Politics of gender budgeting

BJP-led alliances more likely to adopt it than the Congress or Communist party

An IMF paper released last month comes as a whiff of fresh air especially in the current context where the BJP government faces flak from the Opposition for its initiatives on demonetisation.

In a working paper titled “The influence of gender budgeting in Indian states on gender inequality and fiscal spending”, the authors Janet Stotsky and Asad Zaman find that the gender budgeting efforts of Indian States have a positive impact on gender equality (in primary education). And interestingly, in its footnotes, it leaves the meaty part — the political party is the only factor that determines whether Indian States adopt gender budgeting (or not).

While the ‘BJP Alliance’ (the NDA) was found to be positively linked to the adoption of gender budgeting, it was the opposite for the communist party alliance, according to the study. The Indian National Congress in turn had no significant relationship with gender budgeting.

The BJP-led governments of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh were among the 16 of the 29 States to adopt gender budgeting. While Gujarat and Karnataka were its early adopters — way back in 2006 — Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh followed in 2007. Among the communist-led parties, while Kerala adopted gender budgeting in 2008, West Bengal refrained from doing so. The study analysed data for 2001-2011.

The concept

Gender budgeting is not just an accounting exercise but an ongoing process of keeping a gender perspective in policy formulation, implementation as well its review process.

The rationale for it arises from the fact that national budgets impact men and women differently — with potential to aggravate or reduce gender inequalities. By resorting to gender budgeting, it ensures it is sensitive to gender impact of its policy making in all the sectors.

In their course of adoption, some States have set up nodal departments or groups for gender budgeting. Some others have set up committees for oversight and improving gender data, while training staff on the analytical methods to incorporate gender-related goals into the budget.

Gender budgeting is not a new concept and has been adopted by developing as well developed nations. For instance, in the past, the Philippines, Australia and the Republic of Korea are known to have taken notable initiatives in this regard.

In India, gender budgeting was initially adopted by the Centre in 2000 — by which time each ministry of the government identified gender-related goals and ways to achieve them through the budget implementation. The idea was quickly lapped up by State governments with Odisha being the first one to adopt it — way back in 2004. Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are among the bigger States that are yet to adopt gender budgeting.

Study findings

The highlight of the study, however, is that a State’s higher income does not necessarily lead to greater gender equality. Moreover, Central government transfers might not be serving the cause. So, it requires government to take specific and focussed steps.

The IMF study found that gender budgeting had a positive impact on gender equality in enrolment of primary education; the latter was measured through construction of an index for each State by dividing its female to male enrolment ratio at primary education level.

Interestingly, the study also found no significant effect of gender budgeting on secondary education. The gender-budgeting States, on an average, had lower per capita income with lower equality indices for education.

The second part of the study concentrated on the effect of gender budgeting on fiscal spending. For, gender budgeting can not only lead to restructuring or reallocation of spending among programs but can also increase the spending level. It found that gender budgeting in Indian States has had an ‘expansive effect” on infrastructure spending.

In other words, if gender budgeting is improving gender equality in education, it is working through means other than higher spending on education itself.

For instance, it could be via infrastructure spends to build separate toilets for girls and improve sanitation levels in schools or through building of roads (that improve access to schools). Central government transfers and income in turn were found to have a weak effect on gender equality in enrolment of education.

Empirical studies in the past have indicated that achieving gender equality in education or health measures has greater impact on a nation’s economic growth. For instance, better education has the potential to reduce the total fertility rate of a country and the young dependency ratio, while improving the prospects of women joining the workforce.

Haryana, Punjab, Assam and other non-gender budgeting States should probably review their options — while those already adopting it, should focus on substantive actions than mere accounting jugglery.

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