Since 189 United Nations member states adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Women’s Conference in 1995, the language of ‘gender mainstreaming’ has been adopted by many countries for shaping their public policy and programme priorities. In India, gender budgeting was enforced in 2004 with the recommendations of the Ashok Lahiri Committee, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has been the principal unit that overlooks the strategic management and execution of Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB).
This is perhaps the biggest example of gender mainstreaming anywhere in the world where the MWCD builds capacities, consolidates, and monitors gender investments across almost 60 ministries and government departments.
However, as we mark 15 years of GRB in India, we still find only around 5 percent of the public expenditure is reported for GRB. Also, most of the GRB expenditure is restricted to four ministries: rural development, education, health and MWCD. Even within the MWCD, more than 90 percent of the budget goes to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) — less than 10 percent resources are directly allocated for women’s schemes. Hence, we continue to not only ask questions about how much funding is being provided to gender equality, but also how much of it is being utilised to bring on-ground change?
Simply put, gender budgeting is looking at a budget from a gender lens. This does not mean having a separate budget for women. Rather, it means analysing the impact of a specific policy or programme from the differential impacts it may have on men and women, and then including these considerations into budgetary operations. For instance, it is not enough to just construct roads and highways and assume equitable access for all. A case in point is a recent study by Sakshamaa at C3 in Bihar which has pointed out the need to invest in urban policy solutions that integrate gendered mobility indicators to improve women’s public safety and encourage their participation in economic life.
RB and post-COVID-19 Recovery
We have seen how women frontline workers in health, child development, and sanitation services, as well as community institutions have played an important role in COVID-19 response. We have also seen the gendered nature of job loss, financial distress, food insecurity, precarity of informal jobs, women’s increased burden of unpaid care work, mental health concerns, and reports of gender-based violence (GBV). According to a government data, women’s share in new payroll additions fell below 20 percent in August, and the cases of domestic violence increased during the lockdown as per National Commission of Women’s records.
It is clear that gender-responsive investments in these areas can build a strong pathway to recovery and resilience. For instance, the government announced cash transfers, a total of $4.12 billion to Jan Dhan accounts of over 200 million women over three instalments. To help them tide through this important recovery phase, these benefits could be continued for another six months, and expanded to all Self-Help Group members.
The NREGA has been a saving grace for a large part of the rural population, and it must be ensured that women get a place and a voice in NREGA works. The law already mandates 100 days of guaranteed work on demand, and perhaps this could be extended to 200 days for the next two years at least. Women’s businesses — most of which are micro and nano-enterprises, run on their private capital, and have lost access to supply chains — will need their own ‘shot in the arm’ to help revive business, in the form of dedicated stimulus packages, expansion of current efforts (such as the SVaNidhi for street vendors), targeted public and private procurement quotas, and affirmative action in public employment.
Most importantly, the barriers to women’s equal participation in the economy and in public life need to be considered in policymaking and budgeting priorities, be it in the expansion of services for addressing gender-based violence (e.g. expansion of One Stop Crisis Centres) or ensuring infrastructure and services to ease their unpaid work (e.g. doorstep water supply, clean energy supply, etc.).
As the world gears up for the next crisis, women’s health and social wellbeing will also need to be give due attention — through strengthening more equitable health systems, ensuring easy access to essentials such as sanitary napkins and contraceptives, and ensuring that social norms do not regress.