, but Jewish, Muslim, and Baha’i, faith groups, and NGO’s, including Amnesty International, focused on a wide range of issues, from children to poverty relief and the environment.

How can I get involved in gender budgeting?

AWE’s resource is a great place to get started. The booklet offers helpful ideas for thinking about your own budget and your local community or church’s budget through a gender budgeting lens. Some of the questions they recommend for reflection are:

  • What are the particular needs, concerns, and realities of women in your community?
  • How does spending impact women and girls differently than men and boys?
  • How are particular groups of women affected by spending?
  • Who has control over decision-making on spending?

The booklet goes on to offer a sample gender analysis of a parish budget (pp.18-21) that is enlightening, reminding us that this is not just “someone else’s problem.”

You can also help shed light on gender budgeting by bringing it up for discussion in your community with the resources listed above, or by writing and op-ed or letter to the editor piece, or even by furthering this petition. Women Thrive also offers a sample Op-Ed and Letter to the Editor submissions.

Organizations featured in this article:

Women’s Ministries in the Episcopal Church

Women Thrive Worldwide

The Women’s Funding Network