Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

How much does the Indian government spend on women?

Despite the annual promise to improve women’s welfare, India’s gender budget remains skewed and ineffective

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI : From Palaniappan Chidambaram to Nirmala Sitharaman, for 15 years India’s finance ministers have promised to improve women’s welfare through higher and more focused government spending. This type of gender budgeting, which applies a gender lens to expenditure and prioritizes gender-specific outcomes, has emerged as a popular way for governments across the world to empower women and improve gender equality. According to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate for 2016, at least 80 countries practised gender budgeting. This list includes India, where gender budgets were launched in FY06 with the hope of tackling stark gender inequality.

The reality of gender budgeting belies hopes with which it was introduced, suggests data. For a start, the amount allocated towards women’s welfare has stagnated in recent years. In FY06, when gender budgets were introduced as a separate section of the Union budget, 4.8% of total spending was allocated for women-related schemes. This rose to around 5.5% of total spending in FY09, but has stagnated since then.

The government estimates these figures by adding all the spending on women-related schemes. This comprises spending on schemes that only target women (Part A), such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, and Part B schemes, which partially target women (where at least 30% of the scheme’s benefits go to women). Between the two, Part B schemes, such as the Mid-Day Meal programme, dominates (around 80% of the gender budget in FY20).

But even schemes classified as 100% women-specific are not really. For instance, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) has been classified as a 100% women-specific programme. As a result, the 19,500 crore PMAY outlay accounts for two-thirds of the Part A component and 13% of the entire gender budget. While women would benefit from better housing, it is unclear why it’s considered a women-specific scheme.

“Ideally the house should be in the woman’s name and it was thus included as a 100% women- centric scheme, but in reality this does not happen," said Avani Kapur, director at Accountability Initiative. “We saw how it’s inclusion inflated the allocation (in the gender budget) but not much has been done in tracking its outcomes."

While spending under Part B is more diverse, it is mostly limited to the ministries of education, health, rural development, and women and child development. For FY21, these four ministries account for more than 75% of spending on Part B, and 68% of overall gender spending. While these ministries directly affect women’s welfare, there is little data on precisely how much women will benefit.

Despite 56 gender budgeting cells across ministries mandated to track spending towards women, publicly available disaggregated data on gender spending remains limited. There is little understanding of how gender-based challenges are being addressed and how the spending translates to gender-based outcomes.

“Gender budget is a fiscal innovation," said Lekha Chakraborty, professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “But to translate it into better gender outcomes requires coordinated efforts through institutionalising structures, building state capacity and accountability by CAG audits. The gender budget methodology should also be upgraded to incorporate a public expenditure benefit analysis."

One reason for the lack of concerted action on gender spending could be political will. India’s decision-makers—both members of Parliament and ministers—are overwhelmingly male, even after improvements in recent years. Currently, only 10% of all ministers are women. Only 14% of current Lok Sabha members are women.

Gender inequality remains rife in other aspects of Indian life. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, gender equality in India is among the worst in the world. Across measures of women’s economic participation, education, health and political empowerment, it ranked 112th out of 153 nations.

India was ranked 112th out of the 153 nations across different measures.
India was ranked 112th out of the 153 nations across different measures.

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Better-implemented gender budgeting could address these inequalities. A 2016 IMF study found gender budgeting at state-level was associated with better primary school enrolment. The study argued that better outcomes also require well-designed gender programmes.

“Gender budgeting in India is often done as an accounting exercise, post-facto, rather than actually thinking through and designing women-centric schemes and tracking their outcomes," said Kapur of Accountability Initiative.

This is the fifth of a 10-part series on Budget 2020.

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