Mumbai: Nearly 5% of India's total Union Budget 2020-21 would be spent on schemes that benefit women, stated the gender budget for the year. Amounting to Rs 1.4 lakh crore ($19 billion) in 2020-21, the gender budget includes allocations made by different ministries for schemes that fully or partially benefit women.

Gender-responsive budgeting, along with supportive laws and other policy measures, could help governments track whether public funds are effectively allocated in furthering gender equality and empowering women. India was ranked 112th of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index 2020.

India started releasing a Gender Budget along with the Union Budget in 2005-06. Ahead of the Union Budget 2021-22, we analyse how useful, or not, gender budgets have proved to be.

In India, many crucial sectors such as health and education are funded by both central and state governments. In this report, we are analysing the central government's gender budgets that feature schemes funded by the central government. (At least 16 states in India have adopted gender-responsive budgeting and introduced schemes benefitting women, which are included in the state budgets. These allocations do not get counted in the Union Gender Budget statement, and are not part of our analysis.)

Allocations and trends

Over the last 16 years, India's Gender Budget has increased from Rs 24,241 crore ($5.5 billion) in 2005-06 to Rs 1,43,462 crore ($19 billion) in 2020-21, a six-fold increase in absolute terms. However, in the last 13 years, the allocations as a proportion to the total budget have stayed constant between 4.3% and 5.9%. The allocation was less than 5% of the total budget in five of the last six years.

The Gender Budget has two parts: Part A includes schemes with 100% allocation for women such as the widow pension scheme, girls' hostel scheme and maternity benefit scheme; and Part B with schemes allocating at least 30% of funds for women, such as the mid-day meals programme, the rural livelihoods mission and the biogas programme.

Since its inception, the gender budget has been dominated by allocations under Part B, accounting for at least two-thirds of the total Gender Budget.

In 2020-21, Part A constituted 20% of the Gender Budget--the second-lowest since 14% in 2015-16.

The composition of the budget and its focus areas

While the Gender Budget collates allocations made by different ministries, it omits some schemes that benefit women. For example, the Department of Water and Sanitation did not report any part of the allocation of the Jal Jeevan Mission, a scheme that aims to provide household tap connections to all rural households. This despite the scheme guideline document stating that it will particularly improve quality of life for women and the ministry reiterating this in press releases.

It also does not include state government allocations, hence an analysis of the allocations and their proportions to the total budget is limiting.

Nevertheless, the composition of the Gender Budget highlights the government's focus areas and the efforts made to close the gender gap. Over the last three years, five schemes--the rural jobs programme called the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the rural housing scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), the Anganwadi Services Scheme that is a part of the early childhood care and development programme, the school education programme called the Samagra Shiksha and the Health Systems Strengthening under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)--have made up half of the total Gender Budget allocations.

The PMAY alone constituted nearly 70% of the allocations in Part A and 14% of the total Gender Budget.

The fact that 10% of the Gender Budget was earmarked for rural housing schemes for women irked experts because while the scheme might benefit women, the houses may not always be owned by women. "Allocations for PMAY are considered 100% for Gender Budget as the houses are encouraged to be in the names of women," said Avani Kapur, director of Accountability Initiative, a research organisation based in Delhi, "But no one is really monitoring or seeing the extent to which that is being done or the difference it is actually making on the ground."

The Ministry of Women and Child Development's handbook on gender budgeting states how the process is a continuous activity and must include monitoring and impact assessment in addition to formulation of policies and allocation of funds.

However, the gender budgeting process practiced by the ministries is largely focused on reporting information in the format provided by the Ministry of Finance and there is not always a clear methodology for attributing weights to different schemes, say experts.

Since the gender budget amounts are based on the proportions decided by the respective departments and ministries, a clear methodology becomes crucial. For instance, in the 2020-21 gender budget, the AYUSH ministry listed the central councils for research in Ayurvedic sciences, Siddha and Unani medicine in Part A of the budget and reported that 100% of these allocations would benefit women.

The Department of Rural Development allocated a third (33%) of the total allocation of MGNREGS under Part B of the Gender Budget for 2020-21. However, women make up for nearly 55% of workers under the scheme.

"For Gender Budgets to be able to address crucial gender gaps, budgetary allocations should be based on grassroots-based planning," said Aasha Kapur Mehta, chairperson, Centre for Gender Studies at Institute for Human Development, Delhi, and founder member of the Feminist Policy Collective. However, most ministries and departments report allocations to the Gender Budget without doing this, she added. Further, there is no clarity regarding how the estimates are prepared.

"An essential first step to gender budgeting is determining the outcomes and then defining what inputs will be needed to achieve them," said Kapur, "In India, it is still done more as an aggregation exercise of different schemes or ministries."

What have Gender Budgets achieved?

Despite its shortcomings, the Gender Budget has succeeded in drawing attention to gender issues. "One of the biggest achievements of gender-responsive budgeting is the mainstreaming of the idea that a gender lens is important within the fiscal discourse," said Kapur.

Studies have found that gender budgeting can help reduce gender gaps in educational attainment and in reducing violence against women, said Lekha Chakraborty, professor and chair at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), which pioneered the integration of gender budgeting within both state and central government policy frameworks.

"While the gender budgeting was started as an ex-post policy analysis of [the Union] Budget through a gender lens, it has given a framework to integrate future-centric programme design and budgeting favouring women," added Chakraborty, citing the example of schemes providing clean fuel to women in poor income households.

While the targeted programmes have helped to reduce sectoral inequalities, they have a long way to go towards eliminating inequalities. Gender budgeting policies should not assume that "all women are equal" and must focus on adopting intersectionality (an approach to understand how a person's various social and political identities combine and can lead to different forms of discrimination), added Chakraborty. Focussed gender budgeting policies are also needed to deal with increasing caste-based crime.

"While intersectionality issues need careful calibration in the context of Indian gender budgeting," said Chakraborty, "One quick example is the Black Economic Empowerment ( BEE) in the context of South Africa--a powerful policy to deal with the inequalities of Apartheid. The interface between gender and race is tackled in BEE."

(Abhiudaya Verma, an intern with IndiaSpend, contributed to this report.)

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