NEW DELHI : Aiming to design a roadmap for women empowerment and their increased participation in the Indian economy through gender budgeting, Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, offered sops focused on women while presenting her maiden budget in Parliament on Friday.

The minister said that the government has supported and encouraged women entrepreneurship through various schemes such as MUDRA, Stand up India and the Self Help Groups (SHG) movement. In order to further encourage women enterprise, the budget has a proposal to expand the Women SHG interest subvention programme to all districts, Sitharaman said.

“Every verified woman SHG member having a Jan Dhan Bank Account will be allowed an overdraft of Rs.5,000. One woman in every SHG will also be eligible for a loan of up to Rs. 1 lakh under the MUDRA Scheme. Seventy per cent of beneficiaries under MUDRA scheme are women," she said.

Quoting Swami Vivekananda’s letter to Swami Ramakrishna in which he had said that “there is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved", it is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing, Sitharaman said, India can make progress with greater women’s participation in its growth story. “The role of women is a very sweet story in India’s growth, particularly in the rural economy. The government wishes to encourage and facilitate the role of women in India’s growth story," Sitharaman said.

The Finance Minister proposed to form a broad-based Committee with Government and private stakeholders to evaluate and suggest action for moving forward. “Gender analysis of the budget aimed at examining the budgetary allocation through a gender lens has been in place for over a decade," said Sitharaman.

Sitharaman went on to say that two mega initiatives of Ujjwala Yojana and Saubhagya Yojana have transformed the lives of women in every rural family and dramatically improved their ease of living.

Household access to clean cooking gas has seen an unprecedented expansion, through provision of more than 7 crore LPG connections.

All villages, and almost 100% of households across the country, have been provided with electricity. A combination of efficient implementation and enthusiastic adoption has significantly improved access to energy for rural households, the Finance Minister added. “By 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence, every rural family, except those who are unwilling to take the connection, will have electricity and a clean cooking facility," she said.

There is a proposal to increase the budgetary allocation for Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to 27,584 crore in 2019-20 from 23,357 crore in 2018-19. ICDS is a government programme in India which provides food, preschool education, primary healthcare, immunization, health check-up and referral services to children under 6 years of age and their mothers.

Women experts have, however, pointed out that in terms of gender budgeting for women and children budgets allocated by the central government for the implementation of laws and schemes benefiting women and children continue to be low and inadequate.

“Further, the budgets allocated are often not utilized and the same gets spent on other projects. Women's empowerment is not a priority in most state budgets either. For example, the budget for implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is low across all states in India," said Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research.

“In order to ensure gender justice, all policies should be allocated with adequate budget and implementation should be undertaken strictly. Issues like eradicating maternal mortality, infant child mortality should be the highest priority," said Kumari.

Kumari highlighted that 63.5% of girl students quit school during adolescence and increase in employment for educated women is very high, currently only 27% of women are employed in the age group of 25 to 55, a large population of educated women are unemployed for reasons of non-availability of jobs, and investment in job-oriented skill is lacking.


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