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[Burning Issue] Gender Responsive Budgeting amid COVID-19

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The concept of Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) gained widespread popularity in the early 20th century when budgets began to be regarded as a significant fiscal innovation tool to achieve gender equality. Since then, more than 80 countries have adopted some variant of gender budgeting. This list includes India, where in the past 16 years, finance ministers have all promised to improve women’s welfare through higher and more gender-focused government expenditures.

COVID-19 pandemic and need of the GRB

  • The COVID-19 pandemic — which has exacerbated pre-existing economic inequalities within India’s patriarchal society — rigorous and concentrated GRB efforts are needed more than ever.
  • The GRB process could, in fact, help governments identify gender needs, allocate resources to programs by applying a gender lens, and prioritize gender-specific outcomes.
  • Given this context, it becomes important to understand how useful past Indian gender budgets have proven to be and analyze whether India’s first pandemic gender budget (2021-2022) will be able to facilitate a gender sensitive economic recovery in the face of the current crisis.

What is Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB)?

  • Gender Budgeting in India: India adopted gender budgeting in 2004-05 based on the recommendations of an expert group committee constituted by the Ministry of Finance on “Classification of Budgetary Transactions”.
  • Objective: Gender budgeting, a fiscal innovation was envisioned and incorporated into the financing mechanism to tackle gender inequalities in India.
  • Gender Responsive Budgeting is concerned with gender sensitive formulation of legislation, programmes and schemes; allocation of resources; implementation and execution; audit and impact assessment of programmes and schemes; and follow-up corrective action to address gender disparities.
  • GRB is a powerful tool for achieving gender mainstreaming so as to ensure that benefits of development reach women as much as men.
  • GRB entails dissection of the Government budgets to establish its gender differential impacts and to ensure that gender commitments are translated in to budgetary commitments.
  • It does not seek to create a separate budget but seeks affirmative action to address specific needs of women and monitors expenditure and public service delivery from a gender perspective.
  • The impact of government budgets on the most disadvantaged groups of women is a focus of special attention.

Rationale Behind Gender Budgeting

  • Women, constitute 48% of India’s population (according to 2011 census), but they lag behind men on many social indicators like health, education, economic opportunities, etc.
  • Hence, they need special attention due to their vulnerability and lack of access to resources.
  • Women face disparities in access to and control over services and resources.
  • Bulk of the public expenditure and policy concerns are in ‘‘gender neutral sectors”.
  • Gender responsive budgets policies can contribute to achieving the objectives of gender equality, human development and economic efficiency.

Who implements a Gender Responsive Budget in India?

Though the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD)  is the nodal agency to implement GRB in India, it is the Ministry of Finance in coordination with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) that carries out the pioneering study on GRB to design the matrices of gender budgeting.

Why Gender Responsive Budgeting is important?

  • Eliminating gender inequalities: GRB has both intrinsic and instrumental relevance.
    • GRB is critical for eliminating gender inequalities with significant improvements in social, educational, health and economic indicators of a country. 
  • Economic rationale: Persistent gender inequality hinders the overall growth and development of a nation. The economic rationale for promoting a gender-sensitive budget also emanates from efficiency and equity perspectives.
    • It addresses budgetary gender inequality issues, such as how gender hierarchies influence budgets, and gender-based unpaid or low paid work.
  • Achieving social goals: Gender inequality is correlated with a loss in human development due to inequality.
    • Gender inequality translates into other areas of human development, threatening progress across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Public expenditures with gender implications:
    • While some public expenditure is by nature ‘non-excludable’ and ‘non-rival’, such as defence, road/bridge-building, etc.
    • Some public expenditure like on education, health, sanitation may have intrinsic gender implications and require separate assessment/monitoring/evaluation of gender-specific needs.
    • Rationale for gender budgeting arises from the recognition of the fact that national budgets impact men and women differently through the pattern of resource allocation.

Gender Responsive Budgeting and India

  • Increasing trend in the Budget allocation: Over the last 16 years, India’s gender budget has witnessed a six-fold increase in absolute terms, growing from 242 billion rupees in 2005-2006 to 1.4 trillion rupees in 2020-21.
  • The gender budget statement has been divided into two parts:
    • Part A reflects schemes with 100 percent allocation for women, such as the maternity benefit scheme or widow pension scheme; and
    • Part B entails schemes with nearly 30 percent of funds allocated for women, such as the rural livelihood mission and mid-day meals program.
  • Stands out globally: India’s gender budgeting efforts stand out globally because they have not only influenced expenditure but also revenue policies (like differential rates for men and women in property tax rates and reconsideration of income tax structure) and have extended to state government levels.
  • Gender budgeting efforts in India have encompassed four sequential phases:

(i) knowledge building and networking,

(ii) institutionalizing the process,

(iii) capacity building, and

(iv) enhancing accountability.

