Gender budgeting is used as a tool to reform gender inequality and to secure socio-economic development to make sure that the benefits reach women and gender minorities just as much as men. Gender budgets were popularised in the 20th century and have been used ever since to address gender inequalities. Gender inequality poses a risk to the country’s balanced development and with the idea to bridge this gap, India started issuing gender budgets from the year 2005.
Due to the drastic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and gender minorities, gender budgeting is more important now than ever. Considering the socio-economic structure in India, women are still considered to be inferior to men. Society’s collective attitudes towards gender roles are still built on the traditional foundations of patriarchy, where men are expected to be the breadwinners of the household; whereas women are expected to be responsible for the care and domestic work.
As a result of this, women are often forced into marriage, pressurised to conceive early, and so on. In some cases, women are completely denied education and the lack of awareness creates a domino effect on these women’s social, economical, financial and psychological aspects of life.
For instance, women have the lowest employment rates in India, where the labour force participation rate decreased to 15.5 percent in 2020. In cases where women have access to employment, the gender pay gap is still a pressing concern. The pay barrier between women and men is unequal, and the effects of COVID-19 have only worsened the already dire situation for women.
Women are also exposed to risks related to their physical health. The lack of access to primary healthcare, poor hygiene, lack of awareness about menstrual health, and the like, are some of the major contributors to high rates of female mortality. Women are assigned the roles of caretakers in various areas of life, and due to this, they are actively on the frontline of all families, responding to and taking care of sick family members.
Yet, even among all the responsibilities, the power of decision-making is kept from them. To address these major forms of inequalities, various women-based schemes have been allotted in Part A and Part B of the gender budget in India.
Key highlights of the 2022-23 gender budget
India published its 17th gender budget on February 1, 2022. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has placed more importance on shifting the focus of the budget from women’s development to women-led development. What does this mean for the women in India? Considering the ongoing health crisis and ever-increasing gender inequalities, will the change in the perspective of the gender budget prove to be an efficient instrument in uplifting women-led development?
Schemes like MGNREGS, National Social Assistance Programme, and Schemes for Welfare of SC, ST, and Minorities, predominantly consist of women beneficiaries. A reduction of 2.5 percent in budget allocation for these schemes has been in effect in the 2022-2023 gender budget. The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has said that it is evident from these changes that the government has not placed value on women in their vision for ‘Amrit Kaal’.
According to the AIDWA, the proposals given by the government do not prove very beneficial to resolving the problems of unemployment. “The allocation of MGNREGS, which is meant to employ women in times of distress has decreased by 14 percent over the revised estimates of 2021-22”. In this allocation, the same budget also decreased by 40 percent last year.
Though the minister has placed emphasis on inclusive development, however, no essential allocation has been made for social security for women. Similarly, tax concessions for working women have also not been given significant importance.
The transformation of education from offline to online due to the pandemic has also severely affected girl students. However, the re-opening of schools and colleges has not been considered, and no significant funds have been allocated for improving the infrastructure for safe learning. The gender budget could have focused more on funding resources and opportunities for girl students for educational programmes, but it has diverted more resources towards the expansion of infrastructure of online education.
India’s 2022-23 gender budget predominantly encourages growth with new initiatives. These schemes focus solely on improving the economic recovery of the country. Although the budget aims to address various challenges faced by women and to create space for inclusive development, it is evident that the budget allocation does not meet the needs of women and girl children.
There has been an increase in the budget allocated for women-centric schemes with a total of Rupees 1,71,006.47 crore. Rupees 1,53,326.28 crore was allocated in the Gender Budget of 2021-22, and this accounts for an increase of 11 percent in this year’s budget allocation.
However, NDTV notes that the gender budget has declined from 4.4 percent in 2021 to 4.3 percent this year, with regard to the total expenditure. In the year 2020, before the pandemic, the total expenditure of the gender budget was 4.72 percent. This shows that the budget allocated is not significant.
The gender budget has proven to be beneficial for the education sector, where there has been a significant gain this year with allocations for the Samagra Shiksha scheme for school education increased by 25 percent, and a 10 percent raise for the Department of Higher Education.
Women’s access to all levels of education is especially important. Although a good allocation has been given for higher education, there was no allocation for the National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education. It is an important program that gives space for teenage girls to access education. However, it has been completely ignored.
The shift in focus of this year’s gender budget might have been an attempt to resolve the gender inequality present in our country, but it has failed to prioritise the key challenges faced by women in terms of social, educational, and financial needs. Women have been constantly left out in all sorts of national development programs, and it is high time that the government walks its talk on elevating women-led development.