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:
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: