Thursday, February 26, 2015

A budget for women

The coming Union budget is significant for at least two reasons: first, this will be the new government’s maiden full year budget. Second, with the NITI Aayog replacing the Planning Commission, the government is likely to abolish the distinction between plan and non-plan budgets.
This year’s budget is also an opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to gender equality. Gender issues have found consistent mention in official fora, including in the speeches of the Prime Minister. Ensuring adequate allocations for policies and programmes for women will help translate those commitments into action.
Development challenge
Gender inequality poses a significant development challenge in India. The Global Gender Gap Index 2014 ranked India at 114 out of 142 countries. The ranking is based on a country’s ability to reduce gender disparities in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health and survival. Violence against women and girls persists, both in private and in public spaces.
As a response to these challenges, India adopted ‘gender-responsive budgeting’ (GRB) in 2005. Put simply, GRB is a method of planning, programming and budgeting that helps advance gender equality and women’s rights. It also serves as an indicator of governments’ commitment to meeting those objectives. So far, 57 government Ministries/departments in India have set up Gender Budgeting Cells — a major step that could potentially impact the lives of crores of women. An analysis of GRB in India, 10 years after it was adopted, will be a crucial pointer to the way forward.
The quantum of allocations for schemes relating to women — out of a budget of nearly Rs.18 lakh crore (2014-15 budget estimate) — can be assessed by examining the Gender Budget Statement (GBS) which was first introduced in the 2005-06 budget. The analysis shows that over the last eight years the allocations for women as a proportion of the total budget have remained constant at approximately 5.5 per cent. Further, only about 30 per cent of the demands for grants, or estimates of expenditure, presented by Ministries/departments to the Union government are reported in the GBS.
Further, allocations to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), the nodal agency for women in the country, show a marginal increase over the last three years — from Rs. 18,584 crore in 2012-13 to Rs. 21,193 crore in 2014-15. With respect to ‘Women Welfare,’ the allocations actually show a downward trend — from approximately Rs. 930 crore in 2011-12 to around Rs. 920 crore in 2014-15. And almost 87 per cent of the 2014-15 budget of the MWCD was allocated for the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme, leaving only five per cent for schemes exclusively meant for women.
The UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women has emphasised the need for increased investments for the MWCD and for gender budgets across Ministries. In 2014, following its review of the fourth and fifth periodic reports submitted by the Government of India, the Committee — which monitors States’ implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) — also reiterated the need to strengthen institutions such as the National Commission for Women and the State commissions.
Schemes focussed exclusively on women either received reduced allocations or were not implemented, as seen from the revised estimates for 2013-14 vis-à-vis the budget estimates of the same year. Revised estimate figures are presented for the ongoing fiscal year based on the performance in the first six months of that year. The Domestic Violence Act is a case in point. The legislation, enacted a decade ago, received an allocation of Rs. 20 crore in 2012-13. Revised estimate figures for 2013-14 show zero allocation, which indicates that the scheme launched to operationalise the Act did not take off that year. Renamed SAAHAS, the scheme was allocated Rs. 50 crore last year. The coming budget will reveal how much of this was actually spent.
Other schemes such as restorative justice for rape victims have also seen a decline in allocations. The recent launch of the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme by the new government is commendable. Equal attention must now be paid to better implementation of laws and special measures for the most marginalised women, as highlighted in the election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It will also be important to ensure increased spending on all social sectors such as health, education and sanitation, given their impact on women. Women bear the greatest burden of unpaid care work — which includes looking after children and elderly or sick family members, cooking and cleaning. The call to recognise, redistribute and reduce women’s unpaid care work has gained momentum globally. This is therefore an opportune time to increase the quantum of allocations to the social sector.
Positive trend
A positive trend over the past couple of years has been the pre-budget consultations organised by the Ministry of Finance, aimed at ensuring that the voices of women are also heard in the budget making process. This year, in addition to meeting women’s rights organisations, the Ministry also held a dialogue with UN Women along with the MWCD to discuss key issues pertaining to GRB.
In conclusion, the coming budget can serve as a timely course correction. The emphasis must be on the strengthening of key institutions, adequate investments for schemes that address gender concerns and the effective implementation of those schemes.
The coming months will see a greater focus on development issues in general, and gender issues in particular, with the adoption of the post-2015 global development agenda and reviews of countries’ performance vis-à-vis the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+20). The stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Sustainable Development Goals is an achievement for women’s rights advocates across the globe. It will, however, remain elusive if not backed by adequate investments. The government’s first full year budget is an excellent chance to recognise missed opportunities and take corrective action.

(Yamini Mishra is Gender Responsive Budget Specialist for Asia Pacific, UN Women, and Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares is the Representative of UN Women’s Multicountry Office (MCO) for India, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.)

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