Well, to whom DOES the budget process belong?

Rozeta Aleksov, is a gender equality coordinator with the Standing Conference of Towns and municipalities (SCTM) in Serbia. She is also coordinator of “Gender equality” component of the programme “Support to local self-governments in Serbia in EU integration process” that SCTM in Serbia implements in partnership with SALAR from Sweden.

In most of ICLD:s training programmes, the training is strictly linked to an actual project for change within the topic of the training and that the participant in question is responsible for. In this programme “Local Democracy and Social Sustainability with a Gender Perspective”, the participants are encouraged to work in teams. So together with Jelena Brankov-Cerevicki and Zoran Kova?, their project for change has the name “To whom does the municipal budgeting belong?”

The project is about gender mainstreaming in the budget process, and Rozeta explains that the idea was to follow the money and see if someone benefits more from the public finances.

-Usually people don’t see the gender issue in this process, but we wanted to reveal it. There are experiences when looking closely at the budget spending, that there are big gaps in who is getting what. It is especially noticeable in the field of sports for example. The other issue, which is more obvious, is to get a look at who is making decisions on the budget, and who participates in the process. It is obvious that mostly men do, says Rozeta.

In Serbia, according to the 2013 data, only 8.5% of mayors, and only 16.4% of municipal executive councils are women.
What have your objectives with your project been?
-We wanted to discover the gender inequalities in the budget, in certain pilot municipalities. We aim to look closely at their budget and see if there are any gender inequalities. In order to do that, we needed to be partners right from the beginning, and create mutual ownership over the process. Cooperation and dedication of some key people in the process was offered from our partners from Becej municipality. After we share this experience, we expect more municipalities to get interested in the project.

Have you had progress or results already? What are you expecting?
-Until now, we made some important steps, both in SCTM and in Becej municipality. A very important change for Serbian budget system is taking place in 2014/2015. We are finally switching to, or moving towards program budgeting, instead of line methodology that was applied so far. SCTM took a very active and important role in creating methodology and guidelines for local level. We managed to incorporate a set of gender sensitive indicators in to the methodology, which will be recommended to all municipalities. It is one step towards evaluating services and programmes with a gender perspective, Rozeta explains.

-Of course, we can anticipate challenges in collecting data for such an evaluation. Our partner municipality of Becej did a large step forward in improving their data collection and analysis. Now they have a software system that provides gender sensitive statistics on all operations and services provided by municipal administration. By promoting their experience, and by giving the set of recommendations for program budgeting, we expect to provide a solid base for other municipalities.

What effects on gender equality are you expecting to see?
– The expectation is to reach the standardized level of collected data, in order to get a possibility of doing gender analysis. In the future these analyses will probably help in changing certain policies and eventually improve equality, and enhanced quality of life for more people. The effects will not become obvious quickly though, says Rozeta.

What do you wish for in the longer run?
-Our long term vision is to have a system that provides evidence for gender inequality in the public sector. And in the long run we hope that this system can be used to reallocate public resources in a more fair way.

How has the training with ICLD contributed to your challenges as a change agent?
-ICLD training was a great experience of learning from good examples from Sweden and meating excellent teachers and taking part of great lectures. But I also appreciated reflecting on our own attitudes and approaches in a peer group. In general, is a great empowering experience! 

“One very important skill – that I still aspire in mastering – is to know how much is enough when challenging the system.”

What are important abilities and skills for a change agent to have and to develop?
-In patriarchal society, in a situation of permanent crisis, it takes a lot of courage to speak about non-priority issues. It is important to have internal strength and persistency to move forward without having a wide support, or a feeling of great success. One very important skill – that I still aspire in mastering – is to know how much is enough when challenging the system. If you challenge it too much, you get a strong resistance, if you are too much “in line”, you may not be changing anything. And the most important skill is networking, building trust, giving support and relying on other people who share the same vision.

What happens next? Are there some activities to mention?
-We will organize a big conference in Belgrade this spring of 2015. We want to formalize SCTM’s network for gender equality and create a space for mutual support, learning, and exchange. In each municipality there should be “a person or a working body assigned to deal with gender equality”. We want to connect all these small islands and make a solid ground for gender equality, for a better, more equal future.