Editor's Note: This story is part of 'Children of Liberalisation', a News18 series tracking the Union Budget expectations from 30-year-olds across different sectors, from the prism of 30 years of economic liberalisation in India.
The Union Budget 2021-22 is going to be presented at a critical time in India’s history, as the country along with the rest of the world, is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The Budget, therefore, is an opportune time for us to collectively look into the critical areas that need urgent attention, and that would play a key role in India’s massive rebuilding exercise in the post-pandemic world. One such area that needs our urgent focus is Gender-Based Violence (Violence against Women and Girls). This in itself has now taken the form of a shadow pandemic, threatening women, and girls in developing countries such as India.
During the lockdown, the National Commission for Women in India received nearly 2043 complaints of crimes against women in the month of June 2020. Violence against children also witnessed a surge in the first 11 days of the lockdown (Childline received almost 3 lakh calls during the first 11 days of lockdown). Further, the long closure of schools, inadequate access to e-portals for education, stress and social isolation, violence at home, and lack of health care services impacted children. However, the government of India’s quick response to the pandemic in the form of helpline numbers, policy support and tailor-made services helped minimize the damage and save thousands of lives.
In recent years, several of government legislations and supportive policies have addressed the issue of sexual harassment of women at the workplace and the protection of children from sexual offenses. This has helped us make significant progress in creating safe public and private spaces for women and children. But as we look to recover from the pandemic shock and rebuild together, we need to revisit and strengthen the existing programs and policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5) of ending Violence against Women by 2030.
The Union Budget 2021-22 is, therefore, an opportune time to devise supportive policy measures to ensure the safety and well-being of women and children. The three key areas that the Budget could focus on are as follows:
Addressing Violence against women and girls
We should ensure adequate budgetary allocations for eliminating Gender Based Violence. Availability of resources is central to addressing the implementation gaps in services and provisions meant for women and girls. Inter-sectoral financial allocations and allocation of funds across different ministries will help in addressing the issues of women, girls, and children. Government machinery like One-Stop Centers and NGOs providing support on domestic violence could be strengthened to provide full support and must have the additional requirements like protective gear, safe transport, and access to the survivors. Allocation of funds in strengthening existing institutional mechanisms like shelter homes, and short-stay homes for women and children will help in achieving quick results.
We could set-up more government-run shelter homes across the country as the existing numbers may not be sufficient for the current population. The shortage will lead to an increase in the number of homeless women and children on the streets thus making them more vulnerable.
Frontline grassroots workers like ANMs, Anganwadi, village defence parties, village council development committee in autonomous districts (VCDC), village headman/women, Panchayats, Block Officers, ASHAs must be given special instructions to report Domestic Violence and extend immediate help to any aggrieved women.
Ensuring Adolescent well-being
Policy interventions and budgetary allocations could be channeled to address issues affecting adolescents especially young girls. Nutrition, menstrual health, mental health and redressal of violence are critical to ensure adolescent well-being. Multiple helplines along with other systemic support needs to be in place to address the complaints raised by adolescent girls and boys such as early marriage, abuse, and violence at home.
Women’s collectives and adolescent collectives could be further strengthened and financially supported. Such collectives can reach out to the heads of families and discuss the need for continuity for education, especially during the pos-COVID-19 DAYS when school drop-out rates of girls are expected to increase.
The Panchayat Raj Institution is a crucial link between government and community and civil society. There is an urgent requirement of strengthening its work by sensitizing the Pradhans and PRI members on adolescent related issues and challenges which have become of grave concern due to lockdown and pandemic.
Cash-based Social Protection
Cash transfers – regular, predictable payments of cash - are an important social protection modality. For cash-based social protection, the government of India can use both digital and non-digital options. There is also a low rate of digital literacy and there are connectivity issues in remote areas. This is especially true for women and children from rural backgrounds who are sometimes most in need of support and thus these schemes have to be easily accessible by them.
We need a higher budget allocation for social protection in terms of overall percentage of the budget than what has been previously allocated. This higher allocation will then be able to cover some of the above-suggested points for various groups. Cash-based social protection, including pensions and others for women in the unorganized sector, will help them become financially less dependent.
The Budget 2021-22 presents a unique opportunity to address the issues facing women and girls. The right focus both in terms of budgetary allocation and policy support will help women and girls make significant contributions to India’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
Sohini Bhattacharya is the President & CEO of Breakthrough - an organization that works to make violence against women and girls unacceptable