Women seek fair deal

The Union Budget 2011 will be presented in Parliament today. Naturally an important day for every citizen of our country, whose life will be directly impacted by the schemes and taxes and proposals in the Budget. There can be no doubt, however, that the most severely impacted in every section of society, notwithstanding class,

creed and income, will be women. It has been calculated — and this is stark reality — that until now, per capita allocation for women’s schemes is 6.1 per cent of the total Budget, which works out to `1,200 per woman, per annum, which, according to a striking account, is not even enough to feed one woman for one month, leave alone feed her or sustain her for 12 months.
The gender budgeting statement (GBS) analysis has been released by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) and according to this analysis the per capita allocation for women increased from `410 in 2007-2008 to `1,000 in 2009-2010 and to `1,200 in 2011. This data, of course, relates only to wholly women-oriented schemes and does not take into account other general schemes where women benefit directly as citizens, not as women per se.
CBGA has also raised some very important issues, the most striking of which is the proposition that the discussion in regard to gender budgeting should move on from the standard demand for more funds and allocation to a holistic consideration of how gender responsive all schemes are. After all, if the concept of a social security net and economic inclusion of women is to be translated into reality, the government’s primary consideration in this regard should be to assess the gender impact of all schemes and reshape implementation accordingly. To quote Subrat Das: “To assume that the cost of bringing and retaining a girl child in school is the same as for a boy child is being gender blind.”
The above statement is in a sense at the heart of the issue. The girl child in our country is no ordinary person. In every rural and many urban homes, she assumes great responsibility at a very young age and begins to cook, clean and take care of her younger siblings, while her mother goes out to the fields to work. When she is a little older, she goes out to work along with her mother, whether in the fields or as domestic labour or in a garment factory, while her brother is probably being sent to school. All this is done by custom and nobody thinks that anything is at all remarkable in this, but the fact of the matter is that young girls in our country are being deprived arbitrarily of their childhood, their right to education and their right to a secure future by social customs and a hierarchy that is unashamedly patriarchal in nature. Any attempt to change the hierarchy is naturally met with great resistance by village elders who do not ever want to disturb a domestic balance of power where women and young girls function as captive labour by the diktat of a male-oriented society and by social fiat are deprived of their most basic constitutional rights.
Obviously, therefore, the economic cost of getting a girl to school will be far greater and very different from the cost of getting a boy into school and the government will have to factor this into calculations, if the Right to Education is to be implemented without gender bias.
The saga of constitutionally-guaranteed liberties and laws in favour of women, which gather dust on the shelf, are too well known to be repeated here. The Budget is a crucial time when women as a group have to be adequately provided for, if we are to call ourselves a gender sensitive society.
It is a matter of great satisfaction to all of us that it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which first introduced the practice of including a GBS along with the main Budget document. This statement shows the total allocation for both women specific schemes as well as the allocation for general schemes, which have a 30 per cent women component plan.
In 2005-06, 10 ministries of the government prepared gender budget statements and the total allocation for women amounted to 2.8 per cent of government expenditure. In 2006-07, 18 ministries released gender budget statements and allocations increased to 5.1 per cent of the total expenditure. Today, the amount stagnates at 5.3 per cent of the total. It is to be sincerely hoped that the finance minister will take very seriously the representations made by women all over the country and increase allocation made for women specific schemes. Further the funds allocated for children should not be shown as allocation for women. Children are the concern of the entire nation and it would be unfair to both children and women to always put them in a category with expenditure incurred on schemes for women.
It is an axiomatic reality that the bedrock of good governance lies in gender mainstreaming and gender responsive Budgets and welfare schemes. It is equally true that this cannot possibly be achieved, unless government collates very seriously gender specific, disaggregated data so that information regarding how much money allocated to women actually reaches the beneficiaries it is intended for. Therefore, if gender budgeting is to be sincerely implemented, the most important requirement is the collection of gender-specific and disaggregated data. It should also be mandatory for every single ministry of the Government of India to prepare and release its gender budget statement along with the general budget.
Women groups have made very specific and urgent requests to the finance minister for this year’s Budget. First that there should be adequate allocation to provide infrastructure to implement the Protection Of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Second, that a high-level task force should be appointed to review the working of micro-finance institutions and women self-help groups, which have run into stormy waters in recent times. Third, that there should be allocation to set up a national taskforce to provide for relief and rehabilitation for women in conflict zones, and also there should be allocation of funds to set up fast track courts to decide cases relating to rape and other atrocities against women.
The UPA, under president Sonia Gandhi, remains firmly committed to the empowerment of women. The women of this country look forward to good news in the Budget.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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