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Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Budget 2014: A cautious start on gender inclusivity

The comparison was inevitable: 200 crore for a statue of Sardar Patel, but only 100 crore for the girl child through a Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao awareness campaign, which will include courses on gender mainstreaming in school curricula.

“NDA (National democratic alliance) priorities: 100 cr for beti bachao/beti padhao vs 200 cr for Patel statue in Gujarat," tweeted Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. “I suppose for BJP neither beti nor murti has a voice."

Yet, despite the carping, few other budgets in recent memory have been quite as sweeping in terms of its reference to women and gender.

Presenting his first budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley also announced an allocation of 150 crore for women’s safety in larger cities and an additional 50 crore for women’s safety on public transport.

More significant, however, were the announcements of a national programme to fight malnutrition, total sanitation for every household by 2019, an allocation of 3,600 crore for drinking water schemes, and toilets and drinking water in all girls’ schools.

Women are the worst sufferers in each of these sub-heads—girls drop out of schools because lack of toilets and sanitation impact women’s health as well as safety. According to Census 2011, 53% households have neither toilets nor access to water.

Jaitley also announced the setting up of crisis management centres in government and private hospitals in all Delhi districts, funding for which would come from the 1,000 crore Nirbhaya Fund, announced two years ago by the previous United Progressive Alliance government, but unutilized since.

Lawyer Karuna Nundy, one of the authors of the “womanifesto" released before the elections, cautiously welcomed the move to include gender mainstreaming in the curriculum. “It was one of our several points in a charter to stamp out misogyny and bring justice to our society," she said. However, she added, it was not clear how the government planned to implement the step.

“I welcome the way the government has picked up issues of the education of the girl child and safety of women, which have emerged as huge challenges facing the country," said Ranjana Kumari, director at the Centre for Social Research. “However, I am worried that the amounts allocated are simply not sufficient."

Jaitley’s budget, presented to the Lok Sabha while his wife Sangeeta and daughter Sonali were present in the gallery, might not have won the approval of women, yet.

“Women’s safety is a concern," conceded Jaitley. “We need to test out different approaches that can be validated and scaled up quickly."

In terms of its gender inclusivity, the National Democratic Alliance’s first budget is far from revolutionary. But it is at least a cautious beginning.

Namita Bhandare is consulting editor, Mint

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