Union budget 2014-15 offers up old and new schemes but fails to address macro-economic and social causes of exploitation and subordination of women
By Vibhuti Patel
The Union Budget 2014-15 will largely benefit the middle class, and offer comfort to middle and upper class women as consumers. Poor women will be crushed by the macro-economic policies that will fuel inflation, land alienation and higher fees for education and health facilities. This time even women’s groups have not raised their voice against gender non-inclusive aspects of the Union Budget.
After the terms Gender Budgeting and Gender Mainstreaming were officially introduced in 2004 by the UPA government, many State Governments like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have adopted Gender Budgeting. Gender Budget Cells were designed to serve as focal points for coordinating gender budgeting initiatives within their Ministries and across departments.
Fifty six Ministries/Department have confirmed setting up of a cell/nominating a nodal person. This could materialize because the previous government’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, in collaboration with UN Women, had developed a Manual and Handbook for Gender Budget Cells for Central Ministries and Departments. The current Union Budget of 2014-15 has seen the Gender Budget Cells play a major role in budgetary allocations.
What is gender budgeting?
Gender Budgeting does not relate to a separate budget for women but involves comparative analysis and construction of general budgets from a gender perspective. It helps governments to decide how policies need to be made, adjusted and reprioritized. It is a tool for effective policy implementation where one can check if gender commitments are translated into financial commitments.
The Gender Budget Initiative is a policy framework, methodology and set of tools to assist governments to integrate a gender perspective into the budget as the main national plan of public expenditure. It also aims to facilitate attention to gender analysis in review of macroeconomic performance, ministerial budget preparations, parliamentary debate and mainstream media coverage. The Budget impacts women’s lives in several ways. It directly promotes women’s development through allocation of budgetary funds for women’s programmes or reduces opportunities for empowerment of women through budgetary cuts.
The Union Budget 2014-15 has retained all schemes for empowerment of women and girls of the last decade under the Women & Child Development with Rs 18691 crores allocated for Integrated Child Development Services, Rs. 715 crores for National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) and Rs. 400 crores for Integrated Child Protection Scheme. A new scheme was also launched– ‘Beti bachao Beti padhao’ with Rs 100 crore.
The schemes can be classified into 4 categories:
1: Protective Services:
These include allocations on women’s homes and care institutions, rehabilitation schemes for victims of atrocities, pensions for widows and destitute women, which are aimed at mitigating the consequences of women’s social and economic subordination, rather than addressing the root causes of this subordination.
For example Sabla, Swadhar-scheme for women in Difficult Circumstances, Ujjawala Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of Trafficking and, Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration of Victims of Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Scheme of Short Stay Homes for Women and Girls, Scheme for welfare of Working Children in need of Care and Protection.
2: Social Services:
These include schemes for education and health of women, support services like crèche and hostels and also water supply, sanitation, and schemes on fuel and fodder, which contribute significantly to women’s empowerment, either directly by building their capacities and ensuring their material well-being, or indirectly through reducing domestic drudgery.
For example, the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), General Grant-in-aid (GIA) Scheme for Assistance to Voluntary Organisations in the field of Women and Child Development, General Grant-in-Aid Scheme in the field of Women and Child Development, Family Counseling Centre Scheme, Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme For the Children of Working Mothers, Nutrition Education and Training though Community Food & Nutrition Extension Units(CFNEUS), Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSY), Nutrition Programme for Adolescent Girls (NPAG)
A sum of Rs.100 crores is provided for “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana”, a focused scheme to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of welfare services for women. This is the first year of the scheme, if funds of Rs. 100 crore are utilized by the state, we can pressure the government to allocate more funds.
New small savings scheme: A special small savings instrument to cater to the requirements of education and marriage of the girl child is to be introduced. This would be in line with schemes like Kisan Vikas Patra or National Savings Certificate.
The budget promises drinking water and sanitation. Government would strive to provide toilets and drinking water in all the girls’ schools in the first phase.
The budget also promises that school curriculum will include gender mainstreaming. Gender Mainstreaming is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.
