Gender Audit of the Budget


I feel very priveleged and honoured to be invited to give this address at this Gender Audit Workshop organised by Population First. And I have Nishit Kumar and Bobby Sista to thank for this. I feel Population First needs to be lauded for the challenge they have undertaken – a challenge that has been ignored, avoided or abused by government, corporates, and media for long – the challenge of empowering women to be partners in the growth and development of India.

When Nishit first asked me to come here, I thought why me? My first love is marketing and I must confess my interest in the budget is limited to how it impacts me personally and professionally. Seldom do I read the fine print as my accountant simplifies the budget and gives me the big picture. And a few discussions with my husband and I feel I have been adequately informed. You can see that I think of this as an area to be handled by the men in my life. And thus conforming to stereotypes, as you will see.

The thought that it may not be gender neutral had till a few days ago never crossed my mind. Mind you, I believe very strongly about gender inequalities and have raised my voice in private and public forums. Last year, Indian School of Business, held a seminar to explore reasons why more women and girls were not coming forward for MBA education and why it was so skewed towards men. Twenty seven years ago when I passed out of IIM Ahmedabad there were 10 girls in a class of 120 boys and the numbers have gone up only marginally. That just goes to show the level of participation of women in higher education in this country

But as I read more about the Gender Audit I began to understand its tremendous significance and impact not only on women but on the entire society.

What is Gender Audit?

Gender Audit or a Gender Budget statement is an analysis of the income and expenditure of the government to see whether public policy is working towards increasing gender equality.

It is encouraging to find that the concept that started in Australia 20 years ago is now in practice across 40 countries in the world. The primary focus of the exercise is to ensure that developmental resources promote status of women, particularly those from disadvantaged or lower income groups. These resources are of three types; earmarked only for women, pro women and those for the entire community. The audit, measures impact of these by gender which is made difficult in the absence of disaggregated data.

At first glance gender may appear irrelevant to budgeting. After all it is the right of all citizens to benefit equally from the services provided by the state. However in practice, we all know that all sections of the society do not get the same quality of services. For example those living in the slums are sometimes denied access to clean drinking water. But this is especially true for men and women because of their different roles and status in the family and society and more so for women because of their lower economic status. And this becomes worse among the lower income groups.

We know of the resistance to sending the girl child to school and of the pressures of getting girls married off early. I think Florence Nightingale put it very well –“ I would have given the church my head, my heart and my hands. But she would not have them. She did not know what to do with them. She told me to go back and knit in my mother’s drawing room or marry and look well at the head of my husband’s table.” – and this was Europe in the mid and late 1800s.

So policy applied uniformly across two dissimilar groups, is not gender neutral but gender blind. And is likely to affect women adversely.

Different Impact

Taking this point further, can you see any correlation between lack of sanitation and malnutrition among women. Men can go outdoors anytime of the day whereas women will find that inconvenient. They normally go early mornings or late nights. As a result they cut down their intake of food and water and become victims of malnutrition.

Again malaria leads to aneamia in both men and women but with different implications, among women it leads to high mortality during childbirth.

Poor infrastructure again impacts women perhaps more severely than it does men. While the government provides Primary Health Centers, they are sometimes too far for women to go for regular check ups. In many instances male doctors and lack of privacy act as deterrents to women visiting and they endanger their own health. Worse still is the fact that women have no say in matters related to their own health or nutrition. National Family Health Survey of 98 shows that only 52% of women are ever consulted on decisions of their own health care. In Madhya Pradesh it is only 37%.

While there is free education for everybody till the age of 14, the quality of teachers and facilities is dismal. Girls are kept at home and more and more people prefer to send the boys to private, English medium school.  Education in municipal schools is archaic and does not equip the children for jobs because the job opportunities seem to be English and urban centric and in IT related areas.

It is interesting that we women are helping the status quo.

In a social project, women were provided with cattle as a means of employment so that they could augment the household income. It was presumed that they would then be able to spend more on their own health and nutrition which is always last on the priority list. However, that did not happen; the husband got a motorbike and the boys were sent to English medium schools.

