Balancing The Budget
Intersectional policy research should be undertaken to aid evidence-based policy formulation to curb gender inequalities and contribute to overall development.
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A nation's progress is intricately linked with the status of its women. It cannot develop if the well being of half of the population is not ensured. Further, a society cannot be truly democratic if the status of a section of its citizenry is not at par with the rest. India, having ensured the political democracy for its citizens, has had its limitations in achieving social democracy, which is evident through the socio-economic condition of women in the country.
According to the latest statistics, the female literacy rate in India is only 65.79 per cent compared to 82.37 per cent for men – resulting in a net literacy rate of the country at 74.37 per cent. Consequently, the contribution of women to the workforce is also disparaging.
The resolution of these trends across Indian society requires long-term strategies. And, to achieve tangible impact, a significant infusion of budgetary allocations needs to be made into women-focussed programs. Therefore, it is time to strengthen the deliberations for gender budgeting in India. Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) is a global practice that allows policymakers to apply a gender lens on the fiscal expenditure to address the persistent gender inequality that hinders the overall growth and development of a nation.
The concept of gender budgeting is not alien to Indian budgeting practice and was first introduced in the 2001 union budget. Since 2005, the union government releases a two-part Gender Budgeting Statement. The first part consists of women-specific schemes in which 100 per cent allocation is for women. And the second part reflects pro-women schemes where 30% of the allocation is earmarked for women. In recent years, the schemes like MNREGA, Sukanya Samridhi Yojna, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, and Ujjawala Yojna have led significant improvements in socio-economic conditions of women.
It is important to understand that the benefits of gender-responsive budgeting extend beyond the improvement in the condition of women and also contribute to national growth. As health and education outcomes of women improve, their barriers to entry in joining the workforce would reduce. This would reverse the worrying trend of the falling female labour force participation and contribute to the country's economic growth. Further, research also suggests that a child's cognitive abilities are directly correlated to the mother's health. Hence, working towards the well-being of women through GRB is beneficial to not only the present but also the future generation of the country.
In India, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) is the primary agency for coordination and effective implementation of Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB). The funds allocated for GRB are confined to 5 per cent of the total public expenditure and shrink to less than one per cent of the GDP. Apart from the inadequate allocation, the gap between the allocation and the utilization of funds remains a daunting challenge. According to the government, around 90 per cent of the Nirbhaya Fund (a fund allocated for women's safety) has remained unutilized by the States.
In addition to this, during the last decade, approximately 90% of the GRB expenditure was confined to only four major ministries- MWCD, Education, Health, and Rural Development. The impediments in women's empowerment in the country extend beyond the scope of these ministries. Therefore, a holistic approach leading to the convergence of all policies is imperative to avoid some ministries working in silos.
Moving forward, the mere allocation of funds will not suffice unless there is a shift in focus towards the measurement of outcome and impact on the ground. Further, intersectional policy research should be undertaken to aid evidence-based policy formulation to curb gender inequalities and contribute to overall development.
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