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The art of fair budgeting
Gender budgeting - by clearly allocating funds for women’s development and protecting their interests with suitable tax policies - boosts female empowerment. But in India this process is simply about the government allocating funds and doing little else. It‘s time that changed.
During the run-up to the budget, discussions on tax policies tend to hog the limelight. But little is often heard about improving the lot of Indian women in such proposals or debates. Fortunately, this time around, there's a fair bit of work going on behind the scenes to ensure that 'gender budgeting' is not ignored, whether its via the allocation of funds for women's development programmes, or in ensuring that tax policies (especially via duties on essential commodities) do not adversely impact a housewife's purse-strings.
But there are other aspects of gender budgeting to consider as well. As Janet Stotsky, advisor, office of budget and planning (in the office of the managing director), International Monetary Fund, puts it: "Gender budgeting doesn't require any special tools or techniques, but a recognition that fiscal policies impact women and men differently. "
"Gender budgeting brings a focus towards ensuring that government policies, both on the spending and revenue side, provide greater opportunities for women, a better standard of living and a fairer distribution of income. On the spending side, it could contribute to ensuring a better allocation of funds for programs such as health care, or availability of clean water. While such expenditure typically disproportionately benefits women it also positively benefits the society as a whole, " explains Stotsky.
She adds: "On the revenue side, it could help ensure that the tax code does not discriminate against women's work effort or products that are the core expenditures of poor families, which are disproportionately headed by women. "
STILL THE SECOND SEX HERE
Gender budgeting's Indian odyssey is a recent one. Gender sensitivity in allocation of resources and monitoring of select schemes was first introduced during the seventh five year plan (1987-92 ) when India joined the ranks of as many as 50 countries which had adopted gender budgeting. But formal earmarking of funds, of at least 30 per cent, in all women related sectors both at Central and State level, began only in the ninth five year plan (1997-2002 ).
However, the focus here continues to be largely on the spending side.
A 2004 expert committee attempted to change that. It made various suggestions, including establishment of gender budgeting cells in all ministries and departments. Today, approximately 56 ministries and departments have set up such cells.
According to the 2011 census, there are 59 crore women in India;they account for 48. 46 per cent of India's total population. Last year's union budget (2012-13 ) allocated Rs 18, 500 crore to the ministry of women and child development (MWCD - one of the key ministries working for women's welfare). This allocation was an increase of 15 per cent as against a revised estimate of Rs 16, 100 crore in the previous year. In a written reply to the Lok Sabha, Krishna Tirath, minister for women and child development mentioned that the gross total allocations towards gender budget have steadily increased by 38 per cent over the last three years, from Rs 56, 857. 61 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 78, 251. 01 crore in 2011-12. Details of funds allocated and released towards various key schemes were also provided. (Refer Table)
THE TIMING'S THE THING
One may argue about the need for more funds for various programs, but what is equally important is their timely release. Schemes such as Ujjawala (where funds are released to NGOs involved in the prevention of women trafficking, rescue and rehabilitation of women) fared better than other schemes where release of funds was lagging.
In this backdrop, Vibhuti Patel, head, post graduate economics, SNDT Women's University points out: "Very often, allocations made are not released in time - the reasons could vary from faulty design, antipathy and bureaucratic bungling. Consequently, if the funds remain unutilised, in the subsequent year the allocation is slashed and the scheme fails to meet its objectives. There should be proper monitoring of fund allocation and its utilisation. Ideally, unutilised funds should be allowed to be carried forward next year. "
She also points out that the target of 30 per cent gender allocation under all ministries has not yet been achieved and must be immediately implemented. There is a dire need of greater accountability and transparency.
Even measuring outcomes is vital. "In India, owing to comparatively weak indicators for critical goals such as reduced maternal death rates, a high rate of female literacy and increased job participation, a follow through is essential to evaluate the outcomes, " stresses Stotsky.
The draft of the 12th five year plan (2012-17 ) has called for improving the mechanism of gender budgeting, beginning with bringing all ministries and government departments within its coverage and tabulation of gender specific MIS data. To aid purposive gender budgeting, a new methodology and format is to be drawn up so that all policies and programs are engendered from the initial stage.
"Women groups have been demanding a review of the format of the gender budgeting statement, for quite some time. The format must cover not only 100 per cent women specific schemes, or those where 30 per cent of funds are allocated for women, but also gender neutral schemes - such as those relating to education or employment and show to what extent the same have benefited women, " states Patel.
BETTER HALF PLANNING
The draft plan also calls for 'gender audits', which are to be incorporated within the expenditure and performance audits conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (C&AG).
Most important of all, this draft states that formal pre-budget consultations must be undertaken by the Finance Ministry with women's groups, as is the practice in several countries. In fact, several countries have benefitted by actively involving women groups in the entire gender budgeting process.
For instance, Philippines introduced gender budgeting in 1996. In the initial period, funds meant for women development were allocated by government agencies towards strange causes such as ballroom dancing training for its female staff. Today, aided by two NGOs the process is better understood and properly monitored. In the UK, the Women's Budget Group, comprising largely of women academicians, plays an important role in policy formulation.
The draft plan also calls for a task force to be set up under the MWCD to review the functioning of gender budget cells and to vet all new laws, policies and programs for gender inclusiveness. "One hopes that these suggestions are adopted and that the coming Union-Budget 2013-14 with appropriate allocation of funds, introduction of suitable schemes, empower women, economically and socially, " sums up Patel.
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