"We need to focus on four major pillars-- the poor, women, youth and farmers," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, setting the tone for the Interim Budget 2024. The Parliament session delved into the estimates of the government's expenditure, revenue, fiscal deficit, financial performance, and projections for the upcoming months. With 'Nari Shakti' spotlighted by the government for many recent initiatives, allocating a budget for women's development in all domains including society, the workforce, and healthcare at centre stage.
In the Budget Session conducted on January 31, President Droupadi Murmu also recalled and hailed the women empowerment initiatives that the government took recently, including the Women's Reservation Bill and the participation of women in Republic Day parades. With this, the government presented the Union Budget 2024, with a strong focus on women. Here is what the budget has in store for women.
What Women Can Expect In Union Budget 2024
Women's Education, Workforce
Finance Minister Sitharman noted that female higher education enrollment has gone up by 28% in 10 years. In STEM courses, girls & women make up 43% of enrollment, one of the highest in the world, reflecting the increasing participation of women in the workforce.
- Recognising this, 30 crore collateral-free loans have been given to women entrepreneurs under the PM Mudra Yojana.
- The target for the Lakhpati Didi scheme has been risen from 2 crore to 3 crore. FM Sitharaman said that the scheme focuses on 83 lakh self-help groups with 9 crore rural women to financially empower them.
- Sitharaman highlighted that the Women Reservation Bill will come into force soon, which provides a reservation of 33% of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats to women.
Women's Empowerment in Society
- Under the PM Gramin Awas Yojana, which provides housing to rural women, 2 crore houses will be allocated in the next five years, Sitharaman said. Speaking about the success of this scheme, she said, "The PM Awas Yojana has given 70% of housing to women as sole or joint earners in rural areas."
- The government will launch a scheme to help deserving sections of the middle class living in rented houses, slums, chawls or unauthorised colonies to buy or build their own house.
- PM JANMAN Yojana will be extended to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups that have remained outside the realm of development. This scheme helps to improve the socio-economic conditions of tribal groups.
- The government is set to encourage vaccination against cervical cancer for girls aged 9-14 years.
- Maternal and child healthcare: Various schemes for maternal and child care will be brought under one comprehensive program for synergy in implementation.
- More medical colleges: The government plans to set up a committee that would make recommendations for transforming existing hospital infrastructure into medical colleges.
- Access to affordable healthcare: Health insurance coverage under Ayushman Bharat will be extended to all ASHA and Anganwadi workers. The Ayushman Bharat (2018) scheme provides free access to health insurance coverage for low-income earners in the country.
- Upgradation of Anganwadi centres under Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 will be expedited for improved nutrition delivery, early childhood care, and development.
- The newly designed U-Win platform for managing immunisation programs will be rolled out expeditiously under the Mission Indradhanush (drive towards 90% full immunisation coverage across India).
Experts Laud Government's Healthcare Efforts
Women's healthcare and awareness have been a burning issue in India, calling for a concerted effort to address concerns. Cervical cancer is the second-most deadly cancer that affects Indian women, a recent report by the World Health Organisation stated. To tackle this rapidly diffusing disease, which is caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, experts have long been urging an immunisation program across the country.
The government's announcement on encouraging vaccination against cervical cancer has been received well by many medical experts. Speaking to SheThePeople, obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Nisha Bhatnagar said, "We applaud the visionary step taken by the government, to prioritise vaccination against cervical cancer for girls. The move is a critical step towards public health, especially for women, through preventive measures in combating life-threatening diseases."
She added, "By investing in preventive healthcare, the government is not only safeguarding the health of the nation's future generation but also reducing the burden on healthcare infrastructure... We will be happy to support and collaborate with the government in achieving the shared goal of a healthier and happier society." Dr Bhatnagar is the Medical Director of a private reproductive healthcare centre, Infinite Fertility.