Public officials are important custodians of public money, but the money is not theirs. Your government’s budget actually belongs to you, as a citizen and a taxpayer.  So how does your government manage “your” money, and how can you make sure it invests in improving the lives of women and girls?

To find these answers we turn to the budget cycle. If our last post left you excited about budget advocacy but unsure where to begin, welcome back as we walk through the key opportunities to influence your national budget.

Government budgets may seem like an impenetrable maze of numbers and figures closely guarded by government officials, but the budget process can be easily understood in four key stages. Each stage provides opportunities for budget advocates to promote investments in sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

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1. As the International Budget Partnership explains in their helpful guide Our Money, Our Responsibility, the budget cycle typically begins with the budget formulation stage where an initial draft is formed by the Ministry of Finance. Ideally a comprehensive budget will consider factors like economic growth, inflation and demographic changes in the population and public health concerns when forming new numbers. SRH and women’s rights advocates can play a key role in analyzing the proposed budget, producing alternative budgets to reflect their suggested allocations, or making recommendations about where investments for women and girls should be added or prioritized.

2. Once drafted, the budget must be approved through the budget enactment process. This typically requires a combination of debates, public meetings and public hearings before the final approval. At this stage, steps groups can take to influence the budget include: working with policymakers to influence changes in the budget, sharing a synopsis, breaking down the budget’s implications for SRH outcomes, and being part of larger efforts to increase transparency.

These first two stages play an important role for advocates who focus on budget monitoring, or analyzing budget documents and meetings to determine how public funding is allocated by the government.

3. Once the budget has been approved, the budget implementation stage begins and activities outlined in the budget are carried out. This involves the disbursement of funds to implementing agencies and departments. This stage is critical to ensuring that the great SRH activities you were able to get into the budget actually get implemented. Has the Ministry of Finance disbursed money to the Ministry of Health for their new comprehensive sex education program? Did the Central Medical Stores get their disbursement to buy and distribute contraceptives?

4. Following the budget implementation process, an auditor typically carries out a budget assessment to determine if spending was planned. This audit can be carried out by an independent body or the government’s auditor general and often is not completed until the end of the fiscal tear. Audit reports are a great source of information on where a government actually spent funds planned for SRH-related budget items.  Analysis of these reports can also shed light on whether funding is being spent on underserved populations such as the rural poor, youth, or indigenous women.

During the latter stages of the budget cycle, advocates focus largely on expenditure tracking – monitoring government resource allocations, spending and projects to ensure that funds are spent efficiently. They can also determine the impact of the government spending and make recommendations for the following year’s budget cycle.

Collectively this is known as budget monitoring and expenditure tracking (BMET) and encompasses research and advocacy. In practice, the budget cycle and opportunities to influence the outcome vary country by country, but the basic cycle remains the same. So where in the budget cycle are you and your colleagues already working to promote SRH? Where are the greatest opportunities?

Next month we see how one organization, the Health Rights Advocacy Forum (HERAF) is using budget advocacy to advance health rights in Kenya.

This is the second installment in a monthly series on budget advocacy. You can read the previous post here. Check back in July for the next in the series!