In the run-up to the Union Budget 2019 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on July 5, we take a look at what women want from the Budget.
- Improving India’s rank on the gender inequality index
The GII is a composite measure reflecting inequality in achievement between women and men in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labor market. This puts India in the bottom 25% of all countries on the HDI and even lower – in the bottom 20% – on the GII.
A comparison with developing countries in the G20 grouping also shows India in poor light on gender equality issues. For example, Indian women have the lowest share of seats in parliament (12.9%); the lowest percentage of women aged 25 years and older who have reached (but not necessarily completed) a secondary level of education (26.6%); and the lowest rate for labour force participation for women aged 15 and older (28.8%).
The statistics reflect the poor status of women in Indian society and the high levels of gender inequality in India which reflects on to every economic sector.
- Access to clean cooking fuels
The Centre keeps claiming that 80 percent of Ujjawala beneficiaries have opted for refills. But there is no other way to verify this claim. Various independent research has found that the majority of beneficiaries are not refilling their LPG cylinders.
Data regarding the beneficiaries and the refilling is not managed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the nodal ministry for the scheme. Instead, oil marketing companies (OMCs) like Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Indian Oil, which are engaged in the execution of the scheme, keep the data.
Even government responses are quite strange regarding the refilling. In a written reply in Parliament on August 1, 2018, Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said those 80 percent beneficiaries under Ujjwala Yojna went for the second refill. On the same day, when he replied to a question specific to Odisha, he admitted that only 26.83 percent of beneficiaries have gone for refilling in 2016-17. The number further came down to 21.16 percent for 2017-18.
With Household air pollution responsible for 40 percent of air pollution deaths in India, we hope that Finance Minister looks into the matter with greater concern.
- Address the Female labor force participation rate decline, which is a worrying trend
Women workforce numbers have been on the decline across industries. From 32% in 2016 to 23% in 2018, lack of women-centric policies have hampered the growth of women in the corporate world. Childcare and lack of institutional support have been one of the main reasons of women dropping out of the workforce. The conversation needs to move to ‘Parental Leave’ policies. The Government has to mandate ‘Parental Leave’ as opposed to just maternity leave to balance the scales which will definitely enable women to engage and remain in paid employment and progress in their careers.
- Women Safety is still the biggest obstacle in women’s participation
Women safety is an area that has been overlooked despite govt riding high on Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. Policies around women safety need more emphasis than just budgetary allocations. More technologically advanced solutions are expected to be introduced in areas of women safety in both urban and rural areas across the country. At the same time, existing solutions like mobile SOS, camera surveillance in public transport, and all-women patrols need to be made more pervasive and widely used.
- National Creche Scheme should be strengthened
In the interim Budget of 2019, the National Crèche Scheme saw a reduction in budgetary allocation from Rs 200 crore to Rs 128 crore. In today’s world where both spouses are working, it is the childcare responsibility that is affecting workforce participation.
- Female entrepreneurship needs a push
Decreasing the budgetary allocation of Support to Training and Employment Program (STEP) for women from Rs 40 crore to Rs 5 crore acted as a force to pull out women from entrepreneurship. As per a Nielson-Britannia survey, almost 48% of non-working housewives in India have high aspirations to start a business or be self-sufficient financially. However, the lack of skill development policies or dearth of skill refinement centers closer home hampers their entrepreneurial goals.
If the budget takes up the ethos of gender budgeting and shows an urgency to get India into the top 50 countries on the HDI and GII, one could finally begin to see a gender inclusive world.
Hope the Finance Minister of India doesn’t disappoint the Indian Women.