Q: Could Peterborough set the pace as the first municipality to adopt “Gender-Based Budgeting?” –Betsy McGregor
Goyette: Betsy is the federal Liberal candidate for the Peterborough Riding and a compassionate supporter and coach of Special Olympic athletes. Her question follows on an International Women’s Day article published at Mykawartha.com by the Peterborough & County Older Women’s Network, of which she was an author.
The concept of gender-based budgeting is both innovative and challenging. The movement gained some traction in Australia in 1984 before it was shut down there in 1996. Advanced by feminists and progressives interested in gender equality, it has had occasional implementation elsewhere. The idea is that the process used to develop a budget is made to include an assessment of the impact of that budget—primarily its expenditures—on women and girls.
For example, do the expenditures set out in the City of Peterborough operating budget favour men and boys over women and girls? When the City spends tax dollars on the West 49 Skateboard Park on McDonnell Street, is that a disproportionate or unfair benefit for boys? When it spends tax dollars on parent and tot programs at the Sport and Wellness Centre, is that a disproportionate or unfair benefit for women?
Budgets are more than just the allocation of dollars to priorities; they are expressions of values. And values are never neutral. Nor are budget makers or elected decision makers. Budget making is an art as well as a science, and there is no doubt that imperfect budgets embody the imperfection of unintended bias. There is also no doubt that a budgetary lens on gender bias would serve as a tool for advocacy for women’s rights and the promotion of gender equality.
The central challenge for Peterborough is not how the City would go about viewing its budget through a gender equality lens—we could create a model for that—but how we would accommodate all the other deserving lenses at the same time, such as expenditures by neighbourhood, by age, by income, by population density, by accessibility, by ethnicity, by disability, by health or environmental impact, and on and on. That splintered house of mirrors would so blur the budgetary vision as to render it sightless.
It seems to me that the answer lies not in the creation of a better budget device, but in the promotion of a better budget lobby. Organize and advocate. Show up when budgets are being developed. Reveal the wrong. Describe a better end state. Make it real and personal. Be seen, be heard, be passionate and be compelling. Make your case to those who are elected to be the guardians of community values. In the end, social change has more cultural grip when it is motivated by reason and emotion rather than compelled by technique.
People issues are best resolved by people pressure.
David Goyette is the Executive Assistant to Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett. Email your burning questions for David about City Hall to firstname.lastname@example.org.