 Religious beliefs

To ensure that benefits of these programmes reach everyone in real terms is a challenge for a country with our diversity and pluralistic thinking. Our religious practices and taboos, myths, rituals and prejudices contribute to the lower status of women in our society. And we all carry those images and roles in our subconcious and contribute to them. Hindu goddesses are bedecked and bejewelled but only in the role of a consort. They are always seen as supportive figures. Gods are the doers, Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves and Shiva destroys. In contrast, Durga- goddess of strength, Saraswati – of knowledge, and Lakshmi- of wealth are like objects that must be acquired. The image in our collective concious is that of Lakshmi sitting forever at the feet of Vishnu. Women are a responsibility or a liability depending on which way you look at it, to be protected by father first and then by husband. Her economic dependence makes her status inferior. And while she has equal right to property and assets it is seldom practised.

While there may be a growing sense that these biases are relevant to lower economic strata I am not at all sure that this is true. In most cases the role and status of women remain same across social classes. Don’t we all have friends whose brothers have gone to better schools, got the best piece of meat, more tuitions and sometimes even sent abroad for further studies while the sister waits for her knight in shining armour to come and wed her.

At the workplace there are many myths to keep women in their place – one goes, organisations are being told to have quotas, but our organization does not believe in that. Or that women have to work twice as hard as men to earn respect. And by far the worst one is that women who get to the top are bossy, aggressive, bold and mean. Strength in women is seen as a negative.

 Social constituencies

But, most importantly, why aren’t women raising their voices against these inequalities and sensitizing policy makers as well as other women.  First, I feel that we don’t really believe in ourselves – gender biases lie hidden among those who think they are free of them. Enough women believe that they are not as good as men.

Second, since women do not play a part in the economy, they do not find the budget or other economic activities of interest to them. The budget addresses every economic constituency like corporates, brokers, consultants, lawyers etc as they contribute to taxation. The women along with children and senior citizens or backward classes are lumped together as social constituencies who are to be taken care of in the expenditure on development.

Here, it is important to underline the difference between economic and social constituencies, the first contributes to the government coffers the other takes away from them. However there is another way of looking at the same thing – The GDP of a country includes the work done in the private and public sector but it does not include the work done by women who are engaged primarily in the following three activites; One, running unregistered businesses from homes like tailoring, catering or teaching or even helping husbands in the family business. Two, volunteer work with NGOs and Three, home maintenance and caring for family members. According to a calculation done if the unpaid work or the saving because of this work was to be valued it would be almost 40 per cent of the total GDP. A Time Use Survey conducted in India in 1998 across six States showed that women work longer hours 55% compared to 45% by men.

It is interesting that we have all accepted this situation where most of the work done by women is seen to have no value at all and I mean in economic terms. Gender audits must correct this.

Why Gender Audit

But why is it important to ensure that the budget takes up the cause of women in earnest.

India, the 2nd highest populated country in the world accounts for 16% of the world population and only 2.5% of land. It is a resource poor country and growth and development depend primarily on population stabilisation through declining fertility.

The best way to ensure population stabilisation is to see that women benefit from education, health, nutrition and infrastructure. There is enough data to show how significantly all these contribute to human development indicators. For example States with high literacy rates, and higher proportion of working women have better longer life expectancies and lower birth rates. UP, Bihar, Haryana, and Rajasthan where literacy rates are below 55%, life expectancy is 60 years and less and fertility rate is as high as 3 to 4 %. In Kerala with 90% literacy, life expectancy is 75 years and fertlility is less than 2%. Women here are empowered to make decisions about when they will get married and have their first child and when the second and they take responsibility for their own health. Mean age of marriage in Kerala is 23 years compared to 18 to 20 in the other states mentioned earlier.  The health of women in Kerala is well reflected in the fact that almost all our women athletes come from there.

India is poised for growth as the Asian tigers once were. Bulk of our population is between the ages of 15 and 45 and that means we have a large productive workforce. This window of opportunity comes once every two to three generations. China with its one child policy is already, like the west, facing all the problems of an ageing population. We can only capitalise on our opportunity if we can stabilise population by empowering our women. And one way to do this to make it easier for them to join the workforce.

