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Practice Guide to Auditing Gender Equality

The Importance of Auditing for Gender Equality

The four primary reasons why it is important to examine gender equality through a performance audit are outlined below.

1. To determine the degree of government compliance with national and international commitments to gender equality, including the implementation of national legislation, policy, and action plans.

The international and national commitments that governments have made to promote gender equality and empower women and girls are significant. These commitments confer responsibilities and accountabilities on governments, and generate expectations among citizens that their governments will meet their obligations. Adopting national legislation, making policy decisions, and allocating funds (using gender-responsive budgeting) to support the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women justifies auditing the performance of governments in this area.

One example of such an audit is the 2009 Gender-Based Analysis audit conducted by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. This audit examined the extent to which a select number of federal government departments had fulfilled objective 1 of the Government of Canada’s five-year Federal Plan for Gender Equality. This Plan was developed by the Government of Canada in fulfilment of its commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action (1995). In 2015, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada published another audit on gender equality, Implementing Gender-Based Analysis, which examined whether selected departments performed adequate gender-based analysis to inform government decisions.

Examples of performance audits undertaken in developing countries with an explicit focus on gender equality include Government’s Efforts to Achieve Gender Equality (2013), Gender Mainstreaming in Wasiko District Local Government (2015a), and Gender Mainstreaming and Equity in the Formulation and Implementation of National Budget (2015b), by the Office of the Auditor General for the Republic of Uganda and Implementation of Gender Mainstreaming Activities in Zambia (2012) by the Office of the Auditor General for the Republic of Zambia. In each case, the audits were designed to examine the extent to which the government (national and local) had implemented measures to promote gender equality. The audit offices provided recommendations for ministries or departments concerned to improve efforts to achieve gender equality in line with national and international commitments and legislation.

Another example of a gender-based audit is the 2002 audit conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) of its own structure and programs. The main objective of the First ILO gender audit was to promote organizational learning at the individual, work unit, and organizational levels on how to implement gender mainstreaming effectively in the ILO’s policies, programs, and structures. This included assessing the extent to which the ILO policy on gender mainstreaming is being institutionalized. The ILO has since developed its own Manual for Gender Audit Facilitators that has been widely used and adapted by development organizations and governments around the world.

2. To identify and examine the gender-specific impacts of government programs.

Very often, government legislation, policy, and programs are designed with the assumption that the impacts on citizens will be the same for women and men; that is, that they are gender neutral. The problem with such an assumption is that government program design can result in the unintentional reinforcement or exacerbation of gender inequalities. In such a situation, it is important to examine the differential impact of a program on both women and men to determine if the program meets their respective needs. An audit of how a policy or program was designed that builds a gender analysis into the audit methodology can determine if appropriate steps and measures were taken to ensure that the policy or program would benefit the maximum number of both women and men, or at least, not worsen the situation or circumstances of either women or men.

3. To make recommendations that can lead to improvements in the design, implementation, and results of government policy and programming, contributing to better gender equality outcomes.

Audit recommendations that are based on a thorough examination of evidence that demonstrates gender inequalities are resulting from, or being reinforced by, government policies and programs can result in important modifications. A critical first step in such modifications is to raise awareness within government that policies and programming need to be designed and implemented with consideration for the differences in how women and men will be affected.

4. To publish audit reports that raise awareness within and outside governments of gender equality issues and how they affect the lives of citizens. Audit reports can also highlight the successes and challenges of governments in achieving gender equality.

Ultimately, the dissemination of audit findings to the appropriate authorities within government (including the executive, Parliament, and the bureaucracy), the media, and the public can bring increased attention to gender equality issues. This, in turn, can prompt renewed questions of the government concerning national and international commitments to gender equality and whether the government is meeting its obligations.