Ræður og greinar Benedikts Jóhannessonar

Ávarp fjármála- og efnahagsráðherra á stofnfundi sérfræðihóps um kynjaða fjárlagagerð


Talað orð gildir

Experts‘ Meeting on Gender Budgeting

Reykjavík, Iceland 18-19 May, 2017

Keynote Address Benedikt Jóhannesson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Iceland


Dear friends!

It is a true honor and pleasure for us to host this meeting. I welcome all of you to Iceland and I hope you will enjoy your stay as much as we enjoy having you.

Iceland is an island and for centuries we were isolated in many ways; still we did pick up a lot of the cultural streams from Europe. Nowadays we still live on the same island, and even though we are only about a third of a million people, we certainly don't suffer from an inferiority complex. Some might even say that on the contrary we suffer from a superiority complex.

Be that as it may, there surely is no such thing as an equality complex. Equality is something we should all aim for and be proud of.

It is my experience that if something begins well it usually ends well. For example, I have noticed that if I wake up in a good mood in the morning, I usually live the whole day. Let's hope this day follows that pattern and that you not only survive the days in Iceland, but that together we learn a lot from one another.

I must tell you that when I first heard about gender budgeting I thought this was an example of political correctness gone much too far. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when I was introduced to the methods and principles of this discipline. Gender budgeting is certainly no fad. The methods have been implemented in various ways in various countries for more than 30 years. Important steps have been taken with guidance from academics, experts and civil society. When I understood what it is about, I felt like this is in a way a new beginning.

We live in an unbalanced world and over these 30 years it has probably never been as important to adapt and implement a tool that will support the goal of fairness as it is now.

Most of us can agree that we should have gender equality. The question is how we reach that end. We have tried, we have failed and we have succeeded. That is what we should discuss here today; our failures and our successes.

We need to share experiences, be honest, and admit our mistakes and boast of our successes. If we are not willing to learn from our experiences, we can't move on in the right direction.

Like I said in the beginning we Icelanders are small nation and our smallness has been a crucial factor when it comes to gender equality.

In the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report from 2016, Iceland is ranked number one as it did in previous years.

Even so we still have gender pay gap which has many causes and takes many forms. Typical male dominated areas are better paid off than typical female dominated areas. In other words, the labor market is gendered. But we also have pay inequality that cannot be corrected for with observable variables.

In 1960 our parliament passed a law stating that it was unlawful to pay women less than men for the same work. Still, after more than half a century, women are paid less, even when we have accounted for years of experience, education and age.

To tackle that part of the problem — the pay difference not accounted for — my colleague and party member, the minister for gender equality, has put forward in Alþingi, our parliament, a legislative bill that, when it becomes law, mandates an equal pay standard for all workplaces above a certain size. This will eliminate gender pay differences within companies. That is a major step in the right direction.

I am the leader of one of the three coalition parties, my party, the Reform party, was formed almost exactly twelve months ago. We managed to get 10.5% of the vote in the election last fall.

The current government was formed in January this year following an unusual parliamentary election last autumn. My tenure as a minister of finance and economic affairs has only been four months.

The Reform party is a pro-western, free enterprise party and some may be surprised at our emphasis on gender equality. In our minds equality is the only true liberty. We can´t accept a society in which some are more equal than others.

I am proud that our party ran a slate of 126 candidates, 63 women and 63 men, alternating on the list of candidates.

I am proud that our government emphasizes equal rights for men and women.

I am proud that within a month of my tenure in the ministry I presented a memo in government about the importance of gender budgeting.

And I am proud that we are proposing a bill of law demanding full pay equality regardless of gender within all companies of 25 employees or more.

We believe gender equality needs to be an integrated part of all decisions.

The implementation of gender budgeting in Iceland begun in 2009. At the time, a leftist government was in place, trying to help Iceland recover from the banking crash. So, although the economy was in ruins, gender budgeting still was important enough to implement.

Gender budgeting, which has sometimes garnered a few negative comments, has solidly outlived all the governments since then, showing its broad political support.

The guiding light is that gender budgeting is where justice and fairness go hand in hand with economic wellbeing. We work on gender budgeting both because it is the right thing to do and because our economic wellbeing depends on equality.

Our experience so far is in alignment with what we can see in the literature about gender budgeting.

