The Union Budget 2021-22 was introduced in the Parliament by the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on 1st February. This year’s budget is being considered as both the first pandemic budget and the first digital budget, that tackles the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis and the consequential rapid digitalisation.
This paper aims to analyse this budget through the gender lens, examining the importance given to women and their issues in this context. Beneficiary Incidence Analysis (BIA) method will be used and an intense review of existing literature will be done to assess the possible impact of the recent budgetary allocations on women. This paper is an attempt to uncover the unintended outcomes of budgetary allocations that increase inequalities, through a needs assessment of key government schemes introduced in this year’s budget.
This paper argues that despite an increase of 6.8 per cent in the 2021 Gender Budget, from ₹ 1,43,461.72 crore in the 2020-21 Budget Estimates to ₹ 1,53,326 crore this year, it remains significantly low as the first pandemic Gender Budget, particularly when the coronavirus pandemic is believed to have impacted women significantly and more adversely.
Key words: Gender Responsive Budgeting, Budgetary Allocations, Gender Mainstreaming, Triple Whammy Impact, Government Schemes
The 19th century French economist Pierre Paul Leroy-Beaulieu described the term ‘budget’ as a statement forecasting expenditure and revenue. It is a financial plan for rationing out various demands for fund allocations. Economists all over the world believe that the budget is an important document with potential to act as an instrument of channeling fiscal policy and stimulating the economy through capital formation, restraining consumption and pushing investments. In other words, a budget can help revive a flagging economy.
Thus, the annual budget is an extremely significant statement for any national government because it determines resource and fund allocation in the country, thereby serving as the main tool for controlling socio-economic inequalities. Budgetary allocations impact different sections of the population differently, hence budgets may be gender blind (ignoring the gender aspect) but can not be gender neutral in their impact. Budgets impact all genders differently. Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) is a recognition of this differential impact. Originating in Australia in 1984, a Gender Budget presents data in a manner that highlights gender based allocations and assesses the differential impact of the government’s policies. A gender budget does not imply the allocation of extra funds for women, rather it signifies the gender perspective through which the allocations are analysed. This perspective not only helps in reducing inequalities across the various genders but has also proven to increase womens’ incomes as well as the GDP. In Latin America, for instance, eliminating sexual inequality in the labour market could boost GDP by 34%—or $2.6tn, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, a think tank.
The Council of Europe in 2009 defined Gender Budgeting in the following way:
“It is an application of gender mainstreaming in the budgetary process. It means a gender-based assessment of budgets, incorporating a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process and restructuring revenues and expenditures in order to promote gender equality.” (Council of Europe, 2009)
The objective of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it aims to analyse the distribution of budgetary allocations to women. This is done through an examination of the Gender Budget Statement (Statement 19 of the expenditure profile) declared by the Finance Ministry, which is further divided into two parts. Part A deals with schemes that are 100% devoted to women and Part B focuses on schemes that are at least 30% devoted to women. Secondly, the paper examines the key schemes introduced by the government in this year’s budget, particularly through the gender lens to establish their overall impact on women.
To achieve these objectives, the paper has been divided into three parts. The first part introduces the concept and methodology of Gender Responsive Budgeting, with the second section discussing an Indian perspective of the Gender Budget, and finally the analysis of the Union Budget 2021 through the Gender Budget will conclude the paper. The findings of this research conclude that despite stressing on inclusive growth and response to COVID-19, and self reliance, this year’s budget has failed to look at women, who significantly form 48% of the national population. A stronger push to women-centric issues in the pursuit of self reliance and inclusive growth would have helped reduce the gap of gender disparity in India.
1.0 UNDERSTANDING GENDER RESPONSIVE BUDGETING
It has been argued by feminists across the world that public spending on pro-women policies is not sufficient to ensure gender equality. Rather, it requires governments to assess and formulate all policies in a way that they are gender sensitive and do not affect one gender more than the other. It is important to note that Gender Responsive Budgeting does not imply allocation of extra or additional funds to a particularly disadvantaged gender, rather it signifies employing a gender lens while formulating various allocations. In other words, it is a dissection of government budgets to establish gender differential impact. It is the transfer of gender commitments to budgetary commitments. Gender budgets prioritise and orient public revenue streams so that they reflect the concerns of disadvantaged genders in society.
Gender Budgets help in re-visualising the care economy. By neglecting unpaid work, traditional budgets risk neglecting the real social costs of public policies. Gender equality is multi-dimensional and therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of public policies on several aspects of women’s lives, from the availability of time for unpaid domestic and caring work, education, and the time to participate in political and institutional governance.
