Union Budget 2023: Women’s Welfare Is Mere Lip Service

Union budget 2023 was tabled in the parliament and as always seems to have ignored the margins: women, children, dalits, tribals, queer and disabled people.

The Union budget 2023 was tabled yesterday in the parliament and as always seems to have ignored the margins – women and children and the margins within these margins: Dalit women and children, tribal women and children, women and children with disabilities, Queer women and the reproductive and mental health challenges of these groups.

Gender inequality remains one of the most acute roadblocks to the country’s overall development, and yet the nuanced approach and gender budgeting it needs sadly seems to be missing in the current budget too.

What is gender budgeting and why is it needed

In India, gender budgeting was first introduced in 2001. Two years later, the Central Government suggested that all ministries and departments must include a specific section on gender issues in all their annual reports.

Gender budgeting, simply put, is a tool aimed at achieving gender mainstreaming in order to ensure that women receive the benefits of development equally. Now, the government publishes an annual Gender Budget Statement (GBS) with the Union Budget every year.

GBS allows ministries and/or departments to review their programs and schemes from a gender perspective, and as a result present information on allocations specific for women.

The Ministry of Women & Child Development defines it as “an ongoing process of keeping a gender perspective in policy/programme formulation, its implementation and review”.

Unfortunately, there are no children specific budgeting as they are considered to be financially dependents on adults or the state.

Covid-19 and gender budgeting

It has been reiterated now by several research papers and articles that socially and financially the worse affected group in the pandemic were women. Unfortunately, post-pandemic gender budgeting stands no different than the form it was in earlier – deficit. Covid-19 affected women worse than men due to economic distress, increased social discrimination, rising human rights violations, and lack of correct information.

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The current budget also fails to acknowledge that millions of girls were literally pushed out of the education system due to the digital gap during the lockdowns and how the right to education for all has suffered where the large number of worse sufferers would be girls and women.

Lekha Chakraborty in her paper titled “Covid-19 and Gender Budgeting: Applying a “gender lens” to Union Budget in India” states that the overall gender budgeting constitutes only around 5% of the total budget and has surprisingly not risen even by a margin and has remained almost constant since 2005-06.

The fate of government schemes for “empowerment”

In 2021 a Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women made shocking revelations that a major part of the funds almost 80% of the ambitious scheme “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” were used only for advertisements.

Chakraborty’s paper mentioned above also highlights that other ambitious funds, like the Nirbhaya fund that was set up a decade ago in 2013 with the aim of implementation of initiatives aimed at enhancing the safety and security for women in the country, unfortunately remains largely unused or misused.

The fund proposes to improve women’s security in large cities through surveillance, crime-mapping, smart lighting and better access to law enforcement. But other key components such as community outreach, sanitation facilities for women, safe public spaces for women, improving accessibility of services for women with disabilities has literally no specific resource distribution.

Thus, a lot of big schemes remain only lip service and don’t achieve what they were aimed at even after a decade.

Women’s welfare is mere lip service in the budget, here’s why

“Women’s welfare” is still largely steeped in gender clichés like maternity and child care support schemes, preventing violence against women, or monetary investment or benefits directly/indirectly linked to money for marriage of girls and women.

Like the latest proposal for the ‘Mahila Samman Saving Certificate’ in the Union Budget 2023 with a fixed interest rate of 7.5 per cent for two years, without probably mapping how many girls or women even have the money to invest!

There are no allocations to create jobs for women, facilitate women run businesses and companies, or create safer and more conducive workplace environments for women by creating facilities such as child care support in workplaces, provisions for menstruation leave and special provisions for working women with disabilities. Areas like digital literacy and skill training for women gets no attentions from the finance minister.

Mental health which comes under the larger umbrella of health budget often gets minimal allocations as has been the case this time too, and in mental health institutions as well as mental health support women remain the most underprivileged lot.

A few other allocations like reduced allocation for the Minority Affairs Ministry as compared with the last fiscal affects the women of the minority communities much worse than it affects the men. There is also severe lack of gender disaggregated data in order to determine who is ultimately benefitting from government schemes meant primarily for women.

Way forward

Women make up half the population, and with children counted under the same umbrella, an even bigger percentage of our considerable population.

It is sad that even today in 2023 our budget seems to lack innovative thinking when it comes to making it more women-friendly. The way forward would be focus on issues like micro-credit for women, incentives for entrepreneurship among women, recognizing the other intersections like caste and disability when making economic policies for women is crucial.

Women can no longer be seen only as the birth givers, caregivers and passive dependent citizens; a contemporary budget needs to evaluate them as equal stakeholders in the economy and policymaking.

Image source: Screengrab from DD News, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Pooja Priyamvada

Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...

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