In 2005, a gender-responsive budgeting system was introduced in India. Since then, there have been consistent budget allocations to various women-specific and women-related programs. These allocations are detailed in the gender budget statement of the Union budget. As the Union budget affects individuals throughout the budget year, it is crucial that there is a clear gender perspective.
So, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the Union Budget 2022-23 on February 1, here are a few things women would be interested in:
Higher share of budget allocations
In 2005-2006, the gender budget – an effort to address gender inequalities in the allocation of resources for government initiatives – accounted for 4.8 percent of total budget expenditure. However, the percentage of the budget has stagnated relatively over the years, about 5 percent on average. The gender budget increased by just 6.8 percent in the 2021 Union budget.
The budgetary provision may prove insufficient to compensate for the disproportionate job losses of women during the pandemic. Subsequently, there has been a rise in dropouts among women, exacerbated by gender gaps in access to digital tools during the pandemic.
Third, domestic violence cases also increased during the lockdown. Apart from that, there have been disruptions in reproductive and maternal health services due to the closure of Anganwadi centers.
As a result, many women would be looking for a larger share of the total budget. In other words, budget allocations for addressing women’s issues must be increased.
Not only have many women lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, but their long-term social security has also been jeopardized. As a result, the Union’s budget this year is crucial for women. They would look for special arrangements from Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. With a woman at the helm of the Treasury Department, the Union budget is expected to be more sensitive to their needs, especially in such difficult times.
One way could be to provide women with a special Section 80C (allowing a maximum deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh from taxpayers’ total income) for a few years, which will encourage them to save more.
Another alternative is to give women a larger standard deduction so that they have more money at their disposal thanks to lower taxes. It will at least offset the COVID-19 losses to some degree.
Bridging the digital divide
The pandemic also brought to the fore the huge digital divide in education as classes went online. It would be a welcome step to include schemes to increase the digital literacy of women of all age groups. In addition, the introduction of skills-building workshops and entrepreneurship training programs under government auspices could help improve women’s employment rates.
Several health services also went online as hospitals and primary care centers collapsed under the COVID-19 caseload. Increasing the National Health Mission’s budget to enable women to be active stakeholders in decisions related to their own and their families’ health is paramount.
Policy for female entrepreneurs
Encouraging women entrepreneurs through policies under the ‘Make In India’ umbrella or similar initiatives will be a welcome addition to the Union budget. Special schemes and reduced corporate taxes aimed at bridging the gender gap, promoting menstrual and pre- and post-natal health, and women’s safety could be a step in the right direction.
Lower the GST on Preferred Investments
Gold continues to be a huge investment vehicle for women in tier-2 and tier-3 cities in the country. A further reduction in GST rates on items of interest to women, such as gold, will help them gain greater control and autonomy over their investments.