As part of its years-long program “Institutionalizing a gender-sensitive budget”, MIFTAH recently conducted an analytical study of services offered by the Palestinian Social Affairs Ministry from a gender perspective in coordination with the ministry itself and with support from NDC, the NGO Development Center. The study targeted samples from the public who benefit from the social affairs ministry through its various offices throughout the West Bank. The study, by researcher and gender specialist Nida Abu Awad, was conducted in order to shed light on the gap in gender issues in care and social protection programs in the ministry in addition to financial policies and their ramifications on the programs and services offered.
One of the most important recommendations put forth was the call for the ministry to adopt clear and committed policies towards gender issues within its policies for social protection, stressing on the need for gender issues to be adopted as one of the main indicators when formulating vision, mission and strategy and in designing plans, programs and projects at the ministry in addition to preparing its budget.
In this regard, MIFTAH felt it was important to get feedback from the Minister herself, both to hear her take on the study and listen to other recommendations she may have given her knowledge on the subject. Social Affairs Minister Majeda Al Masri sat down with MIFTAH and offered her insight on gender issues at her ministry and in Palestine in general.
The feedback was positive. Al Masri said that MIFTAH’s study shed more light on the issue of gender and allowed them to see the subject in a different light. “We were aware of it but not within a context of planning,” she admits.
The study showed that the ministry, through its partial analysis of the budget, did not exert enough efforts in building a gender-sensitive budget even though there is a government decision to adopt this principle at the government level as a whole. According to the study, there are no forms or statistical records categorized on a gender basis, such as records of the elderly who receive custom exemptions. To this, Minister Al Masri said that although the concept of gender was not clear in the general administration’s strategy and planning at the Ministry, it was clear in its vision, mission and main goals. She says it was also clear in the results, but not at an intellectual level. “I think this actually threatens issues linked to the idea of gender; it is there in regards to responsibilities. For example, the majority of employees at the ministry are women,” Al Masri says, adding that they also hold leadership positions at the ministry. “There are five director generals, four of whom are women. Also, the former deputy minister was a woman.”
Al Masri showed her gratitude for MIFTAH’s study, saying that it brought to light a gap that the ministry had only begun to realize lately. “We will take this into consideration in our upcoming strategy on the social protection sector within the ministry’s 2014-2016 budget,” she says. “We have women in higher-up positions and their presence has not suffered a setback,” she maintains. “But MIFTAH reminded us of the importance of paying attention to policies and not just to outer appearances.”
What are the immediate measures that will be taken and will be felt in the near future in terms of gender sensitive budgeting?
Al Masri said that in the 2014-2016 strategy, the Ministry took into consideration the issue of gender but that this is usually taken from the standpoint of their vision on citizenship-based rights and human rights and from a standpoint of an approach based on social justice and equality between men and women. However, she admits, the problem is that this is not reflected in the strategies of branch goals and so it is not enough. “This is why we are adjusting, amending and reviewing our vision and main goals so we do not disregard this issue right now or in the future,” the minister says.
In terms of services, MIFTAH wanted to know if it were possible that the ministry could be given priority in the PA’s general budget to meet the growing demand for its services due to several reasons, including Israel’s continuing settlement expansion polices and siege.
Minister Al Masri said she believed there was already a tangible improvement in the PA’s view of the social protection sector, saying proof of this is that the social affairs ministry was at the helm of this sector. This is in addition to its partnership with government and civil society institutions, which has improved this view. “Still, any government decision takes time, even though the ministry is one of the most important service ministries in the West Bank and Gaza and works directly with families and several women’s sectors,” she said, “which gives it even more importance.”
As for their budget, Al Masri says there is improvement in that area too. “Our sector comes third after the education and health ministries. “ She says there has been a slight improvement in the view of the role of the protection sector of the social affairs ministry by the government. For example, she says, “When salaries were not being paid, our allocations did not stop, especially those for poor families,” adding that on the contrary, the number of these families kept rising. “We used to handle 45,000 families and now we have 100,000.”
So, does the ministry have any plans to involve its employees in courses on gender, especially those in decision and policy-making positions? How about men?
There is a sector that benefits from the training run by the gender unit at the women’s affairs ministry; there is a group that is trained also on entering gender issues into the general budget. “We also train our own staff on this but we have not seen this reflected in this year’s budget, except very slightly. This is because planning is linked to the budget so when there is a clear rectification of the gender issue in the planning of all areas of our services, then it is only natural that this will be reflected in the budget,” she maintained.
Finally, MIFTAH wanted to know how the Minister of Social Affairs sees MIFTAH in the context of Palestinian civil society institutions. Minster Al Masri was very praising. “I see MIFTAH’s role as a supporting watchdog institution, which is very important. I believe this report is a monitoring of policies which is very necessary; monitoring is not limited to the financial and administrative aspects but also on policies,” she said, adding that, “MIFTAH shed light on an important issue and scoped out the gaps. We had already begun to work on branch strategies but MIFTAH rang the alarm bell.”