Posted by Rajni R. Menon
India’s second woman Finance Minister started off her deliberation on the initiatives for women in 2019’s Budget by quoting Swami Vivekananda, “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved”. She reflected that in India’s growth story, particularly in the rural economy, Grameen Arth Vyavastha, the role of women is a very sweet story and the government wished to encourage and facilitate this role of women. She applauded for the record turn out of women voters and the increased representation of women in the Parliament. She proposed for women led initiatives in the budget.
Reflecting on some of the positive aspects for women in the Budget, the formation of a broad based committee to conduct a gender analysis comes out as a very promising initiative. However, there is requisite for an in-depth analysis on the needs and interests of women before the allocations are made by different ministries.
The government should move beyond the output analysis to impact analysis on various schemes and programmes. These programmes should be designed after ensuring that there is an integration of the concerns of women at each level of budgeting process which will lead to best utilization of resources. It will be great if the committee could prioritize the analysis of domestic resource mobilization from a gender lens including issues related to taxation, subsidies, the impacts of GST etc.
These programmes should be designed after ensuring that there is an integration of the concerns of women at each level of budgeting process which will lead to best utilization of resources.
Proposition to expand the Self Help Group (SHG) interest subvention programme to all districts is also an empowering initiative. The provision of an overdraft of Rs. 5000 to every verified women SHG member having a Jan Dhan account is a welfare step. Another enabling initiative is the provision of Rs. 1 lakh to one woman in every SHG under the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) scheme. These will enhance the confidence of the women, their social awareness and participation in many community institutions. However there is a need for building the new skills and entrepreneurship for these women under the Make in India and Skill India initiatives to take up newer startups. Most of the current ventures of rural women are restricted to beauty parlours, tuition centres, food processing etc which are small in scale.
Finance Minister commended on the successes of the Ujjwala Scheme in her budget speech. In reality, this scheme has not made any stride in the lives of rural women. The women from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families are unable to refill their cylinders due its non-economic viability. Moreover their ration cards are removed from the BPL list as they are availing the cylinders.
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Women still bear the drudgery of fetching wood from far off places for cooking purposes. Electricity connections are still not available in many rural families. Many single women households in the far flung villages face grave safety concerns in the evening hours. For this same reason, they are unable to use the toilets which are distant from their homes. The government needs to think through these nuanced issues before discussing on the scaling up of multiple novel schemes.
Nowhere did the Finance Minister mention a policy initiative to enhance the labour force participation of women which has created ripples in many discourses on women’s economic empowerment.
Nowhere did the Finance Minister mention a policy initiative in Budget 2019 to enhance the labour force participation of women which has created ripples in many discourses on women’s economic empowerment. The rising oil prices mentioned in the budget will have a major impact on the savings of urban working women. This will indirectly have negative implications on their standard of living and labour force participation. There should be a comprehensive plan from the Ministry to address the issue of declining female labour force participation in the country. India has scored least on Health and Survival in the Global Gender Gap Report. However, this was a neglected area in maiden speech of the Finance Minister.
Also read: The Sitharaman Union Budget 2019: Will Gendered Needs Be Met?
It is disheartening that the Finance Minister did not mention the need for ensuring the safety and security of women in the country. Economic empowerment of women is impossible without a safe and conducive environment. Despite investing on infrastructure, livelihoods, water and sanitation, the country needs committed allocations to prevent violence against women and girls.
Rajini R Menon is a human rights crusader passionate about women’s rights issues. Presently she is associated with Oxfam India.
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