Gender Responsive Budgeting Amid COVID-19

Gender Responsive Budgeting is related to the gender-sensitive formulation of programmes and schemes legislation, implementation and execution; allocation of resources, audit and impact assessment of programmes; and follow-up remedial action to address gender inequality. In 2004-05, India adopted gender budgeting based on the recommendations of a group committee constituted by the Finance Ministry on Classification of Budgetary Transactions. According to the 2011 Census, women constitute 48% of India’s population, but they fall behind men on many social indicators like education, health, economic opportunities, etc.

Hence, there is a need for special attention due to their lack of access to resources and vulnerability. Women face inequalities in access to and control over services and resources. A large amount of the public expenditure and policy concerns are in gender-neutral sectors.

Gender-Responsive Budgets policies can contribute to achieving the objectives of gender equality, human development and economic efficiency.

Gender Responsive Budget (GRB)

Gender Responsive Budget is a powerful instrument for achieving gender mainstreaming to ensure that development benefits reach women as much as men. GRB involves dissection of the Government budgets to establish its gender differential impacts and ensure that gender commitments are transformed into budgetary commitments. It does not aim to create a separate budget but seeks supportive action to address specific needs of women and monitors expenses and public service delivery from a gender perspective.

The impact of government budgets on most underprivileged groups of women is a focus of special attention. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened existing economic inequalities within India’s patriarchal society, so rigorous GRB efforts are needed more than ever. The GRB process can help governments identify gender needs, allocate resources to programs by applying a gender lens, and prioritise gender-specific outcomes.

It becomes essential to understand how helpful past Indian gender budgets have been and examine whether the first pandemic gender budget (2021-2022) will provide a gender-sensitive recovery in the face of the current economic crisis.

Importance of Gender Responsive Budgeting

Eliminating gender inequalities: GRB is vital for removing gender inequalities with significant improvements in a country’s social, educational, health, and economic indicators.

Economic rationale: Gender inequality hinders the overall growth and development of a nation. The economic justification for proposing a gender-sensitive budget also emerges from efficiency and equity perspectives. It addresses gender inequality issues in past budgets, like the influence of gender hierarchies in budgets and gender-based unpaid or low paid work.

Achieving social goals: Gender inequality is connected with a loss in human development due to imbalance. Gender inequality transfers into other areas of human development, threatening progress across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Public expenditures with gender implications: Some public expenditure is non-excludable and non-rival like defence, road/bridge-building, etc. Some public expenses like education, health, sanitation may have intrinsic gender implications and require separate assessment/monitoring/evaluation of gender-specific needs. The rationale for gender budgeting recognises that national budgets impact men and women differently by allocating resources.

Gender Responsive Budgeting in India

Increasing trend in the Budget allocation: Since 2004, India’s gender budget has seen a six-fold increase, 242 billion rupees in 2005-2006 to 1.4 trillion rupees in 2020-21. The gender budget statement is divided into two parts. Part A reflects projects with 100 per cent allocation for women, such as the maternity benefit scheme or widow pension scheme. Part B entails methods with nearly 30 per cent of funds allocated for women, like the mid-day meals program and rural livelihood mission.

Stands out globally: India’s gender budget efforts have influenced expenditure and policies like different rates for men and women in property tax and reexamining income tax structure and extended to state government.

Gender budget efforts in India have four phases:

  • (i) knowledge building and networking,
  • (ii) institutionalising the process,
  • (iii) capacity building, and
  • (iv) enhancing accountability.

Gender budgeting in India is not limited to an accounting exercise. Gender budgeting has helped the gender-neutral ministries to design new schemes for women. Gender Budgeting Cells (GBC) has been mandated to be set up in all Ministries/Departments as an institutional mechanism. GBCs conduct gender-based impact analysis, the beneficiary needs assessment, and beneficiary incidence analysis to identify opportunities for re-prioritising public expenditure, improving implementation, etc.

However, the lack of resource allocation for the schemes is one of the significant shortcomings of India’s GRB. The gender budget is a collaboration between various departments and ministries. However, several projects that provide direct effects were omitted due to the focus on Phase B. There is still a considerable gender gap in different fields like economics, politics, education and health. There is a need for more resource allocation and implementation of projects that will help women.