SDGs: budgeting for gender equity

Gender equity is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework. However, inadequate resource allocation accounts for the continued deficit in health, nutrition and welfare outcomes for women and girls in India.

The trajectory towards realising the SDG targets is not going to be easy with the current levels of political commitment to these issues. Budgets for service delivery have to be increased substantially without further delay.

Over the last few years, new programmes and schemes targeted at women and girls have been launched, especially in areas such as health, nutrition, livelihood and protection from abuse. Some progress has been made in law-making on domestic violence, sexual assault and sex selection. However, inadequate allocation of resources have made implementation of these programmes and schemes ineffective or limited in reach. 

The health, nutrition and welfare deficit in India is still high compared with countries of similar level of development, such as Thailand or Mexico, or even with countries that are less economically developed, such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Within this, there are class, caste, gender and regional inequities. A large part of this deficit is due to inadequate budgetary allocations. Even resources committed in the budget are either underspent or used inefficiently.

The picture we get from the government’s own datasets — like the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), Sample Registration System (SRS) and National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) — is that maternal and child mortality remains a major problem in many states.

Access to basic healthcare services, including maternal, sexual and reproductive health, are grossly inadequate. Violence against women and marriage before legal age continue to be high, despite stringent legal provisions and investment in supportive programmes and services.

An assessment of budget allocations and expenditures of some of the key programmes and schemes targeted to reduce gender inequities leads to the conclusion that there is lack of serious intent in achieving the goals. These programmes and schemes are launched with much fanfare but end up being populist proclamations directed toward electoral outcomes or public relations exercises.

The budgets and their trends tell the real story. The low allocations, the fluctuations over the years in allocations, and the underspending clearly indicate that political interest in efficiently targeting the SDGs is marginal. Political interest is driven either by electoral gains or as fire-fighting mechanisms.

For instance, if rape or maternal deaths are highlighted in the media, a new scheme is launched or an existing scheme is allocated resources. But even as a fire-fighting response, the allocated resources are grossly under-utilised. The Nirbhaya Fund for compensating rape survivors and setting up of one-stop crises centres and domestic violence protection is a classic case of this missing political will.

Similarly, allocations for maternal and child health programmes and primary healthcare are grossly inadequate and under-utilised. Under the Maternity Benefit Scheme, at least Rs 6,000 per birth is mandated by the National Food Security Act (NFSA). For an estimated 2.73 crore births in the country, the required budgetary allocation should be Rs 16,380 crore. In 2016-17, only Rs 75 crore was spent on maternity benefit. If the Tamil Nadu benchmark of Rs 18,000 per birth is used, the budget required would be Rs 49,140 crore.

In the National Health Mission/Reproductive and Child Health (NHM/RCH) and Primary Healthcare, with a benchmark of 2.5% of GDP as mandated by the National Health Policy 2017, the total health budget should be a minimum of Rs 4,19,000 crore or Rs 3,200 per capita (as against Rs 1,538 per capita at present).

At 60% for primary healthcare, the allocation for NHM and PHC should be at least Rs 2,51,000 crore or Rs 1,900 per capita. This will assure achievement of targets related to maternal and child health and mortality and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

In the Anganwadi and ICDS, as per NFSA norms, at least Rs 34,575 crore (2015 prices) should be allocated as against the inadequate expenditure of Rs 14,632 crore in 2016-17. In 2017, there was an upward revision of 33% in norms, hence the budget allocation should be Rs 46,000 crore. 

For Domestic Violence Protection/One-stop Crises Centres/Nirbhaya Fund, the budgetary requirement at Rs 37 lakh per district one-stop crises centre (2015 prices) should be a minimum of Rs 244 crore — in sharp contrast to the Rs 40 crore spent in 2016-17. Compensation for rape survivors would need additional resources.

The recent SC judgement has mandated Rs 5-10 lakh as minimum compensation. Given that 6.3 rape cases per lakh population are registered, the budgetary allocation of Rs 10 lakh per case would need the Nirbhaya Fund to have at least Rs 8,355 crore (against the Rs 3,500 crore, which is lying unutilised). In 2016-17, only Rs 192 crore was spent on compensation.

Increased resource allocation and political commitment are crucial to ensure that the SDG targets related to the welfare of women and girls are met.

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SDGs: budgeting for gender equity

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