Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech mentioned the word “women” 13 times. It increased spending on women related-schemes by 18%, making that amount 5.2% of the total budget. However, one must remember that ~5% of the budget is earmarked for 48% of the population.
It increased spending on women related-schemes by 18%, making that amount 5.2% of the total Budget.
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The biggest announcement was that INR 2,700 crores were assigned to the Indira Gandhi Matritva Yojana, an expansion of maternity benefits which offer INR 6,000 to any woman who seeks institutional delivery, from INR 634 crores in the previous year. While the number announced is large, it doesn’t necessarily deal with utilisation, or even questions of access – are there hospitals, public health centres (PHCs) in good conditions, with adequate staff for women to make use of this particular conditional cash transfer?
Are there hospitals, public health centres (PHCs) in good conditions, with adequate staff for women to make use of this particular conditional cash transfer?
The Finance Minister also announced a Mahila Shakti Kendra at the village level, assigned INR 500 crores to 14 lakh anganwadis — this is just about ~INR 3,500 per anganwadi — to create “a one stop convergent point support service for empowering rural women with opportunities for skill development, employment, digital literacy, health and nutrition”.
That is a lot of empowering and skilling for that much money. Even if the budget allocation is set aside for a minute, anyone who has visited an anganwadi centre will tell you that it is far away from a Mahila Shakti Kendra. The anganwadi was envisioned as a crèche-cum-nutrition centre, under the Integrated Child Development Program. Its functions have been expanded, but the infrastructure and compensation for the helpers has remained largely poor. Anganwadi workers are grossly underpaid, under-trained and overworked – the budget doesn’t speak of upgrading these centres or adding more staff… Nor does it outline how these Kendras will work.
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Another big allotment is done to the Nirbhaya Fund, which was constituted in 2013 to accelerate initiatives for women’s safety. The fund has been given INR 28.9 crores, but is mired in controversy about its funds being under-utilised. Only INR 400 crore out of INR 1530 crore allocated has been spent so far, according to the Ministry of Women and Children. There is a case in the courts, where eminent lawyer Indira Jaising is arguing that the fund doesn’t reach the hands of the needy.
Only INR 400 out of INR 1530 crores allocated has been spent so far, according to the Ministry of Women and Children.
The problem is multi-fold: i.e. expenditure, monitoring and evaluation are all in doldrums, but the problem starts with allocation itself. It is clear that the practice of applying a gender lens to the Budget has not been applied by the government. Gender budgeting — the process of conceiving, planning, allocating, and evaluating budget in a gender-sensitive way — has been in practice in India since 2005, and 16 states and the central government claim to follow it, yet even in a seemingly pro-Women Budget just over 5% of funds are assigned to half the population.
Gender budgeting — the process of conceiving, planning, allocating, and evaluating budget in a gender-sensitive way — has been in practice in India since 2005, and 16 states and the central government claim to follow it, yet even in a seemingly pro-Women Budget just over 5% of funds are assigned to half the population.
This needs to change.
As the government thinks about allocating money in the Budget, it is important to ensure scrutinise how that money reaches women – whether the money is in the Ministry of Human Resource Development or in the Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises. In fact, over time, ministries can be restructured, not just to have one Ministry of Women and Children, but to have a Department of Gender in each Ministry which ensures that the aspirations and needs of women are captured in all government policies. After all, women do hold up half the sky!
Views expressed are personal. Astha Kapoor is a strategy consultant at MicroSave working on public policy issues. She can be reached @KapoorAstha
Feature Image Credit: Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India