Gender Responsive Budgeting first emerged in Australia in 1984, , as a response to calls from women’s rights activists. Over 90 countries have experimented with some form of gender budgeting over the past decade (OECD, 2014). It must be noted that some of the early adopters of gender budgeting over the years have come from beyond the OECD – including countries such as India, the Philippines and Indonesia. More recently, in 2013, Austria introduced gender budgeting as part of a broader package of performance budgeting reforms (OECD, 2014). Responses to the 2016 OECD Survey of Gender Budgeting Practices show that almost half of OECD countries have introduced, or plan to introduce or are actively considering the introduction of gender budgeting. The specific reference in the Platform for Action of the 4th UN Women’s Conference held in Beijing 1995 added further stimulus for gender budgeting.
Like most other public policies, the process of creating a sound gender budget should be divided into three phases: advocacy and agenda-setting, formal adoption, and implementation of the gender-aware budget. Advocacy and agenda-setting involves the creation of a pro-equality climate through commitment to gender equality and mainstreaming and advocating for political change. The formal adoption process includes the formulation of a clear framework for gender budgets by engaging important actors such as government officials and politicians, and building the necessary political will. Lastly, the implementation phase covers the collection of evidence in practice, and implementing the policy on ground through executive machinery.
2.0 AN INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
Gender Budgeting in India formally began after 2004 when the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) conducted its research on the gendered implications of annual budgets. They came out with a report, which suggested a segregation of relevant micro and macro economic data; quantification of contribution of women in the Indian economy; needs based assessment of impact of government budgetary allocations on women along with various policy alternatives for a gender sensitive budget. In the same year, the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance issued instructions to all government ministries to constitute a Gender Budgeting Cell (GBC) by 1st January, 2005.The GBCs were envisaged to serve as focal points for coordinating gender budgeting initiatives within the government ministries.
The Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) and Niti Aayog (formerly the Planning Commission), have contributed to the enforcement of GRB in India through various actions. The Ministry of Finance issues a budget call circular that instructs ministries and departments to report the quantum of allocations earmarked for women and girls. It reviews budget documents of different ministries and departments and presents the gender budget statement in the legislative assembly. The MWCD conducts capacity building and training at the state level, promotes research under the Gender Budgeting Scheme and allows inter-ministerial convergence to create gender-friendly policies. Most importantly, the ministry advises departments on women’s welfare initiatives and has also developed a Manual and Handbook for Gender Budgeting for Gender Budget Cells of Central Ministries and Departments in collaboration with UN Women. On the other hand, Niti Aayog conducts workshops for the better implementation of GRB.
As part of every union budget, the Expenditure Division of the Ministry of Finance issues the Gender Budget Statement. This statement is the most crucial document for Gender Responsive Budgeting in India and comprises two parts. Part A reflects Women Specific Schemes -which have 100% allocation for women. Part B reflects Pro Women Schemes -where at least 30% of the allocation is for women. This division is based on analytical matrices for categorising public expenditure through a gender lens. NIPFP further categorizes public expenditure specifically targeted to women into four clusters. First, protective and welfare services that prevent atrocities against women such as domestic violence, rape, kidnapping, dowry deaths, including rehabilitation programmes. Second, awareness generation programmes for women. Third, economic services such as self- employment and training programmes. Fourth, social services such as education, water supply and sanitation, housing, health and nutrition schemes. In the next section, these parts will be analysed based on the 2021 Budget .
3.0 ANALYSING BUDGET 2021
“Now, just as it had happened after the two World Wars, there are signs that the political, economic, and strategic relations in the post COVID world are changing. This moment in history is the dawn of a new era – one in which India is well-poised to truly be the land of promise and hope.” - Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister of India
Based on six main principles, the Union Budget 2021 presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, undeniably gives a strong push to self reliance and anchors the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Mission, creating visions of a “new era”. The six main principles revolve around health, infrastructure, inclusive growth, reinvigorating human capital, innovation and minimum government and maximum governance. In the following few paragraphs, it will be argued that while this year’s budget gives importance to inclusivity and self reliance, it gives much lesser significance to issues concerning women, especially in the context of the global pandemic
Prior to the announcement of the budget, like every year, the Finance Ministry had issued the Budget circular seeking all ministries and departments to report allocations earmarked for women and girls in their existing schemes in the Gender Budget Statement (GBS) for the Budget 2021-22. Violating the instructions of the circular, only 34 out of over 70 central ministries and departments reported allocations in the Gender Budget Statement in 2021-22. Moreover, most of the budgetary allocations for schemes that are 100% devoted to the betterment of women, are distributed only amongst five ministries- i.e Ministry of Women and Child Development, Rural Development, Agriculture, Health and Family Welfare and Human Resource Development.
