Nirmala Sitharaman achieved a historic feat by becoming the first full-time woman finance minister of India. Indian women have a lot of hopes pinned on her, as she is set to present the annual Union Budget for the nation on 5th July, 2019. Domestic economies are run mostly by women, so it is not surprising to see homemakers expect affordable education for their children and cheaper daily-use necessity goods.
In an attempt to make the Union Budget as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, the former Defence Minister reportedly crowdsourced ideas regarding the Union Budget that are continually circulated on social media. With the general public more involved in the Budget exercise, women would anticipate their grievances and suggestions better heard and solutions provided for the same on Friday.
Women’s inclusion in the workforce is not only plagued by societal stigma, but also the sheer difficulty faced by women who begin their hunt for employment late in their lives. Keeping this in mind, the government had previously introduced STEP, that is, Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women, though the money allocated to it plummeted from Rs.40 crores to Rs.5 crores in 2018. Though the initiatives are well-intentioned, implementation often remains an issue. A budget that would facilitate women’s empowerment would need a reallocation of funds in such a manner that implementation does not remain an issue.
A major challenge that leads to women dropping out of the workforce is childcare. From an existing Rs. 200 crores, the funds allocated to the National Crèche Scheme fell to Rs. 128 crores in the Interim Budget of 2019. All attempts at making workplaces more diverse are thwarted if childcare poses as an obstacle. An increased allocation of funds for the above mentioned schemes as well as relaxed taxes for day-care facilities would ease rejoining the workforce for women who had to leave due to childcare. Women’s workforce participation rates have fallen from 32% in 2016 to 23% in 2018. Gender diversity is an issue the country has been facing for years, and only implementation of such policies can solve it.
Start-up incubators focusing on women and mentorship programmes for potential women founding start-ups could be set up.
A large chunk of the parental population of the country views English-medium schools as a certain standard of quality, and thus tries to ensure such schooling for their children. However each passing year this keeps getting expensive, and ultimately becomes a luxury that only few can afford. Most of these mothers often have to juggle multiple jobs, work as domestic help, and many such. They wish for a better life for their children, which would come with quality education, that is, English-medium schooling. Seeing a woman and a fellow mother appointed as the finance minister, an affordable education is expected from Sitharaman’s Union Budget announcement.
Women’s safety also remains a major cause of concern, and mere allocation of funds would not solve it. Technological advancement in this sphere is required, especially in rural areas. Through initiatives such as mobile SOS and all-women patrols exist, they need to expand enough to reach rural areas and not simply remain an urban luxury.
Food inflation hit its 33-month high at 7.4%, leading to rising prices of pulses, wheat, cereals and vegetables. This, coupled with ever-rising gas cylinder prices, adds to the burden of homemakers, who await solutions to their tribulations Sitharaman is set to provide on Friday.
The Indian start-up ecosystem also needs to be revamped in a way to keep up with gender diversity. Lack of financial independence, guidance, funding and domestic responsibilities hamper potential entrepreneurs from achieving their dreams. MSME participation and independent businesses run by women need a boost in rural areas. Lower rates of interest on start-up loans availed by women would also spark the entrepreneurial spirit in them, along with special investment schemes for women-run businesses would also pave way for balanced entrepreneurship between men and women. Start-up incubators focusing on women and mentorship programmes for potential omen founding start-ups could also be set up.
Coming from a party whose Hindutva-nationalism poses as a threat to the very cultural fabric of the country, it would be unwise to blindly trust Sitharaman to single-handedly relieve the women of this country from their financial hardships.
Though Sitharaman’s initiative to crowd-source ideas seems well, it is certain remarks that she has made that are bothersome. For instance, just this week she said that India is the fastest growing economy in the world, which contradicts official data showing a 5.8% growth in GDP in the previous quarter, which is lower than China’s 6.4%. She also refuted the claim that the slowdown faced by manufacturing sector could be attributed to demonetisation. As demands for consumer goods, capital goods and many such fell due to reduced purchasing power after demonetisation, the manufacturing sector producing these goods witnessed a -5.6% growth rate in the demonetisation quarter. Thus saying that the slowdown in the growth of the manufacturing sector is not due to demonetisation is not only incorrect, but also worrisome about what other mistakes of the BJP government would she try and justify this way.
It is a great moment of pride to have a woman as the country’s finance minister. However, just an assumption that her being a woman will change things for the better is incorrect. Coming from a party whose Hindutva-nationalism poses as a threat to the very cultural fabric of the country, a party whose leaders have continually made sexist remarks as a way to bring down political opponents, it would be unwise to blindly trust Sitharaman to single-handedly relieve the women of this country from their financial hardships. Instead, one can hope for the best that the finance minister does more than just seem pro-women by being in the office, and uses her platform for uplifting and empowering fellow women and other disadvantaged groups.
Featured Image Source: DNA India