Chairman Mao by inviting all the women in the process of nation building doubled the Chinese workforce. And see where it has got them.


The budget is a powerful tool to make policy a reality.

Affirmative Action

The first step in this direction is to actively consider taking  affirmative action. This is because prejudices are deeply entrenched in our society and are aided by past injustice to women. Interestingly, in a study when women were given money for child and home care, it was generally believed that they were getting a free ride for something nobody considered work. Affirmative action is part of our Constitution and why must it be exercised only for minorities or Dalits or tribals. We cannot assume that just by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of gender, we guarantee women equality.

Suggestions for the Budget

Lack of development infrastructure like PHC, roads, electricity, sanitation, and availability of water, impact women far more than men as discussed earlier. The budget must look at this issue actively because this affects health, nutrition and education. Women can not get to schools and Health centers where they might be required to take long and hazardous journeys. Lack of water means they need to go to faraway places thus using time and energy that could be utilised better elsewhere.

If there were economic incentives for sending children to schools people would send even the girl child. In Karnataka, for example, the offer of a hot midday meal has ensured that children are sent to schools even on a Sunday. In other instances when children were given atta and sugar at school it was the males in the house who had their fill and the girl child may or may not have partaken of a good meal depending on the left- overs. A cooked hot meal ensures that even the girl child gets a nutritious meal at least once in the day.

What better way to get women to work than to offer higher tax rebates, priority in health care, for example priority appointments with doctors and free child care facilities.

Data suggests that higher education and employment for women mean late marriages and pregnancies. Why not incentivise parents to allow late marriages for their daughters and reward parents for starting children later.

To ensure that marriage is not a burden on the parents of the girl why not impose a statutory equal sharing of the marriage expenses by the two families. This will also act as an impediment to the dowry practice which is alive and kicking albeit under wraps.

Statutes for differential treatment of women by the police has ensured jobs for women in this sector. Why not explore other areas, hospitals in particular and primary health centers where lack of female doctors is leading to poor health of women. Another avenue is railways and the list is endless.

One of the ways of empowering women is to provide security by safeguarding their rights to property. Even though several Acts address the issue of inheritance, equal rights for both sons and daughters have remained just on paper.

Other budgets such as Railways and State budgets too should be moved to become gender sensitive so that women become an active constituency to be addressed.

Could the corporates be incentivised to employ women? If they were given enough tax incentives it may become attractive for companies to see women as assets and not as liabilities. It is common practice now for interviewers to drop women candidates on the plea that they would leave their job after childbirth.

And what if the men were incentivised to have a working or and educated wife, or what if he were made, to pay her wages for looking after the house and bringing up the children. It would make the woman economically independent and earn her some respect in the household.

Affirmative action is required to ensure that public finance is available to women entrepreneurs. The private sector has come forward here. ICICI’s micro financing has helped women set up small ventures and ICICI covers risk by giving loans to groups of women rather than individuals. Similarly Hindustan Lever’s project Shakti in rural India trains women in hygiene and health care and gives them company products to sell against loans. Women with no means of income today are earning 800 to a 1000 rupees.

In addition, we have two successful examples of cooperatives run successfully by women- SEWA and LIJJAT. Are there any lessons there and is it possible to support them to scale up or replicate their success by encouraging the cooperative movement.

Cows and Pigs

And if all this looks to you in the realm of the impossible; I have an interesting story about what our forefathers probably did which made great economic sense. Ultimately it is all about economics. Marvin Harris a social anthropologist has a hypothesis about why the Hindus venerate the cow and would not kill it to eat beef at the pain of death. His contention is that the Indian farmer relies on his oxen to plough his fields and there are twice as many oxen as there are cows. But the cows produce the oxen. The cow is like the factory that produces tractors for an American farmer. Therefore the cow is very precious to the farmer. During drought a starving farmer may be tempted to kill the cow in order to survive. Most often he leaves the cows to graze in his neighbours field or another rich farmers property. The temptation to kill the cow by its owner or others can be dangerous for the safety of the animal. It was perhaps to avert both these disasters that the cow was given this holy mantle and any physical harm was tantamount to sacrilege.

