The concept of gender responsive budgeting (GRB) gained popularity in the early part of the 20th century, when budgets began to be seen as an important budget innovation tool for achieving gender equality. For more than 80 countries adopted a variant of gender responsive budgeting. This list includes India, where over the past 16 years finance ministers – ranging from Palaniappan Chidambaran to Nirmala Sitharam – have all pledged to improve the well-being of women through higher and more focused government spending. on gender.
But today, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has exacerbated pre-existing economic inequalities within Indian patriarchal society – rigorous and focused GRB efforts are needed more than ever. The GRB process could, in fact, help governments identify gender needs, allocate resources to programs using a gender lens, and prioritize gender-specific results. In this context, it becomes important to understand how useful India’s past gender budgets have proven to be and to analyze whether India’s first gender budget (2021-2022) will be able to facilitate a gender-responsive economic recovery. in the face of the current crisis.
The GRB process
In order to ensure that public resources are spent in a way that bridges systemic inequalities between men and women, the Indian government has institutionalized GRB as part of the 2005-2006 Union budget. Since then, many subnational governments have also adopted the practice of gender responsive budgeting.
Indeed, according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 16 States and two Union Territories exercised GRB in October 2015. This budgeting at the state level is however not included in the Union’s gender budget statement and, therefore, an analysis of the The allocation and their proportions in the total budget continue to remain limited.
Nonetheless, over the past 16 years India’s gender budget has grown six-fold in absolute terms, from 242.4 billion Indian rupees ($ 3.3 billion) in 2005-2006 to 1.4 trillion rupees in 2020-2021. Despite this achievement, the amount allocated to women’s well-being has stagnated somewhat between 4.3 percent and 5.9 percent over the past 13 years, the proportion of funds having fallen to less than 5 percent of the total budget for the last five years.
Further analysis, however, reveals not only an absence of deviation in the government’s spending pattern, but also inherent flaws in India’s GRB approach. To begin with, the gender budget statement has been divided into two parts: Part A reflects schemes with a 100 percent allowance for women, such as the maternity benefit scheme or the widow’s pension scheme; and Part B includes programs with almost 30 percent of funds allocated to women, such as the rural livelihood mission and the midday meal program.
Since its inception, programs that partly benefit women have continued to dominate the gender budget, with allocations under Part B representing at least two-thirds of the total gender budget. Essentially, this means that women in India have remained deprived of fully development-oriented mechanisms and therefore have only partially benefited from the introduction of the gender budget statement.
Meanwhile, the gender budget is a sum of funds allocated by different ministries towards the goal of empowering women, but in doing so, it also ended up omitting several programs that are genuinely beneficial for women. For example, despite the directives of Jal Jeevan Mission – a program to provide rural households with tap connections – stating that it will particularly improve the quality of life for women, the Department of Water and Sanitation did not report any part of the allocation under of the gender budget.
In fact, despite growing gender awareness in India in recent years, only five government ministries and departments have cornered almost half of the total budget allocations for gender in the past three years. These include the Ministry of Rural Development, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Human Resources Development. .
Such a systematic omission of women-led programs and programs, as well as several government departments shying away from the gender budget, continue to present serious disadvantages for women in India, limiting the facilitation of equitable access to services. resources and services for all. This is of particular concern as India has a lot of ground to cover when it comes to its gender equality goals. India, in fact, has slipped from 108th among the 153 countries of the 2018 Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum at 112th in 2020.
In light of these limitations and weaknesses, it would be fair to state that India’s GRB process has resulted in a lack of results-based budgeting. Some experts believe that government ministries and departments in India simply reduced the GRB to a aggregation exercise, the central objective of achieving gender parity often takes a back seat.
Pandemic Gender Budget: Beneficial or not?
Despite emerging evidence Regarding the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, India’s first gender budget for the pandemic continued to follow worrying historical trends.
In fact, budgetary expenditure on gender in the 2021-2022 Union budget has been reduced by 26%, from 2,100 billion rupees in 2020-2021 (revised estimate) to 1.5 trillion rupees in 2021-2022 (estimated budget). It therefore only represents 4.4 percent of total budgetary expenditure and 0.7 percent of GDP.
This essentially means that, as with previous gender budgets, the overall amount of the 2021-22 gender budget remains below 5% of the total expenditure that has been foreseen in the Union budget and represents less than 1% of GDP. These allowances are particularly disappointing at a time when economic activities are reduced to the bare minimum, with women at the forefront of layoffs, job losses and wage cuts.
In addition, the GRB 2021-22 remained concentrated within a few ministries and traditional schemes or programs, where only 34 out of over 70 central ministries and departments reported certain types of allocations. Yet the same five ministries that dominated the old gender budgets received 87 percent allocations even during the current financial year. For effective and adequate gender mainstreaming, all ministries and departments should receive a certain amount of funding.
In addition, with the exception of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the gender budget remains only 30-40 percent global allocations from these ministries. Therefore, even for government ministries that involve a preponderant share of the gender budget, spending on women’s needs remains a low proportion.
What is more concerning is the fact that new priority areas that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic – including digital literacy, domestic violence, job training and more – only received 2 percent of the budget allocation in 2021-2022. And, according to the The United Nations, these are some of the key short-term priorities that require government action not only to reduce the disproportionate number burden of the pandemic on the shoulders of women, but also to cause the the gender-sensitive economic and social recovery of a country.
Therefore, due to the aforementioned shortcomings, the current budgetary provisions as specified in the Union budget 2021-2022 may prove incompetent to deal with the growing problems of job losses facing women, at rates high rates of abandonment of young girls, increase in gender-based violence, etc.
The GRB process in India has clearly been marred by various limitations which often result in sub-optimal results, with gender inequality remaining prevalent in all aspects of Indian life. These inequalities are nonetheless reinforced and, to some extent, exacerbated in the current COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, more attention needs to be paid to gender budgets in India.