Gender and Policy in India

Gender and Policy in India

Published on :- August 19th, 2019

The evolution of India’s policy approach towards women empowerment has shown a marked maturity; women are being recognised for their potential to further the country’s economic progress and are no longer considered passive “beneficiaries”. Initiatives such as Gender Budgeting exemplify India’s policy stance by reorienting all policies to be gender aware and integrating gender concerns in the macroeconomic policy vision. This shift has been complemented with many legislative efforts in the recent years including the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, that has improved women’s intra and extra-house bargaining power; the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, that incentivises women against withdrawing from the workforce on account of childbirth and The Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace(Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, that aims to create a harm-free work environment for women. Another notable aspect of this evolution has been the proactive leveraging of successful policy components - initiatives like Mudra Scheme and Women Entrepreneurship Platform testify to the role of female self-employment as a policy lever for both women empowerment and the economic advancement of the country in general.

Some transforming policy successes notwithstanding, it is undeniable that women-oriented policies need more thought. Gains for women have by no means been holistic; a dwindling female LFPR is juxtaposed with ever-improving educational outcomes for women. This is despite efforts to articulate a synchronised vision for women’s upliftment viz. National Policy for Women 2001 and Draft National Policy for women 2016. We explore below the national policy landscape aimed at women’s labour market participation, skilling and overall capacity building.
Gender Responsive Budgeting
India adopted Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) in 2005, thereby renewing its commitment to women empowerment. Conceptually, GRB goes beyond assigning funds for women-centric schemes; it is meant to address systemic malaises towards women and ensure that they are not perpetuated during planning and allocation of national resources. An NIPFP study on GRB defines it as "an analysis of the entire budget process through a gender lens to identify the gender differential impacts and to translate gender commitments into budgetary commitments.”

Despite the institutionalizing and operationalizing of GRB across the breath of its governance machinery, there are some concerns that linger. As can be seen from following the table, the GBR as a percentage of the total budget has stagnated. Additionally, implementational challenges have also been highlighted, with GBR becoming an end, and not translating into gender issues being identified in the system.

GRB Table

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Ministerial GRB

Policy design and program components of national policies aimed at women’s economic empowerment
Empirical evidence suggests that even flagship employability programs have been unable to sustain women in long-term employment due to the lack of appropriate support services such as migration support, strong post-placement counselling etc. If programs fail to account for micro, on-ground problems faced by women, they are likely to yield sub-par results. Effort, therefore, is needed to amplify the gender-sensitivity of programmes. This can be achieved for a policy by enhancing its quotient of programme components that cater to women’s all-round needs.

The following chart examines the various provisions of the national/central government policies implemented for gender and/or labour force participation. The chart represents a count of the number of policies with a corresponding component such as free/subsidised lodging for beneficiaries, creches, daily stipend etc.

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Program Components

Targeting of women and other social groups in policy design
India has always struggled with policy targeting, especially, with identifying and tracking the poor. This led to the idea of universalisation with exclusion (of rich) instead, so that individuals in need can self-target into anti-poverty programmes. However, in the absence of resources to universalize a public policy, targeting should not inadvertently channelize the discriminations of the labour-market. Schemes that are not exclusively women-focused can be seen as achieving targeting by setting inclusion targets on the total beneficiary composition or by ear-marking funds for different social groups. However, we also see that there are schemes that “encourage” inclusion without actively providing for it in its program design, this is despite the fact that India has a well-documented history of low utilisation rates of programme funds and this has been particularly true for allocations intended for disadvantaged groups.

The following chart looks at the latest budgetary allocation and the utilization rate for the previous year for some of the major skilling, employability and capacity building schemes.

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Program Expenditure

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