IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted an interactive panel discussion on the topic “Gender and Union Budget 2023-24” on 5 February 2023 under the IMPRI 3rd Annual Series of Thematic Deliberations and Analysis of Union Budget 2023-24, as part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps.
The discussion was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, a Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. To begin, Prof Patel gave a holistic view of this year’s budget that focuses more on the increase in capital expenditure towards developing roads, highways, railroads and other infrastructures, with the social sector not receiving enough consideration. To substantiate her argument, she set the tone of the event by highlighting the dynamic allocation of funds to various policies of the government of India as per the Union Budget 2023- 24.
The discussion was taken forward by Ms Lata Bhise, State Secretary, National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), Maharashtra. Ms Bhise voiced her dismay when questioned about how attentive the Union Budget 2022-23 is to women’s concerns, emphasising how the budget is mute on gender. According to her, the budget has not implemented any new policies and has remained with the same old programmes with small tweaks. In addition, she voiced her displeasure with the structure of the budget’s initiatives, which, in her view, do not support a diverse and distinctive approach to women’s entrepreneurship and financing. She supported her claims with examples of her work in Maharashtra.
Last but not least, she brought attention to the fact that the budget and the programmes connected to it fail to consider the diverse requirements of women from minority groups. The next panellist, Dr Paramita Majumdar, the Lead and Gender Responsive Budget (GRB) Expert at United Nations (UN) Women India Country Office, gave us an insight into how the budget conveniently ignores employment creation in Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) business by using microfinance to reach self-help organisations. She brings forth the gender disparity in employment creation garbed in the guise of infrastructural boost. She cited an example of the government’s lack of addressing the gendered digital divide in assigning funds for Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (PMKVY).
She noted that gender-related budgets had fallen despite increased education and health investments. She concluded that the planning and implementation process overlooks women while acknowledging the need for a gender-sensitive budget. Prof Manisha Karne, currently serving as the Director at Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Research Centre and Professor at the Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy, University of Mumbai, highlighted the inconsistency in the budget allocation and its implication for the welfare and development of minorities women. The decline in funds for health and education will directly impact vulnerable populations who depend upon public institutions.
Additionally, there has been a severe cut in spending on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) job guarantee scheme. On the one hand, where Prof Karne expressed her dissatisfaction with fewer employment opportunities for women in the labour force, she appreciated the allocations for tribal population welfare. This was followed by Dr Sanghamitra Dhar, the Technical Coordinator (States) at Gender-Responsive Budgeting, UN Women, remarks on how the mention of gender in the budget, despite a nominal increase in gender-related policies, is in itself a step towards a more inclusive future. Given northeast India’s lengthy neglect, she noted the budget’s emphasis on it.
However, she objected to the Ministry of Minority Affairs’ budget cuts and the absence of gender-disaggregated statistics. Dr Bollineni Keerthi, the President of Vasavya Mahila Mandali, Vijayawada, spoke about Mission Shakti and associated challenges concerning gender-based violence and the union budget 2023- 24. Talking about gender-related policies like nutrition still occupying the periphery, she critiqued the government for not empowering women to face real challenges like violence and unemployment, especially when virtual crimes against women have made it all the more difficult for them to make their presence felt.
Lastly, Prof N. Manimekalai, Professor at the Department of Women’s Studies and Coordinator, RUSA Social Sciences, Bharathidasan University Tiruchirapalli, noted that NREGA’s budget cut might harm women. According to her study, agriculture automation has led women to seek jobs in urban construction and domestic service sectors, which risks formalising the female labour force. Her responses showed how gender minorities like transgender people are ignored. Finally, she reviewed effective Tamil Nadu policies that may be emulated nationally.
The session concluded with closing remarks by Prof Patel, who thanked and praised the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute team for hosting a successful panel discussion and ensuring the event’s smooth functioning.