Higher representation of women in political decision-making positions can help increase women’s autonomy in their families and economy
The gender budgeting approach includes an assessment of government expenditure through a gender lens such that fiscal spending can adequately meet the needs of both men and women. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines “gender budgeting as integrating a clear gender perspective within the overall context of the budget process, through the use of special processes and analytical tools, with a view to promoting gender-responsive policies.”
Gender budgeting efforts have been undertaken in several developed and developing countries. It is an essential tool that helps to correct gender inequities and ensure women’s socio-economic development. Per the United Nations, India has set a leading instance of integrating gender into fiscal policy to address gender disparities. A 2021 article published in World Development, by Chowdhury, Parida, and Agarwal Goel suggests that the gender budgeting policy has improved women’s overall well-being and has helped to serve as insurance against death from flood disasters. Based on empirical findings, the study concluded that a greater expenditure on gender budgeting could help to reduce gender-based vulnerability to floods. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to prepare gender-responsive actions, leading to a zero-disaster mortality rate.
At the national level, the Eighth Five Year Plan (1992-97) highlighted the necessity for directing funds and benefits from different development sectors to women. Later, the Ninth Five YeaR Plan (1997-2002) stated that at least 30 percent of public funds and benefits should be designated for women’s development. This led to the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in 2001. Finally, in 2005, a gender budget statement was introduced with commitments to budgetary allocations for financing women-focused public interventions.
Gender budget has been divided into two major components: part A involves spending for 100 per cent women-specific programmes, and part B incorporates spending on social security programmes where at least 30 per cent of the allocation is directed to women. In 2022-23, Budget Estimates reveal that Rs 1,71,006.47crore has been allocated for women-specific programmes combining parts A and B of the Gender Budget.This shows a 11.53 per cent rise from Rs 1,53,326.28 crore budgetary allocation in 2021-22. Although the focus of gender budgeting varies across Indian states, the principal objective is to improve women’s education, employment, and welfare and create state infrastructure to facilitate women’s social and economic empowerment.
A new women-centric scheme, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, was introduced in Union Budget 2014-15 with an initial budgetary allocation of Rs 100 crores. In order to ensure equitable access to schooling and enhance the quality of education, the Union Budget 2018-19 introduced three additional schemes under ‘Samgra Shiksha,’ namely, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), and Teacher Education (TE).
These schemes emphasize gender-equal access to general education and vocational training with improved teaching staff. The strong focus on enhancing the education and participation of girl children is what makes all these schemes so crucial for women’s empowerment. Classes on self-defense training for girls and providing stipends to girls in upper primary to higher secondary education and its alignment with the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme are additional gender-equitable provisions. Increasing women’s general and technical education can improve their access to employment opportunities.
In addition to enhancing the scope for women’s education, a credit-linked subsidy scheme, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), has been introduced to encourage female ownership of houses in rural and urban areas. Predominantly, women’s ownership of land and assets has been restrained due to patriarchal social norms that require male family members to own properties, therefore, limiting women’s intrahouse hold bargaining power and increasing dependence on male members. PMAY mandates ownership of houses in the name of women heads of households unless no adult female member is present in the family.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ report on Transforming Urban Landscape-Empowering Women through PMAY(U) highlighted the case studies of 35 women across Indian states who described their experience of increased attainment of social protection and integrity due to ownership of homes. Improved access to sanitation facilities resulting from the construction of proper toilets and ensured water supply have boosted women’s self-esteem and helped them gain a sense of security through the PMAY scheme.
These new women-specific schemes are some gender-based interventions that can help increase women’s educational participation, secure women’s asset ownership rights, and boost the female labor force participation rate (FLFPR). According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), the rural FLFPR has increased from 18.2 per cent during 2017-18 to 19.7 per cent in 2018-19. Furthermore, the rural FLFPR has risen to 24.7 per cent during 2019-20. The urban FLFPR has shown an increasing trend, rising from 15.9 per cent in 2017-2018 to 16.1 per cent in 2018-19 and increasing to 18.5 per cent during 2019-20. Despite the rise in FLFPR over 2017-2020, a substantial gender gap in employment exists even today.
The traditional rural job guarantee scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), has introduced some gender-sensitive provisions,such as including a quota necessitating women laborers to be at least one-third of the total participants, providing childcare facilities at works ites and equal wages to men and women workers. However, the scheme is inadequate at addressing socio-cultural barriers such as conservative norms regarding confining women’s mobility and employment. Further more, the budgetary allocation for MGNREGA has been reduced by 25.5 per cent from the revised estimates of Rs 98,000 crore in financial year (FY) 2021-22 to budget estimates of Rs 73,000 crore in FY 2022-23. The fall in fund allocation will adversely hit rural workers who depend on the MGNREGA scheme for their livelihoods. The reduction in resources will also be detrimental to achieving gender equality and inclusive development.
Besides, there is a considerable gap in education between male and female persons. Per the PLFS (2017-18), the literacy rate in both rural and urban areas is higher among males than females, and the gender gap in education is much more pronounced in rural India. In 2017-18, the literacy rate was 64.5 per cent for rural females compared to 80.7 per cent for rural males. In 2019-20, the literacy rate for rural females marginally increased to 66.3 per cent, and rural male literacy was 82.2 per cent. The gap between male and female literacy rates and employment levels reinforces the disadvantaged position of women in Indian society.
Beyond this, another aspect that profoundly impacts women’s lives is the gender gap in political representations at various levels of the Indian political system. According to the Election Commission of India, in 1967, only 6 per cent of women were members of the Indian Parliament. In 2019, women’s representation in political decision-making bodies increased as 14.4 per cent of women became members of Parliament.
Higher representation of women in political decision-making positions can help increase women’s autonomy in their families and economy. This would lead more families to encourage increased enrolment of women in higher education, thereby expanding economic opportunities for women. The presence of women political leaders can improve social outcomes by creating gender-sensitive policies,which can address women’s needs and voice their concerns.
(Dr.Joyita Roy Chowdhury, Assistant Professor of Economics, FLAME University; Ms. Arushi Bhasin, Economics and Public Policy Candidate, FLAME University; Dr.Yashobanta Parida, Assistant Professor of Economics, Pune. The views expressed are personal.)