3: Economic services:
These include schemes for training and skill development, and provision for credit, infrastructure, marketing etc. which are critical to women’s economic independence and autonomy. For example, the STEP Support for Training and Empowerment of Girls, General Grant-in-Aid Scheme for innovative projects, working women’s hostels.
The Union Budget 2014-15 has promised easy loan terms where the government will offer concessional loans to women in rural India at 4% in some districts and 7% in others for women self help groups under a scheme called Ajeevika.
4: Regulatory services:
These include institutional mechanisms for women’s empowerment, such as State Commissions for Women, Women’s Cells in Police Stations, awareness generation programmes, which provide institutional spaces and opportunities for women’s empowerment.
For example International Women’s Day – Stree Shakti Puraskar, Childline Services, Grant-in-Aid for Research, Publication and Monitoring.
An outlay of Rs. 50 crores has been allocated in the current budget for pilot testing a scheme on “Safety for Women on Public Road Transport”. The Union Budget 2014-15 also allocates a sum of Rs. 150 crores on a scheme to increase the safety of women in large cities. Budgetary provision is also made from Nirbhaya Fund for “Crisis Management Centres” in all the districts of NCT of Delhi in government and private hospitals.
After the nationwide outcry following on the brutal gang rape of a young physiotherapist in Delhi in December, 2012, safety of women gained prime importance in public discourse. As a result, the previous government was forced to announce a Nirbhaya (the name by which the rape victim was referred to) Fund of Rs. 1000 crores in The Union Budget 2013-14.
However the past record of this outlay is abysmally poor. Official admission of 500% rise in reporting of rape cases has not galvanized governance structures to ensure speedy justice to the victims of sexual violence. The Nirbhaya fund is not used for preventive measures such as construction of night shelters for women, Information desks for women at railway/bus stations and help-lines connected nation-wide, one-stop crisis centers in the public hospitals and half way homes for elderly women along with pension (Rs. 1000 from central and Rs. 1000 from state government per single woman) safe public toilets for women, safe public transport, safety on roads, bus stations, railway platforms and trains.
Nor does it address public education campaigns about new laws such as Amendments in the Indian Evidence Act, Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013, and Protection of Children from Sexual Offense Act, 2012.
Women in Science and Technology
Budgetary allocation of Rs.53 crores under ‘Disha Programme for Women in Science’ to increase the representation of women and girls in science and technology fields through conferences, training programmes, networking platforms and to enhance its activities with regard to education, training and empowerment of women.
Women entrepreneurs however had expected an offer of soft loans and subsidies with financial institutions providing more working capital assistance. They felt that the budget should look at policies that will make micro credit systems and enterprise credit systems available to women entrepreneurs at all levels and help organise training programmes to develop professional competencies in technical, managerial, leadership, marketing, financial, production process and other skills.
The Union budget 2014-15 does not offer any relief to women tax payers. On the contrary, the Finance Minister’s budget announcement had nothing specific for women.
The middle class will be happy with the increase in personal income tax limit from 2 lakhs to 2.5 lakhs. Senior citizens’ Income tax exemption limit has now been raised from 2.5 lakhs to Rs 3 lakh. The Investment limit under Section 80C has also been hiked to Rs 1.5 lakh from the current Rs 1 lakh, while the FM increased housing loan interest rate deduction limit to Rs 2 Lakh and the PPF (Public Provident Fund) deposit ceiling is raised to Rs 1.5 lakh per annum from the existing Rs 1 lakh.
Right to Pee:
A great improvement in women’s lives can be made by the provision of easily accessible, safe and clean toilet facilities. Massive allocation from budget on sanitation must be earmarked for toilets in public places for women and girls in Indian cities as they travel long distance for work and education. Working women need functioning toilets at railway stations and bus stations. Women homemakers have to attend social functions, visit market places, take children to gardens and hospitals. Women from both, slums and non-slum background need public toilets. Similarly in rural areas women need toilet facilities, so they don’t have to use the fields in the cover of darkness.
In general, the union budget needs a clearer commitment to the female workers as only financial clarity and commitment will bring responsive outcomes.