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Budget 2017: What The Govt. Should’ve Done For Women

Posted by Shravani Prakash in Politics, Society
February 2, 2017

In his 2017 Budget speech, the Finance Minister said how ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ begins with girls and women. Money allocated in the budget for the welfare of women and children under various schemes has been increased from ₹1.6 lakh crore to ₹1.8 lakh crore.

A large chunk of this will go into the Government’s maternity benefits programme – following PM Modi’s announcement on New Year’s Eve that the government will give ₹6,000 as financial aid to pregnant women across 650 districts of India. The FM also noted that the government would set up a Mahila Shakti Kendras at the village level in 14 lakh Anganwadi centres with ₹500 crore.

In last year’s budget (for 2016–17), ₹17,000 crore  were given to women-only schemes —  55% higher than the ₹11,000 crore in 2015–16. This money went into funding schemes like the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, the Nirbhaya scheme (for women’s helplines and one-stop crisis centres), schemes for maternal and child healthcare, LPG connections for rural women, etc.

This, is all great and we thank the Government for these and hope it does a lot more of the same — but if you notice the majority of these are schemes that assist women in their role as mothers and homemakers! There’s not really been much for enhancing women’s participation in the workforce, nothing big enough to help women develop skills and careers, very little to help increase our productivity.

And that’s not a good sign because, according to research by the International Monetary Fund, India’s GDP can rise by 27% if women’s participation in workforce equals to that of men! But, as the World Bank notes, only 27% of women over 15 years are in the labour force (vs. 80% of men). And only about 18–34% women return to work after having kids (says a BBC survey).

So, maybe the Governments need to really, really take this more seriously and include provisions that help females join the workforce and contribute more to our country’s income.

We had drawn up a list of suggestions that we would have loved the Finance Minister to consider – perhaps by the next budget if nothing else!

Here they are:

Income Tax Incentives

  • What if we introduce a tax-rebate or just lower the tax rate for men whose wives are also earning? That could be an incentive to “allow” women of the house to work!
  • Is it possible that after childbirth, salaries for new mums be made tax free for a year — to encourage them to return to work (up to two kids that is).
  • Can we have interest earned from investments exempted from tax for women? This might motivate us to invest more. In case you haven’t realised, we women don’t invest enough. We can spend, save but not easily invest!

Incentive For Women Entrepreneurs

You could consider making investments into women-owned businesses tax-free so that more individuals and funds come out to sponsor and invest in our ventures.

Please consider providing more funds in your budget allocations for the following:

  • Child care facilities, such as day care centres and pre-schools so mothers can return to work.
  • Government sponsored flexi-work centres and women-focused co-working spaces to facilitate work-from-home mothers, freelancers and budding entrepreneurs  —  maybe even with attached child care facilities
  • Subsidised higher education fee for girls (in engineering, medical, MBA schools) so that more girls are ‘allowed’ to study.
  • Skill-based training courses for women, especially as an alternative to full-time courses.
  • Maybe a lot of this sounds a little over the top  —  but in this is the age of artificial intelligence and commercial space travel and what not, anything’s possible!

A pre-budget version of this originally appeared in Tesh — a daily knowledge capsule  —  here.

Image source: Hindustan Times/Getty Images