Why gender budgeting is necessary in India

Giving development policies a gender content would have a greater impact in some of India’s most backward districts. Consider Mewat district, situated 60 kilometres from high-tech Gurugram, Haryana’s most backward district, where a saline water zone coupled with lack of water supply forces women to travel for up to two to three hours daily to fetch drinking water.

Being a Muslim-dominated region, the cultural ethos is conservative, restricting the movement of women outside their homes. The average family size in the district is eight. Interestingly, Mewat is at the top in terms of the proportion of the child population (22.78 per cent), which is an indicator of a level of higher dependency on the earning members of each household. This in turn creates pressure on the limited resources available to an individual as a member of a particular household.

 The men in Mewat are mostly truck drivers, who are away for number of days, and hence most of the household pressure falls on the women. The mother involves the elder daughter in supporting the family. The elder daughter therefore does not get time to go to school, which reduces the literacy rate of women. Education is not considered an important resource and thus does not feature on the priority list of inhabitants.

Large family size combined with low income leads to low nutrition levels for the women, resulting in poor health. Poor medical facilities and the absence of nurses and doctors play havoc with their health. Sewage flows in open drains on both sides of the road. Swarms of mosquitoes lead to many diseases like malaria.

The major source of cooking fuel is firewood (48 per cent). Firewood gathering not only consumes a considerable amount time for women and children, limiting other productive activities, but its usage also results in emission of carbon and methane, which are powerful climate change pollutants. The high level of dependence on kerosene for lighting and firewood for cooking carries serious health and environmental hazards in the case of Mewat.

Women work extensively on farms but are not identified as farmers, and land inheritance and ownership is patriarchal in nature. The women work for up to 20 hours a day, but continue to have low incomes.

There is a need to scale up efforts to improve women’s empowerment in the region, as in more than two-thirds of the villages there is a huge gender gap in literacy, with women spending substantial amounts of time in fetching water and collecting firewood for fuel. Thus, substantial investment in water infrastructure for drinking and farming purposes should be of the highest priority in the region, as it has adversely affected all dimensions of development, such as living standards, agriculture, gender equality and so on. 

The Haryana government on its part has made many efforts to improve living conditions in Mewat by opening hospitals, anganwadis, schools and colleges and developing infrastructure, but has still not been able to bring about effective change.

Despite so much effort over so many years, the condition of women has not improved much and Mewat continues to be at the bottom among all of Haryana’s districts in terms of development. A change in the thinking of society as a whole is needed.

The statistics reveal that women are more disadvantaged than men. If data for males and females are disaggregated, it is clear that women are much worse off than men in terms of education, health, income and so on. They perform a lot of unpaid work like caring for children, cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and caring for the elderly. This has to be valued and methods of supporting women who contribute to the nation through unpaid work need to be identified.

A more realistic way would be to identify areas of public spending that would yield more advantages to women and girls. We would then have to work towards improvising policies to provide more funds in the identified areas, which will provide an advantage to women and girls. In the case of Haryana, budget allocations for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) will have to be viewed through a gender lens.  

Gender budgeting is the gender-sensitive formulation of policies and plans, allocation of resources, impact assessment of policies and corrective follow-up action to address gender disparities. Providing non-government organisations in Mewat with funds for women to start small mustard plants (Mewat is blessed with acres of mustard fields) would increase women’s incomes.

SDG-1 featured a budget allocation to eradicate poverty. This can be given a gender twist and women of each household can be provided with foodgrains to reduce poverty. Many more such practical innovations can reduce the gap between male and female development indicators and improve the district as a whole. Changes in policies, even without actually increasing the district’s budget, can have far-reaching effects.    
The writer is with the National Institute of Financial Management, Union Ministry of Finance

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel