Budget 2023: Here’s all you need to know about gender budgeting in India
In her maiden speech as the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman informed that ‘Naari tu Narayani’ is our country’s tradition and a committee with the same name has been formed to ensure optimal allocations of resources for the welfare of women. Before the next budget here’s how far India has come when it comes to gender budgeting.
What is gender budgeting?
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) defines gender budgeting as a tool to achieve gender mainstreaming so as to ensure that the benefits of development reach women as much as men. The government publishes a Gender Budget Statement (GBS) every year along with the Union Budget. GBS is a reporting mechanism for ministries or departments to review their programmes from a gender perspective and present information on allocations for women.
As such, it is not a separate accounting exercise but “an ongoing process of keeping a gender perspective in policy/programme formulation, its implementation and review”, according to the MoWCD.
So, the exercise of gender Budgeting entails the dissection of the government budgets to establish its gender differential impacts and to ensure that gender commitments are translated into budgetary commitments.
1) Quantum of gender budgeting and fiscal marksmanship
The first and most prominent challenge to gender-responsive budgeting in India is that the quantum of India’s gender Budget remains in the range of 4 per cent – 6 per cent of the total expenditure and less than 1 per cent of its GDP.
Data analysis by Nikore Associates shows that the budgeted expenditure for 2020-21 was the only exception when emergency spending on Covid-19 social protection schemes, like the Jan Dhan Yojana and Ujjwala Yojana drove the gender Budget to 1.06 per cent of GDP. However, the actual expenditure was only 0.77 per cent of the GDP.
Source: Union Budget Statements, 2005-06 to 2022-23 ( compiled by Nikore Associates)
Lekha Chakraborty, in her NIPFP paper analysing the Union Budget 2021-22 explains that fiscal marksmanship is the accuracy of budgetary forecasting. “It can be a crucial information about how the fiscal agents form expectations. The significant variations between actual revenue and expenditure from the forecasted budgetary magnitudes could be indicative of non-optimization or non-attainment of set objectives of fiscal policy,” she writes.
Chakraborty analysing the Union Budget 2021-22 through a “gender lens” to understand the intensity of gender in the budgetary allocations, concludes that “higher budgetary allocations per se do not ensure higher spending.”
For example: In her paper, she highlights that “the department of police allocates Rs1,000 crores under Nirbhaya Funds in Budgeted Estimates (BE) 2020-21. However, in the Revised Estimates (RE) for 2020-21 it was only Rs 10 crores.
2) Concentrated in 5 key ministries
Economist Mitali Nikore, who has advised Aisan Development Bank, UN Women and the World Bank told Business Standard that around 90 per cent of gender budgeting is concentrated in five ministries. When it comes to livelihood, MGNREGA is the biggest scheme in gender budgeting that focuses on livelihood. Other areas that also need attention like transportation, water collection and water security remain ignored.
“Jal Jeevan Mission does not have a gender budget even though water security impacts the women most.
No focus on safe cities. MSME ministry hardly has a gender budget.”
A closer look at the government data shows that between 2005-06 and 2019-20, India’s gender Budget remained concentrated in five key Ministries and Departments: Rural Development, Women and Child Development, Agriculture, Health and Family Welfare, and Education.
Since 2020-21, the increase in allocations for Prime Minister Awas Yojana (Urban) resulted in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs superseding the Ministry of Agriculture in the top five ministries. This trend continued in 2022-23 with the 5 ministries forming 91.3 per cent of the GBS. Moreover, the top 10 schemes which constituted about 75-85 per cent of the gender Budget between 2018-19 and 2021-22, were allocated 79.1 per cent of the 2022-23 GBS.
Source: Union Budget Statements, 2005-06 to 2022-23 (compiled by Nikore Associates)
3) Post-Covid-19 approach:
Nikore further said that last Budget failed to address critical areas highlighted by pandemic in 2021-22 and 2022-23, despite the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women.
Notably, the gender Budget remained 4.41 per cent and 4.33 per cent of the total budgetary expenditure and 0.72 per cent and 0.66 per cent of GDP in the years 2021-22 to 2022-23 respectively.
Highlighting the lack of focus on spending on issues that proved critical during the pandemic, Nikore says that core areas like digital literacy, public transport, prevention of domestic violence and skill training are still to be ignored.
For example, a small allocation of Rs 120 crore was made for rural digital literacy under the PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan in FY22, which declined by 17 per cent to Rs 100 crore in FY23.
Applying a gender lens to Budget
Time and again, experts have made suggestions to design government schemes through a gender lens.
“Nobody is saying that make exclusive schemes, but include a gender perspective to government schemes uniformly.
Govt officials follow directives and established practices. There is a lack of innovation in thinking. The biggest challenge that we face is that we do not track gender disaggregated data to determine who is benefitting from government schemes”, Nikore explains.
Lack of gender disaggregated data
Gender disaggregated data helps demonstrate how different genders benefited from government schemes on ground. For example, data on how many women benefitted from MNREGA in a financial year would help track outcome and identify problem areas, which may or may not vary across constituency.
Chakraborty, in another World Bank case study on gender responsive budgeting in India has also highlighted how gender disaggregated benefit incidence analysis can be a useful tool for analysing the distributional impacts of public expenditure across gender.
Nikore who has studied gender budgeting across many countries, says that while India fares better than others in terms of having a transparent policy, it still has a long way to go.
“The idea behind gender budgeting is not to get a separate budget but to create a platform for gender justice,” she says.
Emphasising that gender is a spectrum, Nikore calls for gender disaggregated data as it would not only help women but also other genders.
“The goal of gender budgeting should be tracking government spending and ensuring all genders are covered as beneficiaries”, she adds.
Speaking on the need for decentralisation and empowering officials at district level and panchayat level who deal with ground realities on a day-to-day basis, Nikore explains that they are more aware of the needs of their constituencies and thus in a better position to implement and deliver policies.
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