Efforts were made by the Wenling municipal government for transparency and women's participation in the budgeting process.
Problems and Purpose
The gender-responsive participatory budgeting initiative implemented in Wenling, a municipality in the Zhejiang province of China, involved four counties and took place between 2014 and 2017. It addressed issues of low rates of women’s participation in the budgeting process as well as a lack of budget resources devoted to women’s programs. The program intended to “train participants of gender budget meetings, especially women, to improve their capability in reviewing government budget from a gender perspective", focusing especially on knowledge of gender-based budgeting, the skills for gender-based analysis of budgets, and the ability to convey public opinions about government budgets from a gendered perspective. Once this is accomplished, the hope is that all aspects of the budgeting cycle will include considerations of gender such as “the impacts of the selected budget programmes on females and males, examin[ations] [of] whether and to what extent the resources are allocated between the sexes, and...evaluat[ions] [of] the effectiveness of the implementation of budget programmes.”
Participatory budgeting (PB) initiatives in China are widespread, especially in municipalities such as Wenling. According to the Participatory Budgeting Project, participatory budgeting involves “a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.” It is a strategy intended to address problems of transparency, participation, and representation throughout the budgeting process. The participatory budgeting project in Wenling was gender specific in that all of the programs discussed by the participants were women-specific. By bringing transparency to the budgeting process and respect to women, the “[Wenling] gender budget is inherently political, rather than essentially a component of administrative instrument.”
Background History and Context
Starting in the mid-1990s, villages across China began developing and implementing various deliberative and participatory methods to better involve citizens in decision making. The participatory gender budget in Wenling is an example of these efforts.
In China, participatory gender budgeting projects can be categorized in three ways. As described by the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy, the three types that have been developed include “the “outsider model” initiated by NGOs in Shijiazhuang, Hebei; the “insider model” operated by government finance bureau in Jiaozuo, Henan; and the “combined model” run by the multi agents in Wenling, Zhejiang which successfully incorporated women into the government’s budget making. The objective of the Wenling project was to increase women’s participation in the budgeting process, and train participants to evaluate, improve, and increase women-specific programs and resources.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Zhejiang University sponsored the Wenling experimental initiative. No information on the project’s budget could be found, but the questionnaires, interviews, and observations were all designed and conducted by researchers at the university.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Information on participant selection could not be found. Given that the promoting entity was Zhejiang University in Wenling, proximity to the Wenling municipality may have played a role. It is not clear, though, how individuals from Wenling were selected. A report from the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy does state that the initiative “intends to train participants, especially women,” suggesting that, though both men and women may be involved, the project may focus more on training women than men.
In another participatory budgeting project in Wenling, participants were selected through a process of random sampling intended to be diverse and representative of the Wenling municipality. It is possible that recruiting methods for this participatory gender budgeting case were similar to this previous case of participatory budgeting.
Methods and Tools Used
Participatory budgeting initiatives are built entirely on the premise of public deliberation. The Wenling initiative was no different, and also involved some gender responsive budgeting techniques. Participatory gender budgets involve evaluation of three parts: inputs, activities, and outputs/impacts. The Wenling initiative was limited to the first two parts of this cycle given that it focused on the funding and the activities.
The methodology for the research done on this project included questionnaires, interviews, and observations.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The foundation of the Wenling participatory budgeting initiative was public deliberation, but it also involved some gender responsive budgeting techniques. Very little information could be found on the actual day-to-day operations of the experiment, but the above "Methods" section illustrates the projects’ intended strategies.
Given that it focused on the funding of activities, the Wenling initiative was limited to the first two parts of the participatory budgeting cycle: activities and outputs/impacts. There was a “lack of responsiveness to the implementations,” resulting in “a broken chain of the whole cycle.”
According to a report from the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy, the Wengling initiative was “unique due to its highly localized institutional innovation of the ‘democratic consultative meeting’”. Using a new procedure of gender budget and the democratic consultative meetings, the budget items discussed in Wenling were “based on the gender disaggregated data, analyzed and used to expand gender budget programs.” Participants of the gender budget meetings were trained to better understand government budgeting from a gender perspective. These newly acquired skills, paired with the democratic consultative meetings, were intended to give participants the skill set to expand gender budget methods to all parts of the cycle described in the previous paragraph rather than just the first two.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Wenling experimental initiative “has brought unprecedented openness to governmental budget, not only at the budget level but also with respect to equal participation for women.” As stated in the Problems and Purpose section, the initiative was an effort to politicize the budgeting process, rather than treat is as “a component of administrative instrument.” In this sense, it was very successful.
However, as mentioned in the Methods and Tools Used section, complete participatory gender budgets involve inputs, activities and outputs. When evaluating initiatives like the project in Wenling, one should consider these three aspects. The Wenling experiment only addressed inputs and activities, not outputs or impacts. Because of this, it was not evaluated as a successful and complete participatory gender budget cycle. Another weakness, cited in the report from the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy, highlighted the fact that the programs discussed by the participatory gender budget participants were “women-specific, which accounted for only a small portion of the total budgets.” While the exact programs discussed were not listed, participatory gender budgets typically highlight issues that disproportionately affect women, such as childcare and welfare.
The end of the IOPD report states that, moving forward, this specific initiative’s effectiveness would be evaluated by the following three parameters:
- Accelerating government’s fulfillment of gender equality commitment;
- Adjusting government budget and enhancing equal distribution;
- Empowerment through equal participation in budgets
These parameters were listed at the end of the report, and no accessible information has been published on whether or not they were evaluated or met.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As stated in the ‘Influence, Outcomes, and Effects’ section, the project has succeeded in bringing transparency and women’s participation to the budgeting process. However, it is limited in that it does not address all aspects of a participatory budget cycle.
The International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (IOPD) report also states that an obvious constraint of this participatory gender budget is that most of the programs discussed were women-specific. While this allows for an extra focus on issues not always discussed, it is also limiting. As stated in IOPD’s report, women-specific programs make up “only a small portion of the total budgets.” The most important benefit of the participatory gender budget, that it ensures discussion of issues and programs from a gender perspective, is often its most limiting characteristic.
A main priority moving forward will be to “expand the latitude of gender budget to complete the whole cycle, to assess the impacts of the selected budget programs on females and males, to examine whether and to what extent the resources are allocated between the sexes, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of budget programs.”
Zhejiang University. http://www.zju.edu.cn/english/
All quotes in this entry are taken from the following document: "Improvement of Participatory Budget: The Case of Wengling in China," VIII Distinction for Best Practices in Citizens' Participation, (2014): 38-39. International Observatory on Participatory Democracy Report. https://www.oidp.net/docs/repo/doc15.pdf
UN ESCAP: "Gender Responsive Budgeting in Asia and the Pacific," https://www.unescap.org/resources/gender-responsive-budgeting-asia-and-pacific-key-concepts-and-good-practices
International Observatory on Participatory Democracy Case Study: https://oidp.net/en/experience.php?id=957