Nandita Pradhan Bhatt, Director, Martha Farrell Foundation analyses the interim budget 2019. She believes, “Mindsets need to change and budgets presented by men finance ministers need to be more practical and gender sensitive.”

India is the only country in the world where women’s labour force participation has dropped from 37% to 27% in the last decade in spite of the strong emphasis by governments past and present on the empowerment of women. Much was therefore expected from Finance Minister Piyush Goyal in the 2019 Interim Budget to give a push to enable women to enter the workforce. Rather, the Finance Minister announced over six crore free LPG connections under Ujjwala Yojana to secure the health of every homemaker and 26 weeks of maternity leave for women, along with the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana for the financial empowerment of pregnant women. One can’t help but question if as a nation we are really truly ready for women in the workforce.

Indian Housewife

Key Takeaways

  • Presenting women with gas cylinders and allowing them extended periods of leave to take care of their children does little to challenge the gender norms that perpetuate inequalities at home and at the workplace.
  • In an already toxic climate where companies are hesitant to hire women, the maternity benefits announced in the Interim Budget could just have made it more expensive for companies to hire women.
  • A budget that claims to be pro-poor has completely overlooked the 90% of informal workers in the country who are women and remain vulnerable to sexual harassment in their place of work.
  • Nothing will change if girls are brought up believing that their greatest happiness lies in bringing up children and cooking tasty food, albeit in a home with a gas cylinder.

Presenting women with gas cylinders and allowing them extended periods of leave to take care of their children does little to challenge the gender norms that perpetuate inequalities at home and at the workplace. The move can also be seen as being counterproductive to the many years of work that has already gone into addressing gender disparity. By alienating the notion of the father as a caregiver, not only does it wrongly locate parenthood and care-giving in biology, but also fails to recognise people of other genders as caregivers and parents in their own rights. Additionally, in an already toxic climate where companies are hesitant to hire women, the maternity benefits announced in the Interim Budget could just have made it more expensive for companies to hire women. What about allocations for the mandatory implementation of the National Creche Scheme? Women have stated that child-care is one of the biggest hindrances in their career development. Therefore, with the understanding that women will never truly be free if they are forever tied to the roles of caring and rearing, the Finance Minister should announce and encourage employees to take parental leave rather than making such arrangements possible only for mothers through the maternity leave policy.

With the understanding that women will never truly be free if they are forever tied to the roles of caring and rearing, the Finance Minister should announce and encourage employees to take parental leave rather than making such arrangements possible only for mothers through the maternity leave policy

The Interim Budget has sanctioned 5.56 lakh loans amounting to Rs 7.23 lakh crore under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana. A welcome step, as it is now becoming clear that an interest in entrepreneurship is increasing among young women. This was confirmed when initial findings of a study conducted by Martha Farrell Foundation with youth in Haryana pointed out that more than 52% of girls from the total number of those interviewed expressed an interest in starting their own business. That they did not have the awareness and finances to go about achieving this dream was also shared. But, if we cannot seem to separate women from the home and hearth, and if a majority of women in the country are still not allowed to leave their homes with or without permission, accessing affordable and collateral-free loans promised under the Mudra Yojana might not be such a cakewalk for women. It would be judicious if the annual budget for this scheme included allocations for education and awareness among women for ease of access to avail of its benefits.

It would be judicious if the annual budget for this scheme included allocations for education and awareness among women for ease of access to avail of its benefits.

By announcing an allocation of Rs 1330 crore for the Mission for Protection and Empowerment for Women, the Budget once again attempts a dangerous balancing act – of the desire to protect women on the one hand, while on the other assuring to set her free with promises of empowerment. In a society that condones public acts of sexual violence as harmless and normal behaviour for boys, it certainly warrants that the approach to addressing the issue of women’s safety should now be focused on bringing about a change in mindsets and existing gendered attitudes through sustained interventions. A budgetary allocation for the same would be a timely and strategic step in the right direction.

Tax Benefits Great Women
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The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a landmark legislation. But no budget is allocated for its implementation. In the absence of a rigorous implementation and monitoring system, compliance has become merely a checkbox for private businesses, Local Committees have not been formed in a majority of India’s districts (a 2018 RTI study by Martha Farrell Foundation found) and women workers in the unorganised sector remain unprotected. A budget that claims to be pro-poor has completely overlooked the 90% of informal workers in the country who are women and remain vulnerable to sexual harassment in their place of work. It fails to provide these women workers with a dignified and safe workplace.

A budget that claims to be pro-poor has completely overlooked the 90% of informal workers in the country who are women and remain vulnerable to sexual harassment in their place of work.

Therefore, while the focus on women-led development rather than development for women is a welcome move, it must be recognised that for women to be able to move out of their homes, set up independent businesses and lead development, there needs to be an eco-system that encourages and supports women. Nothing will change if girls are brought up believing that their greatest happiness lies in bringing up children and cooking tasty food, albeit in a home with a gas cylinder. We need bold new leaders. Policies and laws need to be made functional. Institutions and individuals must be held accountable. Mindsets need to change and budgets presented by men finance ministers need to be more practical and gender sensitive.

Nandita Pradhan Bhatt is the Director of Martha Farrell Foundation, she also heads the gender programs in PRIA.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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