Similarly Harris suggests that the Moslem and Jewish view of pigs as being unclean is to do with economics. Pigs are not suited for hot and arid climates because above 84 degree Fahrenheit, they need to cool down by rolling around in water. If they don’t find that they will defecate and lie down in their own excreta. In cold climates they are very clean animals. Also they eat nuts and cellulose meant for human consumption. So it expensive to rear pigs in hot and arid climates. But the temptation to raise them even at great expense just to eat the juicy meat may prove too much for some. So through divine intervention pigs were deemed unclean.

The point I am making here is that economics is a strong driver for social mores, taboos and prejudices. What seemed right at one point in time may not be relevant under changed circumstances. So the budget is a very powerful tool to bring about change in the way women see themselves and are seen by society. If women are empowered and are seen to be contributing to the growth of the economy they will get their due.

Budget 2005-2006

In India the idea of the Gender Audit is gaining ground. Although efforts were started in the 8th Five Year Plan it is only in the 10th Plan for the years 2002 – 2007 that the government has reinforced its commitment to it.

While the development outlays are going up for programmes specifically for women or pro women it will take time for them to be effective. However, while most socio-economic indicators are improving what is of great concern is that the development is not uniform across the country. Recent sex ratio trends favor boys in many areas. If women and men were treated equally, there would be around 105 women per 100 men, instead there are only 496million. Where have these 32 million women gone? In the age group 0-6 years number of girls for every 1000 boys has been declining. A dangerous trend. And can best be explained by new medical technology which helps determine sex of the child. I need say no more. In the last five years the number of women in the workforce has been declining when it should be exactly the opposite,

Until data is made available by gender it would be difficult to see the real impact of programmes which cut across genders.

This year’s budget as far as gender responsiveness goes has received mixed responses. While The Times of India has commended the budget with the FM having effectively lowered taxes on income and most importantly stamp duty on property if registered in the woman’s name.

However, there are contrary views about the outlay not being enough or that the tax exemption for women is mere tokenism.

I think it is the panel discussion after this that will do full justice to all these issues in depth and give directions for further efforts.

Despite the criticisms, it is a good start and it is up to all of us to give the debate going.

However, given the disturbing trends, the need for assessing gender allocation can hardly be overstated in our country.




Summarising:  Empowered women are the means to a stable population which is the key to growth for India.

So first and foremost the government cannot shy away from bringing into force affirmative action to empower women. They must play a greater role in all personal and public decisions. The government needs to reactivate the issue of women in Parliament. We need more women in seats of power to raise their voice for women’s issues. Women must be able to access and benefit from social sector investments as much as men.

By empowering women the budget can help create a strong constituency of women.  The issue of abortion divided American women but it also brought them together as a group that faced similar issues and problems. A strong constituency gives a voice to the group.

Most vote banks are caste and religion based. By creating an constituency of women the budget can counter cultural biases against women because of religion and caste.

There is enough legislation to correct for some of the backward traditional practices in our society. For example Practice of sati, dowry, child marriages are illegal but that has not stopped these from happening. Such crimes against women are perpetrated all the time. The budget must find economic ways of making these activities unpalatable.

Media has a powerful role to play by not reinforcing the stereotypical images of men and women in films, TV serials and advertising. And must help us aspire for a new social order based on gender equity.

Another big onus is on the media to raise women’s issues for public debate and encourage and welcome women to participate in it. The least amount of space and time is given to women’s issues in media. How many of us know the law regarding rightful property for a divorced woman. For an economically weaker section of the society, is it not surprising that women are not making a stronger effort to be heard.

Fifteen years ago BBC was attacked in the British parliament as being racist in the way they presented news about Asians and the way anchors made jokes about Asian dress and accents. I then researched an hour of BBC clippings amongst Asians to see what their perception of BBC was. It may be a good idea for our media to come forward and examine whether women see themselves as male chauvinists even if the programmes are made by women.

But policies and allocations cannot by themselves make a difference. We all need to work to change our social cultural values.

I would like to end with a quote from Margaret Thatcher  –

If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.

Thank you.

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