In her speech on 1 February 2022, the Finance Minister echoed the Prime Minister’s clarion call for shifting the focus from “women’s development” to “women-led development” and harnessing #NariShakti to create an #AtmanirbharBharat. She emphasised that the Government of India had revamped the schemes of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) and announced that 200,000 upgraded Anganwadis would be set up under Saksham Anganwadi 2.0.
While these announcements are laudable, India in January 2022 is a very different country compared to just two years ago, as several new priority areas have emerged to address challenges faced by women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women faced disproportionate job losses and slower employment recovery, such that the size of the female labour force is still 9.4% smaller in January 2022 vs. January 2020, while the male labour force has recovered to pre-pandemic levels (CMIE data). Women have suffered through the shadow pandemic of domestic violence, seen exponential increases in unpaid care work burdens, and the gender digital divide has compounded learning losses for girls and income losses for women entrepreneurs.
Budget 2022: Overall, the quantum of the Gender Budget continues to remain below 5% of total expenditure, and less than 1% of GDP.
A deep dive into the Gender Budget Statement (GBS), which has been produced as a separate document accompanying the Union Budget every year since 2005-06, reveals some interesting trends for 2022-23, to help us answer the central question of whether Budget 2022 is truly an instrument for ushering women-led development in the post-pandemic era.
Overall, the quantum of the Gender Budget continues to remain below 5% of total expenditure, and less than 1% of GDP. Even though the overall size of the Gender Budget grew from INR 1.66 lakh crores in FY22 to INR 1.71 lakh crores in FY23, the Gender Budget has actually declined as a proportion of total expenditure – from 4.4% in FY22 to 4.3% in FY23.
About 91% of the Gender Budget allocations were concentrated among just five Ministries: Rural Development, Women and Child Development, Housing, Health and Family Welfare, and Education. Overall, only about half the Central Ministries reported on their Gender Budget, revealing that even after 17 years, the preparation of the Gender Budget continues to remain a challenge for several Ministries and Departments.
Moreover, just 10 schemes constituted nearly 80% of the FY23 Gender Budget. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) alone made up 25%, followed by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) at 15%. This observed clustering of the Gender Budget into few schemes is indicative of the lack of gender mainstreaming, especially in job-creating sectors, such as infrastructure and industrial development.
Having said that, within the limited resource envelope, education, livelihoods, health and agriculture were rightly prioritised through notable increases in GBS allocation. Education was a significant gainer, with the Samagra Shiksha scheme for school education seeing an increase of 25%, and the Department of Higher education of 10%. Livelihoods was another area of focus, with GBS allocations for the National Urban and Rural Livelihood Missions rising about 13-14%. In the heath sector, the Ayushman Bharat scheme saw a significant increase of 227%, and additional funds were allocated to a flexible pool for health systems strengthening and the National Urban Health Mission. Agriculture focussed schemes such as the PM Matsya Sampada Yojana and the National Livestock Mission saw increases of 57% and 43%, respectively, even though their overall allocations remained small.
Yet, overall, the Gender Budget of 2022-23 appeared unresponsive to the post-COVID-19 needs of women and girls. GBS allocations for the National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education, National Rural Health Mission and Digital India Programme were reduced to zero. The MGNREGS and the PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (on digital literacy) saw reductions of 20% and 17%, respectively. And most notably, allocations to schemes which address 5 post-pandemic priority areas for women and girls, i.e. social protection through benefit transfers (cash & in-kind), domestic violence, skill training, public transport, and digital literacy totalled less than 2% of the GBS.
Overall, between the first GBS in 2005-06 and today, India has made significant gains on gender responsive budgeting (GRB). The number of Ministries / Departments included in the GBS has more than doubled, from 14 to 40 today. India’s GBS has been recognized as one of the most streamlined and detailed GRB documents in Asia. Gender Budgeting Cells have been established in 57 Central Ministries / Departments. Moving forward, it will be important to build on this momentum by strengthening these efforts across Ministries, Departments, and schemes.
First, in the current format, the Gender Budget only provides information on allocations, and does not report gender-disaggregated impacts and results across schemes. There should be a renewed push for gender-disaggregated data collection to benchmark and understand the distribution of beneficiaries across schemes. This can be done by updating the monitoring information systems, results dashboards, as well as through gender audits of centrally sponsored schemes.
Second, there is a need to build increased capacity for gender budgeting. While specialised trainings on gender budgeting are required for staff in Gender Budgeting Cells, all officials across Ministries should undergo basic training on how to understand the gender elements of their schemes, and then apportion funding for these elements under the Gender Budget. Frequency of these trainings should be increased during the budget preparation period.
Third, the MWCD can play a leading role through inter-ministerial dialogues to understand the barriers keeping Ministries from reporting on the GBS. Knowledge exchange on the importance of gender mainstreaming across sectors, as well as on requisite tools can also be part of this dialogue.
And finally, NITI Aayog and MWCD can partner to develop a GRB monitoring initiative and web portal, so that Ministries can openly observe the quality, results, and impacts of their Gender Budgets.
Concerted efforts from key stakeholders involving a whole-of-government approach can enable a Gender Budget that responds to women’s changing aspirations and empowers them to emerge as true leaders in the country’s development.
Mitali Nikore is an economist and Founder of Nikore Associates, a youth-led economic research and policy think tank. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Geetika Malhotra, Ashmita Chowdhury, Seher Jain, Shrusti Singh worked as research assistant on this article.