India has been conducting gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) as a part of its Union Budget since 2005-06. Several other countries including Spain, Iceland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom conduct such budgets as a way to cast a gender lens on national resource and budgetary allocation, and to acknowledge the fact that national budgets impact men and women very differently.
While there are prominent economists who believe that gender budgeting mars the work of feminist economists who want to redesign economic policy and allocations on the grounds of equality, there are many who think that the gendered perspective has indeed helped give impetus to women-targeted schemes and policies.
However, in the last 15 years, India's gender budget has left a lot to be desired. Currently, approximately five percent of India's total Union Budget (2020-21) is spent on women's targeted schemes - a figure which amounts to less than a per cent of the GDP.
Increase Gender Budget, diversify allocation
Mitali Nikore, Founder of Nikore Associates, a youth-led economics research and policy think tank, pointed out that the primary issue the government needs to address as far as India's gender budget is concerned is that its size is too small.
"The way it is distributed across ministries is also problematic, because only a cluster of four to five ministries receive the chunk of the gender budget, and others don't get a significant allocation from it. At least that has been the general trend till now," said Nikore.
"Most of the gender budget allocation is concentrated on just a few schemes, and if you notice carefully, you will see that while women stand to benefit from such schemes, they are not specifically targeted towards women. For instance, schemes like The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act MGNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana have benefitted rural women in the past years; however, they are not entirely for women empowerment or welfare. Therefore, budgetary allocations to schemes which directly and exclusively help women should also happen," she added.
Nikore pointed out that the problem with India's gender budget is that it is always an afterthought. After general budgetary allocations are made, the gender-responsive budget funding is made from what has already been distributed.
Allocating resources for care economy, and the need for fiscal monitoring
Several economists believe that for better empowerment of women, the care economy needs to be recognized and proper budget allocation for this sector is crucial. Time Use Survey by MOSPI shows that currently, the unpaid domestic and care giving services are where women invest almost 280 minutes in a day compared to 30 minutes by men.
"The care economy sector is still statistically invisible. Time Use Survey by MOSPI published in 2020 gives a clue as to the stress in the care economy. If the fastest and smartest way to increase GDP is to tap the huge potential of women who are not yet in the workforce due to care economy commitments, we need to design a comprehensive care economy policy in India with sufficient budgetary allocations. In the time of the pandemic, this has more significance than ever before," pointed out Lekha S Chakraborty, a professor at NIPFP and a pioneering economist in institutionalizing Gender Budgeting in India, with Chief Economic Advisor, Ministry of Finance, Govt of India in 2004.
Chakraborty also stated that the Finance Minister's higher gender budgetary allocation does not always translate into higher spending on women. "Usually, Fiscal Councils analyze the macro-fiscal variables and its fiscal marksmanship. However, India doesn't have a fiscal council. Therefore, there is a need to employ policy think tanks that can analyze and identify the reasons behind the gap between allocation, and women receiving the actual benefits and understanding whether these deviations are random or it has the bias of policymakers," said Chakraborty.
"Linking gender budgeting to outcome needs to be further strengthened because it will increase transparency and accountability. Budget transparency is the first step to accountability. Gender budget statement is a prime example of budget transparency. The statement is prepared based on the NIPFP methodology (based on the research on gender budgeting in India). Now the next step is strengthening accountability by doing systematic fiscal marksmanship analysis as well as 'linking gender budget resources to results," she added.
Budget allocation to encourage women workforce participation
Priyanka Chatterjee, Assistant Professor of Economics at Sharda University, emphasized that the government can also view gender budgeting as a mean towards two specific end goals: One is to increase female workforce participation and the other is to reduce the gender wage gap.
"Currently, despite several targeted schemes to encourage girls' education, and increase their enrolment percentage, India has not seen any significant rise in women's participation in the labour force. The workforce participation rate of men and women as per the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data are 52% and 17% respectively. Though there are reservations for women in employment according to certain programmes like MGNREGA, the same has not improved their participation. Hence the introduction of more such schemes along with proper monitoring and implementation might lead to better result" Said Chatterjee.
"The schemes like MUDRA loans, Stand up India, encouraging Self-Help groups to improve women entrepreneurship, also exists. Still, the working condition of women entrepreneurs in India is vulnerable, which proves that just making policies and budgetary allocations are not enough. What is required is also a monitoring and implementation mechanism," pointed out Chatterjee.
Chatterjee also claimed that another important area which the government is yet to address is the prevailing gender wage gap which is enormous. According to the PLFS data 2018-19, women's average wage/income is approximately half or one-third of that of men.