Gender budget: Government spending hits highest ever in 2024
This year, the total allocation under the gender budget stands at ₹three lakh crore, which is almost 6.5% of the total expenditure.
As she started her budget speech on a note of nari shakti, India’s longest-serving woman finance minister, Nirmala Sithraman, noted: “The empowerment of women through entrepreneurship, ease of living, and dignity has gained momentum in these 10 years.”
Focusing on the four pillars of the poor, youth, farmers and women, the interim budget of 2024-25 is the last before India goes to the polls.
With women turning up to vote in increasing numbers, in some states outnumbering men and in others influencing elections (see, for instance, here), it would seem self-evident that the government’s slogan of nari shakti would get a boost.
What’s a gender budget?
A separate statement of the Union budget, it provides an estimate of budgetary allocations and expenditure targeted towards women and girls.
This is not a separate budget for women. Rather, it is an accounting statement that clearly shows just how much is allocated under each scheme for women beneficiaries or girls.
The practice of issuing an annual gender budgeting statement (GBS) as part of the Union budget began in 2005-06. A charter on gender budget cells (GBCs) to be set up across various ministries was issued in 2007, and detailed guidelines to establish these calls at the level of the states were issued in 2012-13.
Over the past two decades, India’s GBS has evolved into a comprehensive document that provides item-wise allocation and expenditure details in a clear, predictable format. The number of ministries and departments included in the GBS has more than doubled from 14 to 38.
What does the gender budget for 2024 look like?
Over the last two decades, while the quantum of the gender budget has grown, allocations have averaged between 4% - 5% of the total expenditure. The exception was financial year 2020-21, when social protection schemes during COVID-19 provided for cash transfers and other benefits to women.
This year, the total allocation under the gender budget stands at ₹three lakh crore, which is almost 6.5% of the total expenditure. This is an increase of almost 40% over the gender budget for the previous year, and the highest increase in the last decade.
Who gets the money?
Nearly 35% of the total gender budget, or ₹one lakh crore, has been allocated towards the Ministry of Rural Development for the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which provides 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year, the PM Awas Yojana (rural), which aims to provide affordable housing to all, and the National Rural Livelihood Mission.
The second biggest contribution of nearly ₹40,000 crore, or close to 13% of the gender budget, comes from the Ministry of Education, with the Samagra Shiksha scheme that aims to improve school effectiveness by providing equal opportunities for schooling and the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN), the former mid-day meal scheme for school children, being leading schemes.
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation’s Jal Jeevan Scheme’s allocation at ₹36,000 crore, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s schemes at about ₹35,000 crores make up a further 11%-12% each of the gender budget.
The final spot in the top five ministries is taken by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, where the PM Awas Yojana (Urban)’s allocation of about ₹26,000 crore makes up a further 8.5% of the gender budget.
Interestingly, the Ministry of Women and Child Development does not feature in the top five ministries, receiving 6.6% of the gender budget.
Hits and misses
Certainly, this year records the highest ever gender budget since the beginning of gender budgeting in India.
It has also seen the maximum annual increase in allocations and also an increase in the number of ministries and departments reporting their schemes, with the notable additions of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
There were some small but innovative allocations in the gender budget that reflect the newer aspirations of a new generation of women and girls. For instance, the addition of the Namo Drone Didi scheme trains women members of self-help groups to operate drones that will provide services for irrigation and crop quality management.
The provision of Mahila barracks with separate toilets is another allocation that reflects changing times with the increase in the number of women posted at border outposts. The budget for the the DISHA program for women in science has doubled and there is increased allocation under both the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan (PM-SYM), a pension scheme for old age workers, which will now cover older women workers and the PM Vishwakarma scheme for skill training of women entrepreneurs.
However, the gender budget continues to be concentrated in few schemes, and even fewer ministries. This is not a symptom of the lack of intention. Ministries are keen on prioritising initiatives for gender equality and women-led development, especially since this is now a national priority. Yet, low awareness of gender budgeting accounting methods, and gender mainstreaming in fiscal policy continues to constrain the widespread use and application of gender budgeting.
(Mitali Nikore is the founder of Nikore Associates. This article was written with research support by Abhiniti Gupta, Suhruda Dasyam and Divyaanshu Sahrawat.)
Seen and heard
“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through…No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered, and this is why we invested so much.” - Mark Zuckerberg
During a contentious US Congressional hearing that accused the big five major tech companies of not doing enough to stop online child sexual abuse, Mark Zukerberg, Meta’s CEO turned to face the families whose kids were harmed to issue an apology. Social media was unimpressed and called the dramatic act a ‘performative apology’.
In anticipation of the record numbers that go to the polls this year, the Financial Times has commissioned short films on what’s at stake. Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Lola Shoneyin and India’s very own stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal have a go at it.
“It’s not perfect and it’s not going to happen overnight,” says Mittal in her short, In That Top. “But knowing that that day is coming makes it worth it.” On X, she posted, the film is “a love letter from an Indian woman to all the democracies that she cherishes/combats in her day.”
News you might have missed
Allahabad HC refuses protection for interfaith couples: Eight interfaith couples went to court to ask for protection from their own families for the crime of falling in love.In a country where honour killings continue unabated, justice Saral Srivastava sent the petitioners back, saying he could not comply with their request since they had not married in accordance with Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion law. The law was brought in to prevent religious conversion by fraud, but includes marriage too. It is under legal challenge in the Supreme Court.
[I wrote about the court’s decision in my column here.]
Rape accused former minister Chinmayanand acquitted: A special court to try MPs and MLAs in Shahjahanpur district, acquitted the BJP leader after the victim turned hostile. The case had been lodged in 2011 by a student of the Swami Shukdevanand Law College where Chinmayanand was a director. According to LiveLaw, the court has asked for charges to be framed against the woman student for giving ‘false evidence’ against the self-proclaimed swami.
Uttarakhand’s uniform civil code: A five-member committee set up to look at implementing a uniform civil code in Uttarakhand has submitted a draft report to chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami. Tribals have been left out of the ambit, and news reports suggest an emphasis on equal rights for women in terms of inheritance, adoption and divorce with bans on polygamy, regardless of religion.
…And the good news is the leap in the number of women in higher education, reported by the latest All India Survey for Higher Education for 2021-22. Female enrolment in colleges and universities is up by 32% since 2014 with Kerala, Telangana, Haryana, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Meghalaya and Chhattisgarh recording significantly larger numbers.
Around the world
In South Korea, a luxury Dior bag gifted to Kim Keon Hee, wife of President Yoon Suk-Yeol is one of the reasons being offered to explain the slide in the president’s approval ratings. The country is due to go to the polls in less than three months and the intense political infighting and growing public discontent over the scandal caused by the gift and other suspected wrongdoings tied to the First Lady could cost the president dearly in the high-stakes election.
In France, the national assembly has taken the first step to make abortion a right under the country’s constitution. Although abortion was decriminalised by law back in 1975, there is nothing in the constitution that guarantees it as a right.
And in Cyprus, President Nikos Christodoulides has asked all his ministers to sign a zero tolerance declaration on sexist behaviour and sexual harassment among employees and anyone visiting a government office. The Washington Post has more here.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender. The views expressed are personal.
Note: The following article was originally published in this week's Mind the Gap - a newsletter that adds perspective to the gender developments of the week. You can subscribe to it here.