The Gender Budget Estimates in the 2021 Union Budget increased to INR 1,53,326.28 crore from INR 1,43,461.72 crore in 2020-21, witnessing a 6.9% rise. However, a comparison with the revised estimates of 2020-21 reveals a significant reduction of 26% in the current allocation. The share of the Gender Budget in the total budgetary allocations has fallen from 4.72% to 4.40%. Even as a proportion of GDP, a decline from 0.74% to 0.69% is observed. This allocation marks the continuation of a historical trend according to which the Gender Budget in India has always remained below 5% of the total expenditure budget and below 1% of GDP, ever since the process of GRB was introduced 16 years ago.
COVID-19 has been disproportionately and severely impacting women, not only in terms of job opportunities but also in terms of the innumerable social problems and stigmas that they are subjected to in our gravely patriarchal society. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the workforce shrank by 14% for women as compared to 1% for men in 2020. Experts named the pandemic a ‘Shadow Pandemic’ because of an increase in cases of domestic violence and womens’ disrupted access to reproductive and healthcare facilities.  The Nirbhaya Fund has been allocated ₹ 10 crore as against ₹ 855 crore in the previous budget. Amidst this pandemic, the government has not shown any psychological push or given priority to womens’ contemporary issues such as the gendered digital divide, lack of skill training and protection from sexual harassment which have only received 2% of allocations. Rather, the government has given more importance to the MSME, infrastructure, power and road & transportation sector, reflecting its shifting priorities.
An in-depth analysis of the Gender Budget reveals that although allocation for Part B (schemes with at least 30% of the money reserved for women) has increased by 11%, the allocation for Part A (schemes with 100% allocation for women) has fallen by 12%, from INR 28,568.32 crore to INR 25,260.95 crore. In Part A, a steep decline is noticeable in allocation for the National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education, from INR 110 crore in 2020-21 to only INR 1 crore in 2021-22, almost a 99% decline. Budget estimates for Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme and Rural Housing (PradhanMantri Awaas Yojana), constituting around 85% of Part A, have remained constant. This decline in the allocation of women-specific schemes is worrisome as it reflects an attitudinal shift in the priorities of the government regarding the implementation of key women-specific schemes.
Through her speech on February 2, the Finance Minister told the country that the Annual Budget is not only about financial allocations and government expenditure, but also reflects the government’s priorities and signals broad policy direction. As she spoke of an India heading towards becoming a “5 trillion dollar economy” and playing a “leading role” in the “new world order”, an explicit focus on the importance of women in the economy could have set the tone for women occupying their rightful place in this “reset”. Nirmala Sitharaman’s speech as well as this year’s Budgetary allocations, as has been made evident in the previous sections, reflect a lack of psychological push given to womens’ issues, paving way for a poor implementation of women specific schemes at the grassroots level. As she spoke of self-reliance and the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Mission, she failed to mention the role of women, the LGBTQI+ community and sexual minorities in this new and self sufficient India.
The government has also reflected an inclination towards shifting and sharing its authority and responsibility with the private sector. In the past few weeks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been repeatedly emphasising on privatisation in his speeches. On 24th February, during his speech in Parliament, PM Modi specifically mentioned the rationale for setting up Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) when they were originally established in the 1950s. Substantiating his argument with an example, he said that though telecommunications remains a strategic sector, setting up the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) was plausible when the country did not have many private firms supplying telecom services. However, as the number of private sector telecom providers has risen substantially in the past decades, the need for an MTNL has inevitably come down. He further stated that the government has “no business to be in business”. This essentially implies a reduced level of accountability in the implementation of women-specific schemes, which now have become the sole lifelines of rural women.
Considering that India is committed to the goal of achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality among all its citizens) and with the Constitution of India explicitly mentioning a strong mandate for equality of women, the government’s aim must be to ensure its implementation. However, discrimination against women in India remains a deep seated issue despite various policy and legislative reforms being undertaken at all levels. India is also expected to gain from its ‘demographic dividend’ in the coming years and with women forming an integral part of this developmental process, India must tap its full potential. It is only through the empowerment of women in all forms that we will be able to transcend beyond the constraints we presently face. It is essential to focus on these aspects if India wants to achieve its vision of “a society where women attain their full potential and are able to participate as equal partners in all spheres of life and influence the process of social change” (Draft National Policy for Women, 2016). Hence, in the face of its new approach to economic development through self-reliance and inclusivity, the government must also keep womens’ issues at the forefront.
