Gender Budget: Kerala Leads the Way, The Centre Should Follow
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
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
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.
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.
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