Budget 2013, unveiled 10 weeks after the Delhi
gang-rape and 10 days before International Women’s Day
, was preceded by hope among women that the promises and pledges made by the government to advance their cause would, for once, not remain mere platitudes but be articulated in the single-most important financial document of the year.
The hope was belied. Not only is Budget 2013 gender-insensitive, it in fact strengthens gender stereotyping and reinforces the invisibility of women from the economy in almost every sense of the term.
It is a well documented fact that both the agricultural and the rural sector are heavily feminized, providing a livelihood to four-fifths of all working women in India
. Yet, nowhere is this recognized even though the 12th Plan emphatically states that schemes such as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) will have a special women’s quota, and that single women can form collectives for group cultivation. The latter is an issue that some of us, as part of the Feminists Economists Committee for the 11th as well as 12th Plan have struggled hard for.
Similarly, hugely transformative programmes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru
National Urban Rural Mission (JNNURM
) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) are all “gender-less”. As is the fundamentally democratic issue of gendering
governance, what with Panchayati Raj
institutions themselves being given such short shrift.
In fact, no economic agency is ascribed to women; they are the predictable, stereotyped, reproductive agents defined as usual in the syndrome of patriarchal semantics. So, therefore, increased allocations to women and their tag-ons both in societal and budgetary terms—children, nutrition and so on. The issue here is not to deny the crucial importance and desperate urgency of even higher funding for these sub-areas, but to give visibility to the independent economic, budgetary, fiscal and financial status of women.
Additionally, the imperative of gendered financial inclusion has been totally trivialized in the form of an all-women bank, which is easier to set up than to gender-sensitize existing banking procedures; it’s something that will marginalize women even more. Gendered financial inclusion can be greatly enhanced by introducing an equilibrium between financial and physical targets; this is especially important in the context of the fact that women generally take small loans, and the fact that while physical targets may be filled, financial disbursements constitute an insignificant amount. Similarly, what was hoped for were changes in other supplementary monetary instruments such as medical insurance policies which currently have different rules for single women and also men who are out of the marital patriarchal slot.
Additionally, individual taxation is preferred because the economic benefit of working depends on how much a woman earns and not the fact of her location in the patriarchal marital structure. The fiscal instrument of an additional tax exemption to women was expected to be re-introduced in order to increase her incentive to take up employment and shift her labour supply curve. Budget 2013 appears to have absolved the State of any responsibility whatsoever of incorporating employment in its current strategy by insisting that women undertake their own economic empowerment through “assisted” self-employment while men may do so by “skill” enhancement.
While it is good that social sector spending has not been negatively impacted by the Budget, already introduced cuts in subsidies on household maintenance commodities such as kerosene and cooking gas have directly affected the time use pattern of women and increased their time poverty. It thus increases the “reproductive” tax that the woman has to pay to the economy as a direct result of change in macroeconomic policies.
The budget asserts that “We have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women…for which Rs.1,000 crore are pledged…(to) the Nirbhaya Fund..,” so-called because Nirbhaya, or fearless, was the fictional name given by a newspaper to the Delhi gang-rape victim who died on 29 December in a Singapore
hospital. Money was allocated but no measures were promised to promote the goal.
What is even more cynical, if not insulting, is the Rs.200 crore allocated for women “belonging to the most vulnerable groups, including single women and widows, (who) must be able to live with self-esteem and dignity”. This largesse works out to a humiliating Rs.74 and 07 paise even if this entire amount is spent solely for the benefit of the 27 million female-headed households in the country. This works to even less than that allocated for the setting up of a National Institute of Sports
A budgetary gender critique, to be relevant and true, must be located within the context of the paradigm within which the budget is perceived. If the mantra is “higher growth leading to inclusive and sustainable development,” then we need to urgently re-examine all evidence that has points unequivocally to the fact that in the years when the Indian economy
was growing at an 8% pace, there was less than 1% reduction in poverty.
The writer is professor and head, Centre for Gender Economics, Department of Economics, University of Mumbai