Ministry of Women & Child Development, Gender Budgeting https://wcd.nic.in/gender-budgeting
Wadhwa, Rita. (2004) “Annual Report 2004-05” National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
Sitharaman, Nirmala. (February, 2021) “Annual Budget 2021 Speech” Ministry of Finance, GoI. Available at: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/Budget_Speech.pdf
Budget Division. (February, 2021) “Expenditure Profile” Ministry of Finance, GoI Available at: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/eb/vol1.pdf
Addabbo, Tindara & Lanzi, Diego & Picchio, Antonella. (2010). ‘Gender Budgets: A Capability Approach’ Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 11. 479-501. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227620162_Gender_Budgets_A_Capability_Approach
Downes, Ronnie & Trapp, Lisa & Nicole, Scherie. (2016) ‘Gender Budgeting in OECD Countries’ OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 3 http://www.oecd.org/gender/Gender-Budgeting-in-OECD-countries.pdf
Ratho, Aditi. (July 2020) “Gender-Responsive Budgeting in India, Bangladesh and Rwanda: A Comparison,” ORF Occasional Paper No. 260, Observer Research Foundation.
Chakraborty, Lekha. (2013) “A Case Study of Gender Responsive Budgeting in India” The Commonwealth, Commonwealth Secretariat
Kotwal, Vinod. (2007) “Gender Budgeting: An Indian Perspective” UN Women
Nikore, Mitali & Malhotra, Geetika & Mahant, Tanvi. (February, 2021) “Decoding India’s First COVID-19 Gender Budget” IndiaSpend https://www.indiaspend.com/budget/decoding-indias-first-covid-19-gender-budget-722823
Wankhade, Vikrant & Mahendru, Apoorva. (January, 2021) “In the 2021 Budget, India needs to do more to address the challenges faced by women” Scroll.in
Gulati, Nalini. (February, 2021) “Budget 2021-22: A Gender Lens” Ideas For India https://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/agriculture/budget-2021-22-a-gender-lens.html
E.W (March, 2017) “What is Gender Budgeting” The Economist Available at: https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2017/03/03/what-is-gender-budgeting
 Henry, N. (1999) “Public Administration and Public Affairs” Prentice Hall  E.W (March, 2017) “What is Gender Budgeting” The Economist Available at: https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2017/03/03/what-is-gender-budgeting  Addabbo, Tindara & Lanzi, Diego & Picchio, Antonella. (2010). ‘Gender Budgets: A Capability Approach’ Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 11. 479-501. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227620162_Gender_Budgets_A_Capability_Approach  Downes, Ronnie & Trapp, Lisa & Nicole, Scherie. (2016) ‘Gender Budgeting in OECD Countries’ OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 3  Wadhwa, Rita. (2004) “Annual Report 2004-05” National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. Available at: https://www.nipfp.org.in/media/medialibrary/2013/04/AnnualReport04-05.pdf  Ministry of Women & Child Development, Gender Budgeting https://wcd.nic.in/gender-budgeting  Ratho, Aditi. (July 2020) “Gender-Responsive Budgeting in India, Bangladesh and Rwanda: A Comparison,” ORF Occasional Paper No. 260, Observer Research Foundation.  Sitharaman, Nirmala. (February, 2021) “Annual Budget 2021 Speech” Ministry of Finance, GoI. Available at: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/Budget_Speech.pdf  Nikore, Mitali & Malhotra, Geetika & Mahant, Tanvi. (February, 2021) “Decoding India’s First COVID-19 Gender Budget” IndiaSpend https://www.indiaspend.com/budget/decoding-indias-first-covid-19-gender-budget-722823  Budget Division. (February, 2021) “Expenditure Profile” Ministry of Finance, GoI Available at: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/eb/vol1.pdf  Nikore, Mitali & Malhotra, Geetika & Mahant, Tanvi. (February, 2021) “Decoding India’s First COVID-19 Gender Budget” IndiaSpend https://www.indiaspend.com/budget/decoding-indias-first-covid-19-gender-budget-722823  Ibid.  Budget Division. (February, 2021) “Expenditure Profile” Ministry of Finance, GoI Available at: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/eb/vol1.pdf  HT Editorial. (February, 2021) “Benefits of Privatisation”. Hindustan Times.