Gender budgeting: myth or reality?

Former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s last budget for Karnataka in 2018-19 was a gender-responsive budget, personifying transparent and accountable governance and reflecting equally the needs of both women and men. It is thus a bit disconcerting when the state budget delivered by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy this month failed to rise up to the standards set by his predecessor.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development, on its website, clearly lays out that, “Gender Budgeting is a powerful tool for achieving gender mainstreaming so as to ensure that benefits of development reach women as much as men.

It is not an accounting exercise but an ongoing process of keeping a gender perspective in policy/programme formulation, its implementation and review; it entails dissection of government budgets to establish its gender differential impacts and to ensure that gender commitments are translated into budgetary commitments.” However, only a few schemes for women were amongst the highlights this year.

Last year’s budget had a total outlay of Rs 5,371 crore for the Women and Child Welfare Department. It focused on women’s empowerment and announced several women-centric schemes and funds for other departments as well. It had undeniably raised awareness on the need to develop policies that mainstream gender within politico-economic budgetary processes, with a separate section of schemes for women in the budget for the first time.

However, this year’s budget, under the heading ‘Women and Child Welfare’, only notably enhanced the monthly grant from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 under the ‘Chief Minister Mathrushree Scheme.’ It also committed to opening 100 new Anganwadi centres in urban areas and to establishment of manufacturing units by providing entrepreneurship and skill development training to 1,000 oppressed wo­men with a grant of Rs 11.5 crore.

Under ‘Social Welfare’, it announced that at a cost of Rs 37.5 crore, upgradation of skills of 25,000 SC/ST women workers and trainers in garment factories would be undertaken.

What we need, however, more than mere formal announcements, are accountability measures spelt out alongside, which can transparently track the extent to which these funds are used, the number of Anganwadi centres opened and operational, the number of women gaining livelihoods through the promised skill training, and the number of those who do really receive the increased grant.

In its vision of moving towards a ‘New India’ by 2020, the central government’s budget this year clearly stated that there would be enough opportunities for women to fulfil their dreams. The government has allocated Rs 29,164 crore to the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, a 20% increase from the last year, focusing primarily on “women-led development” rather than women’s development.

Amongst many measures, benefits such as maternity leave for 26 weeks and the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) for pregnant women have provided financial support to women while empowering them to participate in work.

The allocation for the PMMVY, a maternity benefit programme, was more than doubled from Rs 1,200 crore to Rs 2,500 crore. Under the programme, pregnant and lactating women receive Rs 6,000 each. More than 70% of the beneficiaries of MUDRA Yojana are women who are getting affordable and collateral-free loans to start their own businesses. However, the budget allocation for “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” remains the same as last year.

The target set by the Centre by 2030 is to work towards distress-free healthcare and a functional and comprehensive wellness system for all. Such a healthy India can be built only when women are assured of the concern for their safety and participation and have equal rights.

Besides, the rationale for gender-budgeting recognises that budgets, be they national or state, impact men and women differently through the pattern of resource allocation, as women warrant special attention due to their vulnerability and lack of access to resources. Women constitute 48% of the population, but they lag behind men on many social indicators, such as health, education, economic opportunities, etc. Hence, the manner in which the government budgets allocate resources determines the potential to transform gender inequalities.

Gender-sensitive budgeting must be propagated and made accountable and transparent. Gender budgeting is a powerful tool for achieving gender mainstreaming so as to ensure that benefits of development reach women, as much as men.

As Indian citizens go to cast their votes to elect their 17th Lok Sabha this summer, what needs to be continuously asked and evaluated is: to what extent do these announcements actually materialise and how many remain just on paper? Do the benefits promised truly reach women or do they disappear somewhere in between? Are our budgets ‘gender-sensitive’ or are they ‘gender-blind’?

(Mathur is Associate Professor, Centre for Research in Education and Social Sciences, JAIN University; Sharma is Assistant Professor, BMS College of Law, and PhD Research Scholar, JAIN University, Bengaluru)

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Gender budgeting: myth or reality?

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