The Imbalance in Gender Budgeting


  • 22 February, 2011
  • Bhumika Jhamb

It will be seven years since the government, acknowledging a gender imbalance, introduced gender budgeting in 2005-06. Ever since then, the annual budget has been accompanied by a gender budgeting statement. An analysis of the last four Union budgets reveals two things. First, the outlays specifically targeting women, who make up 50% of the population, are inadequate at Rs1,200 per woman per annum. Second, the bulk of the allocations are taken up by funds earmarked for basic human resource development such as health and education, leaving little aside for programmes to facilitate political participation.

Women in our society face many gender-based disadvantages because of patriarchy. Hence, they would derive much less benefit from the budget than men unless special measures are taken in budgetary policies and their implementation. This was the logic that led to the introduction of gender budgeting in the first place. The schemes with 100% funds meant for women and girls are reported in part A of the expenditure statement, while others (that is, those with at least 30% funds, earmarked for women and girls) are reported in part B of the expenditure statement.

The allocations earmarked for women as a proportion of the total Union budget outlay has gone up from 3% in 2007-08 (revised estimate) to 6.1% in 2010-11 (budget estimate). At 6.1% of the total Union budget outlay, the total quantum of funds earmarked for women appears grossly inadequate, especially if we take into account the persistence of deficits in women’s development. If we probe deeper into the composition of total resources earmarked for women, it is seen that education and health account for nearly half, while equally crucial issues such as support services for women in distress and economic and political participation of women remain neglected. In fact, despite the introduction of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005, no funds have been allocated by the Union government for facilitating implementation of this legislation.

Significantly, for the last three years the government has been unable to enhance the number of programmes receiving a gender focus from the existing level of 33. Many important programmes, such as the Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme and the Total Sanitation Campaign are not being covered. Moreover, there are no disclosures to reveal the assumptions underlying the allocation of funds earmarked for schemes covered at the moment.

Preparation of a statement, though very important, is only a first step towards improving the gender responsiveness of the budget. Although many of the Union government schemes are being reported in the annual budget statement, very few have been designed taking into account the different kinds of gender-based disadvantages of women in our country. Hence, gender reviews should be conducted for all major programmes and schemes in order to make their objectives, operational guidelines, financial norms and unit costs more gender responsive.

Also, many of the sectors covered by various departments of the Union government such as commerce and industry, communications and information technology, power, road transport and highways, and environment and forests are claimed (by some of our policymakers) to be “indivisible”. What this means is that in these sectors, the government cannot count the beneficiaries of its programmes and schemes, and hence, it is difficult for some of them to report the funds or benefits earmarked for women beneficiaries. We must note here that in case of each of these “indivisible” sectors, it is imperative to formulate new intervention strategies focusing on women.

In fact, Kerala has already started taking such initiatives under gender budgeting for more than a year now. For instance, it has started a new intervention pertaining to women-friendly infrastructure that covers some of the so-called “indivisible” sectors. In Kerala, due to such efforts, the number of departments having women-specific schemes went up from 10 in 2009-10 to 17 in 2010-11.

Therefore, while at one level the Union government should make concerted efforts to improve the methodology of preparing the gender-budgeting statement, it needs to take a range of substantive measures to improve the gender responsiveness of the Union budget.
Graphic by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint

The author is a programme officer at the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

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