Women-led development sans provisions for women’s employment? - Hindustan Times
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Women-led development sans provisions for women’s employment?

ByHindustan Times
Mar 08, 2023 12:47 PM IST

This article has been authored by Dr. Sona Mitra, principal economist and Sruti Kutty, programme manager at IWWAGE.

Low labour force participation of women continues to pose a challenge for the economy. The latest Economic Survey highlights the challenge and makes important announcements to overcome it. India holds the G20 presidency this year and resolves to embark on a women-led development process. All these are good news that indicate the government's priority to empower women via improving their economic participation by creating enabling mechanisms to improve women’s socio-economic status.

India holds the G20 presidency this year and resolves to embark on a women-led development process. (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
India holds the G20 presidency this year and resolves to embark on a women-led development process. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

However, in order to realise the true potential of women as economic agents, there is a need for pushing strategic investments in sectors that see higher participation of women, creating jobs for women in newly emerging sectors as well as reducing systemic barriers that deter women from joining the labour force.

The budget speech this year emphasised ‘nari shakti’ although certain important programmes for women’s development did not reflect the intentions expressed by the Finance Minister. The Gender Budget (GB), with all its limitations, has maintained a status quo and its share remains below 5% of the total expenditure. Clearly crucial programmes intended for improving public provisioning for women’s overall well-being including that of health and nutrition, safety, economic empowerment does not witness any major change or substantive improvements.

Significantly, the part A of the GB statement, that reports programmes where 100% of the expenditure is on girls and women show an approximate decline of Rs. 10,000 crores from the RE 2022-23. Overall, major increases have happened in allocations for PM Awas Yojana Grameen - a jump of almost Rs.6000/- crores from the RE 2022-23. The other increment in the GB was reported in a newer scheme - the PRAGATI under PM-SHRI of Rs. 4000/- crores to provide scholarships to girls. Rest of the allocations to women and girls in the GB statement, for example under MGNREGA, ICDS, Anganwadi, Women’s safety programmes etc. have either declined or remained the same.

The allocation to the Ministry of Women and Child Development at Rs. 25448 crores also remains the same at 0.6% of the total budgetary expenditures.

Two crucial aspects need to be highlighted when one examines budget allocations for women’s employment. The first one pertains to provisioning for programmes that are directly creating jobs for women such as the NRLM, MGNREGA. This year, the overall allocation for MGNREGA witnessed a massive decline of 25% falling to INR 60,000 crore in BE 2023-24 from INR 73,000 crore RE 2022-23. The NRLM more or less remains similarly funded as last year. The housing programmes as well as other public works and construction related programmes have been hailed for its employment generation potential and show some increments in allocations. However, the emphasis of the budget has been on raising capital expenditure as an impetus to boost employment creation in the economy.

The proportion of capital expenditure has surpassed 20% of the total expenditure in BE 2023-24. The major investments are in big bang infrastructure projects, building multi lane roadways, flyovers and highways. These are good initiatives for improving mobility of the population in general, however, it may not be as labour-intensive as any other public works construction processes. Also, most of these investments use mechanised construction processes that seldom include women’s labour and thus do not have the much-desired impact on women’s labour force participation.

The other means of improving women’s employment would be to invest in skilling more girls and women in trades that are emerging in addition to traditional occupations. This would include attracting investments by incentivising sectors such as textiles, garments, electronics, food processing where women are usually located. Additionally, investing in new and growing sub-sectors within manufacturing and services which see lower presence of women. The Production Linked Incentive Program was one such initiative, however, its success has been visible marginally in the automobiles sector and not in those which employ women.

The second aspect of creating enablers in the economy for women to access the labour market is about facilitating their unpaid work. India is an extreme case where hours spent by women are 10 times more than men on home and care work. Performing daily chores and caring for children make up the main components of women’s activities in a day. Evidence clearly suggests that extensive engagement in such work impacts women’s labour force participation. Hence a holistic approach to reducing time spent by women on unpaid work can go a long way to empower women.

One of the important provisions would be to ensure affordable and safe childcare facilities. The Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2 programme which includes the creche scheme acts as a huge cushion for women allowing them to engage in income generating activities. The ICDS and Poshan yojanas play a critical role in improving nutritional outcomes for women and children, which is also an important marker of quality childcare facilities. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ascertain the amount allocated for these schemes given the way they are reported in the budget documents. The need is to strengthen these programmes by not starving them of resources.

Reducing household chores performed by women is possible through providing good quality housing facilities, continuous and regular piped water supply, electricity, clean fuel and so on. The Jal Jeevan Mission, aimed at providing drinking water through household tap connections shows increased allocations by Rs. 15000/- crores between the two financial years. On the other hand, the allocations to Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana has been withdrawn and the LPG subsidy has reduced from Rs. 9170 crores in RE 2022-23 to Rs. 2257 crores in BE 2023-24. So, while women would benefit through reduced time and effort in fetching water through the former, withdrawing subsidy from the LPG connections would render them to using traditional modes of cooking that not only exposes them to health hazards but also increases time spent on cooking.

It is imperative that a holistic approach is used to provide enabling mechanisms for reducing housework for women along with sufficient childcare infrastructure. It is equally important to ensure that these measures are sustained and not ad hoc in their approach. Women’s empowerment via improving women’s labour force participation needs to be backed by sufficient budgetary allocations. This is the only way forward.

This article has been authored by Dr. Sona Mitra, principal economist and Sruti Kutty, programme manager at IWWAGE.

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