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Union Budget 2018: What's in it for women?

  • Blog Post Date 02 February, 2018
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Nalini Gulati

Editorial Advisor, I4I

In this article, Nalini Gulati analyses the Union Budget 2018-19 through a gender lens. She emphasises the need to firmly institutionalise Gender Responsive Budgeting within the government at the national and sub-national levels, and to strengthen capacity to apply a gender analysis to implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of programmes.

The Economic Survey 2017-18 reports that India’s performance has improved on 14 of 17 indicators of women’s agency, attitudes, and outcomes, over the past 10-15 years. However, women continue to lag behind men in terms of key indicators such as education, economic opportunities, and health, and a large proportion faces violence, discrimination and harassment. Besides being intrinsically undesirable, gender disparity is known to negatively influence economic growth. The Union Budget is an opportunity to demonstrate commitment towards gender equality and ensure sufficient financial allocation to help translate intent into action and ultimately impact.

Based on the recognition that national budgets benefit women and men differentially, and may even reinforce patriarchal social norms and biases, India formally adopted Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) in 2005-06. GRB does not merely involve earmarking of funds for women; it is an exercise that scrutinises the budget through a gender lens. The Gender Budget Statement comprises two parts: Part A reflects women-specific schemes with 100% allocation for women, and Part B is constituted by pro-women schemes wherein at least 30% of allocation is for women.

Overall, the Gender Budget allocation for FY 2018-19 is Rs 121,961 crore. While in absolute terms, this is an increase from Rs 113,311 crore (Rs 117,222 crore revised estimate) in 2017-18, as a percentage of total expenditure it continues to be in the range of 5%. To boost women’s formal sector employment and take-home earnings, provident fund contributions by them have been reduced from 10-12% to 8% for the first three years of employment. The allocation for Mudra Yojana, which provides entrepreneurship loans to those who may not otherwise be able to access funds, has been raised from Rs 2.44 lakh crore to Rs 3 lakh crore. At present, 76% of Mudra loan accounts are held by women. The proposed flagship national health protection scheme, which will be the world’s largest government-funded health programme, is expected to generate lakhs of jobs, particularly for women.

The target of providing free LPG connections to poor women to safeguard them from the adverse health effects of smoke from unclean cooking fuel has been stepped up from five crore to eight crore, under the Ujjwala Yojana. While announcing the target of building another two crore toilets, the finance minister emphasised the positive effects of sanitation facilities for the dignity of women. The budget speech focused heavily on agriculture and rural economy but did not take cognisance of the trend of feminisation of the farm sector, except to say that women self-help groups will be encouraged to take up organic farming.

It is pertinent to note that the allocation of funds for schemes for women empowerment is not enough in itself, as often, actual expenditure falls far short of allocated funds. For instance, in the 2015-16 Budget speech – the last one to explicitly mention women’s safety and security, the finance minister provided an additional Rs 1,000 crore to the Nirbhaya Fund. Official documents on the status of implementation of Budget announcements show that by January 2016, only Rs 24.62 crore of expenditure had been sanctioned under the fund for a one-stop centre and women’s helpline.

It is crucial that equal attention is given to the design of schemes and their timely, effective execution. India’s Union budgets report figures of actual spends with a lag of a year, disaggregated by ministries and schemes, but similar data is not provided for the Gender Budget even 13 years after its adoption. Efforts need to be made to firmly institutionalise GRB within the government at the national and sub-national levels, and strengthen capacity to apply a gender analysis to implementation, and monitoring and evaluation – including expenditure tracking and benefit incidence. Without these steps, the budgetary exercise will continue to bear hues of ‘blue’ for women.

This article first appeared in the Hindustan Times:

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