Last month I was attending a meeting arranged by a NGO which focuses on the issues concerning women and is involved in advocating the cause of women empowerment. They have also been involved in conducting research and disseminating it before the stakeholders and providing a platform to civil society members, policy makers, academicians, and alike. They have played a crucial role in mustering and garnering public opinion of people in the north east India. I am sharing my learning in the meeting and my prescription for formulating effective policies to deal with issues concerning women.
The United Nations general assembly adopted international bill of rights for women on 18th December 1979 which is popularly known as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This international treaty came into force on 3rd Sept 1981. CEDAW document consists of a preamble and 30 articles narrating different components of discrimination against women and provides guidelines for actions to be taken by the respective national governments so as to end such discrimination. As of today there are 187 countries including India which are party to this instrument.
The provisions in the Indian constitution protect women rights as citizens. However there have been initiatives by different state governments at different levels to make sure that any kind of discrimination against women is tackled by the government machinery on top priority basis. As public policy of a state targets the well being of its citizens it is also required that the resources are used and shared among the citizens without any gender bias. In this line the faminisation of financial budget has been initiated at the government level which ideally should lead to ensure appropriate focus on budgetary allocation for female population. It is not separate budgeting provisions for women rather within the framework of the budget an allocation is required to be earmarked for females so that it results in equitable distribution of resources vis-à-vis overall development of society. These whole provisions are called Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) which needs to be reflected at all levels of government planning.
The general observation is that GRB has not been followed in the spirit in which it was initiated in India. There could be several reasons for this. I feel that following are some of them:
A. lack of proper representation of women in the planning system of India;
B. absence of consistent and uniform requirement across regions;
C. absence of commitment from the side of the policy makers towards appropriate allocation;
D. lack of legal provisions as to accountability of decision makers in this line;
E. considering it merely as a formal requirement; and
F. lack of political will towards making GRB an effective tool.
The planning commission and the ministry of finance are two highly important institutions/agencies at the national level which have to devise better ways to address issues related to women and earmark allocation for inclusive development and through dedicated funds for initiatives towards removal of all forms of discrimination towards women folk. I would like to suggest following macro measures for making GRB and CEDAW an effective instrument.
i. POWER PARITY FOR WOMEN THROUGH 5Es:
It is extremely difficult to assess the gender based contribution of citizens for the development of a nation. However ideally it is said that men and women have to work together to take decision for their family and country wherever relevant and appropriate. When we look at the census data (2011) in India it is visible that there is big gap between female (65.46%) and male (82.14%) literacy level. Further the National Sample Survey (NSS) data shows that the size of females in the labor force (both in urban and rural India) has sizable gap and difference. Though number of females in schools has gone up over time in the last 40 years, still a gap is observed when we compare it with number of males (especially in rural India). These common indicators call for serious concern towards educating the girl child and announcing schemes to encourage their protection.
The future is going to be led by people and nations who enjoy better and more knowledge power. The efforts to develop strong knowledge platform and initiate measures to ensure better education for all citizens are required to be taken at the government as well as individual level. This is more serious a concern for women as there is a visible gap in male female literacy levels. The trend of the recent past indicates the participation of private partners in this direction which is a welcome sign. Education as such is a major differentiator which plays an important role in developing a mindset towards fighting against atrocities and to help built discrimination-free society. In this light I would like to propose 5E framework which should ideally guide towards having power parity for female population.
b. Entitlements (ownerships)
c. Engagement (beyond unpaid work)
It is expected that if the initiatives are taken in this direction it shall lead towards gender based distributive justice which shall ensure power parity among all citizens.
ii. PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN 4As:
It is observed that for the decision making on women related issues and for budgetary allocation, the participation of women is negligent. One such example is when we look at the composition of the planning commission of India where there is only one women member. I am sure conditions at the finance ministry may not be much different. Steps are required to be taken to make sure that women are nominated as members of different decision making bodies so that they can assert their position and take proper decisions. It is required that women are allowed/nominated to participate in the following areas:
a. Allocation (Budget)
b. Action (Implementation)
c. Assessment (Evaluation)
d. Audit (Control)
It is expected that once the focus is given on the participation of women in decision making and assessing the implementation, it shall lead towards having more uniform understanding and serious gender based budgeting, spending and positive expected outcomes.
Apart from these suggestions it is equally important to give emphasis on outcomes rather than outputs; long-term results rather than short-term; inclusive development rather than exclusive; capacity building rather than disbursements; and effective implementation of existing instruments by existing institutions rather than increasing institutions and instruments.