The central budget in any developing country is expected to support women and, more importantly, address and reduce the ever-increasing gender inequalities. Gender inequality often reflects in the comparatively low educational participation, low wages and salaries, lower access to wealth and resources for females than males.
The 2018 UNDP Gender Inequality Index ranked India at 122 out of 162 countries, quite far behind Norway, which topped the list, but also far behind its Asian neighbours including China (ranked 39), Sri Lanka (86), Bhutan (99) and Myanmar (106). This index takes into account health, political empowerment and women’s participation in the labour market of their countries. The findings suggest that India lags behind in all three aspects, a further reflection of the unequal situations for women at work and elsewhere in society.
Therefore, when the 2020 gender budget document was made public by the government there were already many expectations. However, the budget allocations have failed to address the patriarchal structure of Indian society which is the reason for gender inequality. Therefore, the responses needed to mitigate the crisis have not been put in place.
The budget for the state of Kerala has addressed a few important issues that could help mitigate the unequal access to resources, but it is a lot smaller in scale than the national budget. In this article, we point out two issues that mar the Centre’s gender budget, 2020, compared with the progressive approach of Kerala in this year. The Kerala budget document provides guidelines to understand how it seeks to address and resolve gender unequal outcomes.
Tokenism in allocation: keeping gender away
The size of the allocation in the gender budget, 2020, is less than 5% of the total budgetary allocation in India. This is mere tokenism after 15 years of presenting gender budgets and it reveals the lack of political will at the Centre. On the other hand Kerala, with much fewer resources than the Centre, has allocated 18.4% of their total budget to the state gender budget. The so-called “three pillars” that Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced—economic development, fulfilling aspirations, and creating a “caring society”—sound ideal on the surface but once disaggregated, the claims turn out to be, at best, fallacious.
Gender budgeting statement allocations are usually reported in two parts: from the reporting of ministries and from the public expenditure amount earmarked for a year. These two parts comprise (a) programmes with 100% provision for women in Part A of the GBS and (b) between 30% and 99% provision for women in Part B of the GBS.
In India, during 2020-21, Part A is only Rs.28,568 crores, which is 19% of the total gender budget allocation. Therefore it is only 19% of the total budget allocation which is solely meant to go into programmes for women. The rest of the allocations in GBS, around Rs.1.14 lakh crores, comes from schemes announced in Part B, that is, by different ministries. The larger problem here is the lack of participation of ministries: only 18 departments and ministries have reported allocations in GBS, and most (one-third) of the allocations are from the ministries of Rural Development and Women and Child Development.
To understand and address the existing gender inequalities through budget policies, it is of utmost importance that all central ministries and departments “compulsorily” incorporate a gender outlook while making allocations. Second, as Aasha Kapur Mehta, head of the Centre for Gender Studies at the Institute for Human Development, demonstrates, schemes announced by the ministry of rural development (comprising 75% of the total allocation), are not at all women-centric. The allocations of the ministry in Part A of the GBS includes those meant for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme, which is neither a 100% provision for women, nor does it cater to women in general.
Besides, these policies suffer from unutilised funds. For example, the total unspent balance with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the Revised Estimates of 2019–20 was Rs.667 crore. The tokenism we see associated with the GBS is a result of such a sheer lack of political will to view development from a gender perspective.
Need for recognition as workers: not reinstating unpaid work
The gender budget in Kerala differs in one specific aspect from the Centre’s. It recognises the need to emphasise on women as workers; in the information technology sector, through the Startup Mission, including a new programme Kerala Women in Startups and in the non-IT sector as well, innovation acceleration schemes of the KSIDC are included. In Kerala’s budget Rs.12 crore has been allotted to the Industries Department, which includes the Small Industries Entrepreneur Support scheme. Also, Rs.2 crore has been allotted for women-led enterprises in multi-storey industrial estates etc.
These differences arise entirely from the ideological position of the state of Kerala vis a vis the Centre—how both view the role of women and their rights in a future society are clearly distinguished by how differently they treat gender budgeting. It is important to observe that most of the references to women in the Union Budget are in a section titled “caring society,” under a subheading called women and child, and social welfare (Scheduled Castes and Divyang). Thus Budget 2020-21 limits the rights of women and girls to the whims of a “caring society”, effectively losing ground gained through decades of struggle by women’s movements. It is through struggle that women’s agency as workers was duly recognised in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, which promised inclusive growth and accepted that structural changes in the economy were having an “adverse effect” on women. Now the Union Budget is returning to voluntarisation of women’s work, by reinstating “care” as a gendered responsibility.
This demonstrates how patriarchal norms are made to echo within policy documents in India and how that impacts real women doing real work. For instance, the front-line care workers—ASHA and Anganwadi workers—remain “volunteers” without job security or regular wages in the country and are not even recognised as workers. The central government has once again bypassed its responsibility to take care work into account as regular paid work, so as to resolve the long standing question of declining employment opportunities for women, which shows up in the steady decline of the labour force participation rate for women.
An illustration of recognising women as workers is again found in the Kerala document. A large infrastructure project envisaged for women in 2020-21 is the International Women’s Trade Centre (IWTC), which is to be set up at the Kozhikode campus of the Gender Park (under Women and Child Development). Within its Rs.200 crore allocation, an additional special livelihood restoration package of Rs.250 crore has also been announced. “Caring” without the expected salaries, or “caring” as unpaid volunteer work has already imposed a huge burden on women in India. Therefore, just to provide a smartphone to an Anganwadi worker, while keeping her job security at bay, or keeping her payments in a piece wage system, cannot signal any betterment in her status as a worker.
The central GBS should have addressed the unequal burden women carry and provided paid work, which states like Kerala have recognised for long. The GBS is sheer tokenism and reinstates the patriarchal burden of care work to women, while keeping them underpaid and in unsecured jobs. These measures would not help the country achieve a gender-equal society in the foreseeable future.
The author is a postgraduate student at the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Hyderabad. The views are personal.