Girls over the age of 14 in certain backward parts of the central-Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are cycling to school. The state government has implemented a scheme that will give free cycles to these girls, who weren’t being sent to school because it was too far away. Several bureaucrats and activists see the scheme as more than just another developmental project that involves the spending of a certain amount of money; they see it as the government’s growing sensitivity to gender-specific problems and solutions, and as part of a growing trend of what they call gender-based budgeting.
Gender budgeting, as explained by a charter that the Union government has put down for all its departments—it recently insisted each should have a gender-budget cell comprising six members and headed by a joint secretary of the department, a fairly senior government functionary—isn’t about “creating a separate budget to address gender concerns”, but about “viewing the government’s budget from a gender perspective”. And sometimes, as in the cycles-in-Madhya-Pradesh instance, gender budgeting could involve spending some money to solve a gender-specific issue. “The reluctance to send them to schools far away is the major reason for girls dropping out (of school) after the primary level,” said Rashmi Verma, the executive director of WomenPowerConnect (WPC), a non-governmental organization.
India’s move towards gender budgets is far from complete and far from effective. The country adopted the concept in 1992, almost a decade after it had been pioneered in Australia. Things really started moving only in the 2000s, when the finance ministry stepped in and asked various government departments to monitor schemes that targeted women or spent at least 30% of the money allocated to them, on women. Every Union Budget since 2005-06 has carried a gender budget. And the government has mandated special gender quotas or focus for several of its development programmes: a third of the beneficiaries of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act have to be women; administrators of the Integrated Child Development Scheme have to separately count the number of girl children being fed; and the ministry of agriculture has to find out how its research programmes benefit women farmers.
All of these helped, but Manjula Krishnan, the joint secretary at the ministry of women and child development, said the recent order on the creation of gender budget cells could make all the difference. “This guideline may finally give the big push that was needed for gender budgeting to actually work on the ground,” she added. Each cell will have to pick three to six schemes of the department (or ministry) and monitor them; the results of these will be part of the outcome budget which the finance minister presents at the end of the financial year.
India needs to improve its showing on the gender budgeting front: the gender budgeting statement attached to the Union Budget for 2007-08 (covering 27 ministries and departments and five Union territories governed by the Central government) mentions a total figure of Rs31,178 crore, just 4.6% of the total expenditure of the government (Rs6,80,521 crore).
The situation in the states is worse. Madhya Pradesh, in February, presented a budget that it claimed was “gender-just”. It is the only state to have such a budget and WPC helped it create one. Across 13 departments of the state’s budget, the allocation for schemes targeted at women have grown by 24% from Rs4,609 crore to Rs5,715 crore. Madhya Pradesh has reason to worry about women: its sex ratio is 916 women for every 1,000 men. India’s overall sex ratio is 927 women for every 1,000 men. 48% of India’s population of one billion-plus comprises women. Apart from the bicycle scheme, Madhya Pradesh is setting up a special education zone for women in the state’s four largest cities and is spending Rs1.42 crore to implement a new law on domestic violence.
None of the other states has a gender budget. Punjab and Haryana, the states with the worst sex ratio of 847 and 816 women each for every 1,000 men, don’t; nor do states such as Kerala and Karnataka that didn’t wait for gender-budgeting and insisted some time ago that 10% of the money spent on all local government (panchayat) schemes should be directed at women. Even in Kerala, there is room for improvement, said Mridul Eapen, a member of the Kerala State Planning Board. “Gender budgeting here has got stuck in numbers and despite our much-vaunted human development figures, there is no public face to the progress of women,” she added. The Kerala legislature has seven women members of a total of 140.
The problem the Union government and state governments face is the absence of separate data for women, in the absence of which a gender-audit cannot be done. So, government departments are changing the way they report data—to include gender details. That would help come up with gender-specific fixes, said Krishnan. “The collection of data sometimes helps change the design of the scheme or drop it altogether,” she added.
Krishnan rattled off examples of how this has been done —in Nagapattinam, after the tsunami in 2004, government scientists designed a special kind of net that widowed fisherwomen could use; these enabled them to fish at shallow depths—or how it could be done in the future: girl children are often not brought to government immunization centres by their mothers, she claimed, and “once we collect data (which proves this), we can incentivize them to bring the girls along with the boys.”