Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first full-time woman finance minister is set to create history: She’d be the first woman to deliver four budgets to the Indian cabinet, presenting the second one after the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis began. As this year’s budget too focuses on economic recovery, resilience, and growth, India has the opportunity to mainstream women’s economic participation.
Women form the country’s untapped potential; for every 7 men gainfully employed or looking for jobs, less than two women work in India. By focusing on women, Budget 2022-23 can play an instrumental role in building a more inclusive and sustainable economy, while transforming India into a self-reliant global powerhouse.
With the aim to achieve equality and equity between women and men, India has been issuing a gender budgeting statement in its Union budget since 2005. Typically at a meagre 5-6% of the total budget or approximately 1% of the GDP, the Gender Budget includes allocations made by different ministries for schemes that fully or partially benefit women.
While the Gender Budget has succeeded so far in drawing attention to gender issues, over 90% of the allocations are made by only five ministries and departments: Rural Development, Health and Family Welfare, Human Resource Development, Women and Child Development, and Agriculture. Even though targeted programmes under these ministries have reduced sectoral inequalities, gender-responsive budgeting needs to be increased and mainstreamed across all ministries, beginning with the ones managing and boosting emerging sectors of national significance.
Growth and prosperity in 21st-century India is shaped by its commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2070. Aiding its journey of decarbonisation are the emerging sectors of (a) sustainable mobility powered by digital platform-based shared, connected, electric, and autonomous mobility paradigms, (b) renewable energy, (c) platform-enabled financial, educational, and healthcare services, and (d) advanced engineering and large-scale manufacturing, etc.
At less than 30% in services and 12% in manufacturing, women form a small portion of the workforce in these sectors currently. While socio-economic and cultural barriers have traditionally kept women at bay, India’s new journey to sustainability affords it the opportunity to become a gender-inclusive economy.
Recognising these opportunities, Budget 2022-23, should nudge all ministries to increase the proportion of gender-responsive budgeting. Funds should be allocated to enhance outcomes-based skill development of girls and women in close collaboration with the industry. This would allow workers to earn while they learn. One industry interface that the Budget should encourage is that with digital platforms.
Digital platforms providing passenger mobility, hyperlocal deliveries, professional home services, online tasking, etc. are prevalent in over 300 cities and towns in India. They have a transformative impact on workers, equipping them with transferable skills, enabling horizontal and vertical mobility of workers, and increasing their remunerative opportunities. In 2020, digital platforms began upskilling street vendors in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, under the PM Street Vendor AtmaNirbhar Nidhi Yojana (PM SVANidhi Scheme).
Platforms have also upskilled drivers and professional home service providers etc. in collaboration with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, reskilling and upskilling opportunities could be designed specifically for women transitioning out of carbon-intensive roles to low-carbon jobs. Increasing the Gender Budget earmarked for such skilling initiatives has the potential to bring more women into the economy.
An expanded Gender Budget should also aim to promote entrepreneurship among women, strengthening their access to assets like vehicles and smartphones, and cash flow-based institutional credit. Today, thanks to platformization of our lives and labour, an individual can monetise their idle assets - be it a vehicle, smartphone, or their skills - when and where they want, a benefit absent in traditional economic opportunities. This is an attractive proposition for women, who can be seen taking up unconventional and non-traditional jobs not just in India’s large cities but in the hinterlands as well.
Thus, necessary budgets should be earmarked to expand formal credit, promote fintech, and catalyse platformization of jobs across all industries. Budgets should be enhanced to make all sectors more gender-inclusive from having gender-based hiring incentives, for instance, to providing tax relief to businesses that have gender-inclusive systems and processes.
These are but a few sure shot ways to bring women into the economy. After all, increasing women’s labour force participation by even 10 percentage points could add US$ 770 billion to India’s GDP. India needs a renewed approach to gender-responsive budgeting to accommodate new priorities of the 21st century including those posed by India’s commitment to a clean and green future. With an expanded gender budget, India will be well poised to become a self-reliant country driven by intent, inclusion, investment, infrastructure, and innovation, the formula laid out by our Hon’ble Prime Minister.
-The author Aishwarya Raman is Director and Head of Research at the Ola Mobility Institute. The views expressed are personal.
For all the Budget 2022 related news, click here.
(Edited by : Priyanka Deshpande)
First Published: IST