Say the word “budget,” and people’s eyes glaze over. I know. I see it happening right now. But before you stop reading, let’s try this – do you know where your paycheck goes every month? Would you like to know how much you have left to say, go to a movie?

Planning how you’re going to spend your money and knowing where it actually ends up is all a part of budgeting. If you make a promise to a friend to go see a movie but end up spending your ticket money on a new pair of sunglasses, you’re going to end up with a disappointed friend and a broken commitment. But what if there was more on the line?

On a (much) larger scale, advocacy focused on national government budgets gives civil society groups an opportunity to hold governments accountable for how public resources are spent. From tracking government funding for contraceptives in Kenya to helping districts budget for robust family planning programs in Tanzania; civil society groups are increasingly working to better influence government budgets for reproductive health through an approach known as budget advocacy.

Why is budget advocacy important?

To know what a government truly prioritizes, we must follow the money. Government officials can vocalize support for women’s health every day, but without committed financial backing, they won’t get results.  Money is needed to buy commodities, train staff and support clinics and health workers.

Saying family planning is a priority isn’t enough. How do citizens know that a government fulfilled its commitment? This is where budget advocates come in—to mobilize resources, assess how money has been dedicated to a given purpose, how much of this was actually spent as planned, and whether this was done efficiently.

Beyond determining what is being spent and by whom, examining national budgets enables groups to ask several critical questions:

  • How well does a government prioritize FP/RH?
  • Is funding increasing over time?
  • Is spending equitable, or based on needs?
  • Are the interventions being funded the most cost effective?

Budget advocacy can be used to hold national governments and donors accountable. In Tanzania and Kenya, PAI is currently working with partners to investigate whether or not each government has spent the money it allocated to their contraceptive budget line.

Since government funding can come from a mixed bag of sources, budget advocacy can also be applied to donor funding and government budgets at the national and sub-national level. Whenever there is money moving from one source to another, there is an opportunity for budget advocates to influence, monitor and assess spending.

In the next few months, we will be taking terms like allocation and expenditure from jargon to real-life applications as we blog about the growing world of budget advocacy and highlight different approaches, projects and civil society groups that have incorporated this strategy into their work.

This is the first installment of a monthly series on budget advocacy. Check back in June for the next post, focused on breaking down the budget cycle.