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Budget 2019: A Growth Pill for Women & Economy- Ruby Sinha, Founder, sheatwork.com

"The budget outlays are frequently under-utilized. While at the Centre the steps are well meaning, yet women’s empowerment frequently receives a step-motherly treatment at state levels", Ruby Sinha, Founder, sheatwork.com- a one stop knowledge hub for women entrepreneurs

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Women had much to look forward to from Budget 2019 presented by India’s first full time woman finance minister and were not disappointed with quite a few proposals being laid to address women’s issues. The challenge lies in taking them off the paper and executing plans to help bring about concrete change.

In recent years there have been a slew of measure to address needs of women. Yet a lot more needs to be done to bring about gender equality and ensuring that women are encouraged not only to work but also to continue doing so despite breaks in their careers due to marriage or childbirth.

A Delhi based advocacy group working in the area of social development and change, points out that less than one-third of women are employed in the age group of 25 to 55 years. A large number of girls (around 60%) don’t go on to finish school leave along pursuing even basic graduate courses. Of those who carry on, gender stereotypes persist keeping many out of formal employment.

The task is indeed huge and over the years various governments have tried hard to create the right development environment for women. Towards that end Budget 2019 presented by India’s first full time woman finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced Rs 100,000 loan for women under the MUDRA Scheme. At least one woman for every Self-Help Group (SHG) will be eligible to avail of the loan under the MUDRA scheme. 70 per cent of the MUDRA or Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency beneficiaries in the past have been women and this would encourage more women to avail of easy loans.

The Budget also proposed to expand the Women SHG interest subvention (subsidy offered on interest rates) to all districts. Every woman SHG member having a verified Jan Dhan Account will get an overdraft facility of Rs 5,000.

The Budget also proposed to set up a committee to assess budgetary allocations through a gender lens and recommend ways in which women can be assisted. Overall the Women and Child Development Ministry saw a 17.7 per cent increase in its budgetary allocation from Rs 23,356.50 crore to Rs 27,584.37 crore during 2019-20. Anganwadi services have seen a 11 per cent hike in their grant to Rs 19,834 crore. Child protection services saw their budget increase by 62 per cent to Rs 1,500 crore and working women’s hostels outlay increased two-fold to Rs 165 crore.

The Finance Minister pointed out that Ujjwala Yojana (to distribute LPG gas connections) and Saubhagya Yojana (to provide electricity to all households) have transformed lives of women in every rural family and dramatically improved ease of living. While laying out the proposals the Minister noted: “India can make progress with greater women’s participation in its economic growth. The role of women is a very sweet story in India’s growth, particularly in the rural economy. The government wishes to encourage and facilitate the role of women in India’s growth story.”

These lofty words and Budget proposals are indeed encouraging. It has been well documented that no country or society can grow without the participation of women. But often even the well-meaning proposals fall short of addressing problems. The issue is not just with bringing about the right framework to help women, but also to execute the framework, the proposals. Here, successive governments have been found wanting.

The budget outlays are frequently under-utilized. While at the Centre the steps are well meaning, yet women’s empowerment frequently receives a step-motherly treatment at state levels. Planning is tardy, project delays frequent and targets are missed. Administrators must demonstrate change via action and not just pushing files and waiting for someone else to do the task. They must be sensitive to needs of women and even educate all stakeholders on empowering women.

India is set to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024, from $2.7 trillion at present. This goal cannot be achieved by keeping half the population deprived and out of the mainstream. Infrastructure development, smart cities, all round economic growth will be a challenge if women are struggling even for basic needs or have no motivation to continue studies beyond schooling due to impediments that put men on a superior pedestal. It’s time that we look at gender equality and women’s empowerment as not just mere slogans but as key to development and growth of the society, people and the economy.



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