Gender budgeting in India—A policy perspective

By Ablaz Mohammed Schemnad

Fiscal interventions should be strategically prioritised to address the developmental challenges associated with gender inequality. Gender responsive budgeting, commonly known as gender budgeting, serves to imbue fiscal allocations across different sectors with a gender-sensitive approach. It aims to raise awareness and redress the underrepresentation of disadvantaged genders within predominantly male-dominated societies. The process involves designing, implementing, and evaluating policies through a gender lens, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the welfare and development of women across all spheres of society.

This article endeavours to assess the infrastructure of gender budgeting in India, examining its current status at both the national and state levels, analysing the implementation of various schemes and welfare programmes aimed at narrowing gender disparities, and concludes with recommendations for their enhancement.

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India grapples with a substantial gender disparity affecting women across various spheres of life, including limited participation in mainstream social, political, and economic activities. Political representation in key forums remains sparse, exemplified by the presence of only 78 women MPs out of 545 in the 17th Lok Sabha post the 2019 General Elections, accounting for approximately 14% of the assembly. Similarly, employed women encounter challenges, often occupying lower rungs within the Indian economy. According to a study by the International Labour Organization, female participation rates decreased from 34.1% in 1999–2000 to 27.2% in 2011–12. Moreover, over 60% of women marry before the age of 25, and the proportion of illiteracy among women is nearly double that of men. India ranks among the lowest in the Gender Development Index released by the United Nations Development Programme and holds the 127th position out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report.

The Government of India has defined a gender responsive budget as one that recognizes and addresses the prevailing gender dynamics within society by allocating resources to implement policies and programmes aimed at achieving gender equity. India actively adopted a Gender-Responsive Budget in conjunction with the Union budget during the 2005–2006 Annual Budget, guided by its international commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1980, the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, and the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. The framework for gender budgeting is meticulously designed through a comprehensive study conducted by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, with the Ministry of Women and Child Developmentplaying a pivotal role as the nodal agency.

The allocation is divided into two distinct parts: Part A focuses on programmes specifically designed for women in the budget, with a 100% provision dedicated to women, while Part B addresses inherently women-specific programmes, allocating a minimum of 30% of the provision for women. Presently, 27 states and union territories in India have embraced gender budgeting. On average, gender budgeting constitutes 5% of the total budget, ranging between 3–6% since its inception.

Achieving gender-equal resource allocation and developmental schemes in a country like India, which has historically marginalised women in political and bureaucratic spheres for centuries, demands substantial policy impetus, particularly for marginalized sections. Throughout the years, various schemes and funds have been initiated through gender budgeting across different ministries and departments.

Noteworthy schemes with significant resource allocations from a gendered perspective include theNational Health Mission, National Rural Livelihood Mission, Integrated Child Development Scheme, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment GuaranteeAct, among others. MGNREGA, for instance, has demonstrated a positive impact on female labour force participation rates in India. Another successful example of gender budgeting is the UJWALLA Yojana, which has significantly improved the health and social status of Below Poverty Line women by providing cooking gas connections to them.

This initiative has been integrated with Swadhar Greh and renamed as “Shakti Sadan,” focusing on Integrated Relief and Rehabilitation Homes. Given the critical concern regarding the safety and security of women in India, Mission Shakti aims to enhance interventions for women’s safety, security, and empowerment. It comprises two sub-schemes: Sambal and Samarthya, focusing on safety and security, and empowerment, respectively.

India should actively solicit the participation of various stakeholders, including NGOs, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens, in its gender responsive budgeting, moving beyond governmental restrictions. Inclusivity in both the design and implementation phases will significantly enhance inclusivity in the overall outcomes. The scope of gender responsive budgeting should extend beyond welfare programmes and schemes categorized under the “social sector” and encompass the economic sector and financial allocations as well. In a paper titled “Gender-Responsive Budgeting: A Task Ahead for India’s 15 Finance Commission,” Shalini Rudra contends that integrating gender-sensitive fiscal policies with intergovernmental fiscal transfer mechanisms through the Finance Commission, rather than solely relying on government-led public expenditures, is crucial. Furthermore, encouraging the private sector to embrace gender responsive budgeting is essential. The gap between budgetary allocations and outcomes, resulting from underutilisation of allocated funds, must be addressed through a rigorous examination by public policy think tanks such as NITI Aayog.

India’s gender responsive budgeting primarily focuses on government-managed public expenditure, unlike other countries such as South Africa, where there is greater involvement from multiple stakeholders, and countries like Israel, Uganda, UK, and Tanzania, where civil society and NGOs play a significant role. The process of quantifying each component of fiscal expenditure along gender lines necessitates concrete segregated data, which India currently lacks. Gender-sensitive budgeting not only enables the government to address major externalities that are overlooked by market mechanisms but also enhances transparency in economic governance, raises awareness about the gender impact of policies, and holds the government accountable for its commitment to gender equality. Overcoming the challenges and shortcomings in resource allocation under gender budgeting is imperative for achieving a gender-equitable society. Measures must be implemented to address these challenges and ensure the effective realization of gender equality objectives.

Ablaz Mohammed Schemnad is a Research Associate at the Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP). He has a master’s in development studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad.

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