Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1 announced a one-time small saving scheme for women called Mahila Samman Saving Certificate, which will be available till March 2025.
On February 1st, 2023, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman began the Union Budget session by calling it the first budget of the Amrit Kaal, the blueprint for India@100 in 2047. With India’s economic growth estimated to be 7 percent in 2022-23, the Finance Minister’s budget speech emphasized that the government has made inclusive development one of its topmost priorities.
The Gender Budget has been a consistent part of the Union Budget since 2005-06 and has been recognized as one of the most streamlined and detailed GRB documents in Asia. The Gender Budget Statement (GBS), released as Statement 13 of the Expenditure Profile, presents the portion of budgetary expenditure earmarked by central ministries benefitting women across schemes. A charter on Gender Budget Cells (GBCs) to be set up across Government of India (GOI) ministries was issued in 2007, and detailed guidelines to establish GBCs at state level were issued in 2012-13.
So how did women fare in the first budget of the Amrit Kaal?
India’s gender budget allocation for 2023-24 stood at INR 2.23 lakh crores. To put this figure in context, this is about 4.9 percent of the overall budget expenditure. This is unsurprising, as the Gender Budget has ranged between 4 to 6 percent of the overall budget ever since the GBS began to be published in 2005-06.
Yet, on a more optimistic note, the allocations for the Gender Budget increased by 30 percent over the budgeted estimates of 2022-23 (INR 1.7 lakh crores). This increase was primarily driven by the Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 Yojana, a scheme to improve nutritional outcomes in children, adolescent girls, and pregnant women, whose allocation increased from INR 11,752 crores in 2022-23 to INR 15,005 crores in 2023-24. In addition, the Krishonnati Yojana, an umbrella scheme for agricultural development, was a new addition to the gender budget with an allocation of INR 2,120 crores.
New initiatives to encourage women’s financial empowerment were also announced, such as the launch of a new one-time small saving scheme for women, the Mahila Samman Saving Certificate, which will be available till March 2025 and will allow a deposit of up to INR 2 lakhs to be made in the name of a woman or a girl child for a maximum of a two-year period at a fixed interest rate of 7.5 percent.
Similarly, the Union Budget has also made provisions to assist self-help groups (SHGs) across the country under the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAY-NRLM), by providing them with raw material supply, marketing support, branding, etc. This can be particularly helpful considering the crucial role SHGs played in mobilizing and supporting women during the Covid-19 pandemic and can help encourage women’s labor force participation.
On the other hand, budget allocations increased only marginally for the entire Ministry of Women and Child Development, from INR 25,172 crores in 2022-23 to INR 25,448 crores in 2023-24. The allocations for Mission Shakti, which includes the ministry’s key schemes for social protection of women such as the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Shakti Sadan, Shakti Niwas, as well as Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana fell 1.2 percent, from INR 3,184 crores in 2022-23 to INR 3,144 crores (2023-24).
Moreover, the reduction in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) allocations from INR 89,400 crores (2022-23 RE) to INR 60,000 crores (2023-24) is also likely to impact women disrportionately, given that the women accounted for nearly 55 percent of person-days of employment in 2019-20 and 53 percent in 2020-21.
To fulfill India’s aspiration of moving from women’s development to women-led development, where women take the lead in building India’s $5-trillion economy, it is important that the overall budget, and concurrently, the gender budget is truly redistributive in its nature. Some of the key areas that may be considered for greater support include:
Greater Focus on Women’s Livelihoods: Governments can take the lead in supporting women’s livelihoods through employment schemes and increased human capital development support for women. This includes improving education access, technical and vocational training, entrepreneurship support, and preferential access to public sector jobs for women.
Utilizing Gender Disaggregated Data: To chart a development path which is truly inclusive of women, the central and state governments can integrate gender audits and gender-disaggregated data collection frameworks in the gender budgeting process. Gender audits of flagship programs can help accurately assess the impact of increase and decrease in allocations on women, aiding decision-making process. Gender-disaggregated data can be mainstreamed as an essential requirement across ministries to enable implementing agencies to take informed, data-backed decisions when it comes to gendered fiscal policy formulation.
Allocations for post-covid priority areas: Due to the disproportionated impact of Covid-19 on women, the United Nations highlighted several short-term priority areas requiring active public support such as social protection, prevention of domestic violence, skill training, public transport, digital literacy, and support for unpaid care work. Schemes relating to these priorities comprised just 1.21 percent of the Gender Budget Statement in 2023-24, a decrease from 1.66 percent in 2022-23. These areas should prioritized in gender budgets at both Central and State level to ensure the adverse impacts of Covid-19 do not halt the progress made on gender equality.
India stands as a leader in gender budgeting practices across the world. It’s gender budgets are transparent, accurate, and detailed. To make them truly transformational, its time to go beyond accounting, and apply a gender lens to policy formulation. This is especially important as the latest figures from World Bank paint a picture that could be of concern to many, as the women in workforce have fallen 5 percent in 2021, from what was the case in 2005. With women entering different industries, and leading by example, this statistic puts in a question about what is the real cause due to which retention of women in these industries is not as high as it was before. However, there is very less data on women in invisible workforce, which also contributes to a rather uncertain picture. Though, with more conversation and dialogue around women and the workforce, it will be imperative to see what changes are forthcoming as we move toward a post-covid world.
Research assistance: Dhwani Kumar
Peer review: Mannat Sharma