A budget friendly to women?

A budget friendly to women?

New Delhi: Budget 2011 included changes to several programmes that will disproportionately benefit women, although funding earmarked specifically for women’s programmes as a percentage of the total budget outlay remained unchanged for four years.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the creation of a women’s self-help group development fund with a corpus of 500 crore in fiscal 2011-12 “to empower women and promote their self-help groups". Mukherjee also doubled remuneration for workers and helpers at anganwadis, or government-run creches, to 3,000 and 1,500 a month, respectively. The increase will benefit an estimated 2.2 million people, mostly women. Allocation for the women and child development ministry increased 15% from 11,075 crore to 12,733 crore.

Such changes, however, do not necessarily represent a shift towards a more gender-friendly budget. A closer look at the “gender budget", a statement within the expenditure budget tracking provisions earmarked for programmes that primarily benefit women, shows that such allocations have remained at approximately 6% of the total budget outlay for the four years ending 31 March 2012. “It almost looks like a non-starter when you look at the way money has been spread across departments," said Dr Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research. “I think that gender budgeting needs to be taken up more sincerely by all departments."

The government first introduced the concept of “gender budgeting" in budget for the year 2005-2006, acknowledging a persistent gender disparity. Women, who represent about half the nation’s population, lag behind men with regards to access to education, health care and other development indicators. About 96% of working women are engaged in the informal sector. The “Gender Budget" statement was intended to be a tool to more effectively address such inequalities, by showing, for the first time, how much various ministries and departments were spending on programmes aimed at addressing the development needs of women. According to the original road map for gender budgeting, such expenditures were to be reviewed, analysed, and adjusted in order to maximize overall effectiveness.

“Gender budget statement is very important," said Yamini Mishra, a gender responsive budget specialist with UN Women. “Before the gender budget statement was produced, there was no way to answer very basic questions of how much the government of India is spending on women."

For the 2010-2011 fiscal year, total expenditure listed under the gender budget was 78,251 crore, of which 20,549.4 crore was earmarked for programmes that exclusively benefit women and 57,702.7 crore for programmes in which women were at least 30% of the beneficiaries. That translates to nearly 1,200 per woman a year.

Some programmes in which women are the sole beneficiaries—such as Swadhar which provides aid to women in difficult circumstances; Swayam Siddha which aims to empower women; and a scheme to provide hostels for working women—have registered a decline in allocation compared with fiscal 2010-11.

The proposed expenditure allocated towards Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, a programme that provides funding for women self-help groups, and a scheme for rehabilitation of rape victims, were marginally increased.

Kumari said the government should allocate more money for programmes that address women’s basic needs. “When you look at underdevelopment indicators, the main issues that hit you in the face are the health of women, the education of girl children and livelihood of women," said Kumari. “The budget lacks sensitivity on all these issues."

But Mishra said it’s important not to fixate on the gender budget statement when measuring the budget’s overall impact on women.

“It’s very important to go beyond the gender budget statement to make policies and schemes better funded and more responsive to women’s needs," she said. “The revision of the angawadi workers is significant, but we should also complete the argument by saying that there are other things...that require attention if you really want to help women."