Gender budgeting in India: What does it mean and how it impacts policy

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India’s first full-time woman Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman carried the Union Budget documents in a red bag, reminiscence of the traditional ‘bahi-khata’.

Under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government, the gender budget has received tremendous support. Nearly five per cent of the total expenditure for the financial year 2023-24 was allocated toward issues affecting women in India. This would also give a boost to the “Mission Shakti” launched in 2021 to boost schemes around women’s empowerment.

Here is a closer look at the gender budget, what it entails and how the last Union budget shaped its policy around the initiative.

What is gender budgeting?

Gender Budgeting is a tool for gender mainstreaming, applying a gender lens to the entire policy process. It involves gender-sensitive formulation, resource allocation, and continuous monitoring to address vulnerabilities faced by women throughout their life cycle.

What is Mission Shakti?

The Government of India launched the “Mission Shakti” initiative under the Ministry of Woman and Child Development (MWCD). It is a comprehensive women empowerment programme aimed to strengthen interventions for women’s welfare, safety, and empowerment for the period 2021-2025. Mission Shakti comprises two sub-schemes, “Sambal” and “Samarthya”.

Sambal focuses on safety and security, while Samarthya empowers women, both converging to make women equal partners in nation-building. Gender budgeting comes under the Samarthya sub-scheme.

Distinction between gender and sex

The MWCD’s handbook on gender budgeting distinguishes the concepts of gender and sex. By the handbook’s definition, gender encompasses culturally and socially constructed roles, responsibilities, and expectations, reflecting the evolving societal norms. The term sex refers to biological differences and physical attributes between males and females.

Why is gender budgeting important?

Women and girls face various vulnerabilities, and gender budgeting is crucial to achieving gender equality and empowerment. It ensures the efficient allocation of public resources based on differing gender needs, addressing discrimination and exploitation.

Gender budgeting also takes into account gender-based disparities to ensure legislations, programmes and schemes are gender sensitive. Legal women-specific frameworks such as the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 etc. have been strengthened through this lens.

How is gender budgeting implemented?

Nodal authorities, including the Ministry of Women and Child Development at the central level, spearhead gender budgeting implementation. Departments of Women and Child Development/ Social Welfare, Finance or Planning Department are also responsible for gender budget implementation in states and Union territories. District subs for Empowerment of Women are also active in states and Union territories to coordinate and fulfil the objectives of schemes. These hubs are also required to have at least one gender specialist.

State and district hubs coordinate efforts, emphasising the need for gender specialists.

When was the first gender budget in India?

India adopted its first gender budget in 2005-06, marking a significant step towards addressing gender disparities in resource allocation.

What was the gender budget for 2023-24?

The gender budget for 2023-24 witnessed a 4.3 per cent rise to Rs 2.23 trillion constituting 4.9 per cent of the total budget. Within the gender budget, rural housing (Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana) was allocated the highest budget of Rs 54,487 crore.

The government has also included the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme within the gender budget, valued at Rs 25,000 crore. Other schemes included under the gender budget are the Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan, the Flexible Pool for RCH and Health System Strengthening as well as the National Health Programme and National Urban Health Mission, the Samagra Shiksha scheme, the Samarthya scheme for women empowerment and the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin). The five schemes were worth nearly Rs 45,000 crore.

Challenges associated with gender budgeting in India

According to a survey by the International Monetary Fund in 2022, the pandemic exacerbated existing gender gaps, emphasizing the need for effective gender budgeting practices. While all G20 countries have enacted gender-focused financial policies, challenges persist in operationalising, evaluating, and monitoring these policies.

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Pooja Gupta

CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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