  • Gender budgeting in India is not confined to an accounting exercise. The gender budgeting framework has helped the gender-neutral ministries to design new programs for women.
  • Gender Budgeting Cells (GBC) as an institutional mechanism has been mandated to be set up in all Ministries/Departments.
    • GBCs conduct gender based impact analysis, beneficiary needs assessment and beneficiary incidence analysis to identify scope for re-prioritization of public expenditure and improve implementation etc.

What are the shortcomings in India’s GRB?

  • Lack of amount allocated towards women’s welfare: Despite such a large growth in Budget (in monetary term), the amount allocated toward women’s welfare has stagnated in the last 13 years.
  • Dominance of Part B of Gender Budget: Since its inception, schemes that partly benefit women have continued to dominate the gender budget, with allocations under Part B accounting for at least two-thirds of the total gender budget.
    • Women in India have remained deprived of schemes that are entirely targeted toward their development and have therefore only partially benefited from the introduction of the gender budget statement.
  • Omission of schemes beneficial schemes: The gender budget is a summation of funds allocated by different ministries toward the goal of women’s empowerment but in doing so, it has also ended up omitting several schemes that are actually beneficial for women.
    • e.g.: Jal Jeevan Mission — a scheme aimed at providing rural households with tap connections which will particularly improve the quality of life for women, the Department of Water and Sanitation has not reported any part of the allocation under the gender budget.
  • Unequal allocations of funds across ministries under GRB: Only five government ministries and departments have cornered nearly half of the total gender budget allocations in the last three years.
    • These include the Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Are outcomes of GRB satisfactory?

  • Omission of schemes and women-led-programs, along with unequal allocations of funds across ministries, continue to pose severe disadvantages for women in India, limiting the facilitation of an equitable access of resources and services for all.
  • This is particularly concerning as India has lots of ground to cover with regards to its gender equality goals.
  • India, in fact, slipped from 108th position among 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2018 to 112th in 2020.
  • According to the report, it will take nearly 100 years to close the gender gap across politics, economic, health and education.
  • In light of these limitations, it would be fair to state that India’s GRB process has resulted in a lack of outcome-oriented budgeting.
  • Government ministries and departments in India have merely reduced GRB to an aggregation exercise, with the central goal of achieving gender parity often taking a back seat.

Pandemic Gender Budget: Beneficial or Not?

  • Despite emerging evidence about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and young girls, India’s first pandemic gender budget has continued to follow the worrying historical trends.
  • In fact, the gender budget outlay in the Union Budget 2021-22 was cut by 26 percent, plummeting from 2.1 trillion rupees in 2020-21 (revised estimate) to 1.5 trillion rupees in 2021-22 (budget estimate).
    • It therefore, accounts for merely 4.4 percent of the total budgetary expenditure and 0.7 percent of GDP, which is considerably insufficient.
  • These allocations are particularly disappointing for a time when economic activities have reduced to a bare minimum, with women standing at the forefront of layoffs, job losses, and wage cuts.
  • The GRB 2021-22 has remained concentrated within a few ministries and traditional schemes or programs, where only 34 of more than 70 central ministries and departments have reported some kind of allocations.
    • Yet, the same five ministries that dominated the former gender budgets have received 87 percent of the allocations even in the current financial year.
    • For an effective and adequate mainstreaming of gender concerns, all ministries and departments should receive some amount of funding.
  • The new priority areas that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic — including digital literacy, domestic violence, skill training, and more — have only received 2 percent of the budget allocation in 2021-22.
    • As per the United Nations, these are some of the key short-terms priorities that need government action not only to reduce the disproportionate burden of the pandemic on women’s shoulders but also to bring about the gender-sensitive social and economic recovery of a country.

Conclusion

The current budgetary provisions as specified in the Union Budget 2021-22 may turn out to be incompetent to tackle the mounting problems of job losses faced by women, the high dropout rates of young girls, increasing gender-based violence, and so on.

The GRB process in India has clearly been marred by various limitations that often result in suboptimal outcomes, with gender inequality remaining rife in every aspect of Indian life. These inequalities are nonetheless being reinforced and, to some extent, deepened in the current COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, a greater focus needs to be laid on the gender budgets in India.         


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