The emphasis during the first years was on information gathering and planning. We did not have any know-how on how to do gender budgeting so we had to start from scratch. It was decided that the best way to move forward was to emphasize learning by doing, to get some hands-on experience. Hence, pilot projects were started with the participation of all ministries. A total of 17 projects were completed and their results were presented in the 2012 Budget Proposal.

The emphasis of the next phase was on longer projects. Each ministry was asked to choose one area to work on for three years.

Some of those projects have led to changes. Others have unfortunately not. That is okay. The only way to make no mistakes is by doing nothing.

Today we are at a crucial point. We have gained knowledge within the system, and managed to change the mindset of many. We have systematically built up knowledge and responsibility of gender budgeting within our system and have conditions that include clear conceptual framework for gender budgeting, engaged actors, political will, positive institutional arrangements and strategy for continuity. We have a steering committee responsible for the implementation. And each ministry has their own steering group responsible for gender budgeting with one official responsible for gender disaggregated data, one for gender perspective, one for impact assessment and a strong ownership usually led by each director general.

Our capital city; Reykjavík is working on gender budgeting, as is The University of Iceland and the cooperation between all these parties has been very fruitful.

In the beginning of 2016; a new organic budget law was passed and with it gender budgeting was legally binding.

In the 18th article it states that: The Minister [of Finance], in consultation with the minister responsible for gender equality, leads the formulation of a gender budgeting program, which shall be considered in the drafting of the Budget Bill. The Budget Bill shall outline its effects on gender equality targets.

The new law changes the environment of our budget process. Today we work with 34 expenditure areas and we can finally state that we are working towards performance budgeting and gender budgeting fits well in that environment.

The goal behind the implementation and gender budgeting has transformed into a more goal-oriented work. The goal is to ensure that the gender perspective is considered before decisions are made, instead of doing the analysis afterwards. We do this step by step with a goal of full integration.

This year we are analyzing the gender effects of budget proposals and doing a gender impact assessment of new law proposals. We have also continued with short-term projects and emphasized education and co-operation with others who are doing gender budgeting.

We are still struggling with the routine availability of gender- disaggregated data and statistics and in that matter all external help would be of great use. During my visits to all of the institutions under my supervision, I have always asked them to publish and statistical information on their websites, in particular broken down by gender and civil status. I was quite pleased that the tax authorities did that almost right away.

However, to be able to deliver gender equality outcomes it is not enough to have gender disaggregated data. You need to have the knowledge and understanding about the structure of society and the gender perspective to see what is fair and what is not. Otherwise, you can't ensure gender equality.

Let me give you a short example: One might think that a road tunnel would offset its high cost by benefitting everyone in the vicinity. That is something we have often concluded in Iceland. So, in some areas we have built road tunnels through mountains to link towns and communities together. Before decisions are made, cost- and benefit analysis would be necessary. The question is: Is the benefit equally distributed?

Let's begin our analysis by using gender disaggregated data. You might find although there are some differences, expanding the commuting area should benefit both genders similarly.

But if you look more deeply at the social situation, a different picture emerges. This happened when it was decided to build new road tunnel between two small towns in the northern part of Iceland. It was not until it was decided to look at the needs and preferences of both women and men that we could be able to make the correct conclusion. It turned out that women are not as keen as men about tunnel making. Due to different social conditions, they are in general more afraid to lose basic service out of the community, and their work area does not seem to grow as much as the men's. This is in part due to women's domestic responsibilities; women need to work close to home to be able to send their children off to school and be there for them after school. So, in fact, tunnel-making in this example does not support the goal of gender equality. It suits men better than women, and men were already in a better position.

This is a reminder of the importance of gender disaggregated data, but that the data needs to be paired with social insights. We might have to consider that we need some counter measures to improve the lot of women.

Gender budgeting has proven that it is relevant and it is important tool to enhance gender equality. We have only recently begun our journey in incorporating gender budgeting into our day to day operations but every year counts.

We in Iceland might not be very many, but just as we learn immensely from the cooperation within the OECD, we hope that our experiences, successes and failures, can help other countries to make the world economy stronger, cleaner and fairer.

I hope that a good start of this conference leads us to successful work on the important subject of gender equality. Let us always remember that without equality we shall never have true liberty.