MEMORANDUM TO FINANCE MINISTER
Women's Organisations Demand Additional Budgetary Allocations
A DELEGATION of leading national women's organisations including AIDWA, AIWC, CWDS, JWP, YWCA of India and NFIW met the finance minister P Chidambaram on February 14, 2008 and presented a memorandum to him requesting for additional budgetary allocations and strengthening of schemes benefiting women and children.
Noting the contents the finance minister assured that he would look into the concerns specially those related to widows pension.
He further advised that the women's organisations should approach the states and make them accountable, as it is their responsibility to ensure that the funds allocated by the centre are utilised to the maximum.
The memorandum submitted the concerns of national women's organisations representing millions of women, most of whom belong to the poorest and most deprived sections of society. It brought to notice the repeated request for involving women's organisations in the pre budget consultations, so as to enhance and strengthen the gender component of the union budget, given the impact that the budget has on women as members of the labour force, as citizens, and as home makers.
The text of the memorandum included the following suggestions and demands:
While the attempt to assess allocations made for women in the annual budget through the gender budgeting is noteworthy, this effort has to be enhanced considerably. The mid term appraisal committee of the tenth Five Year Plan recommendation advising 30 percent of all allocations within all ministries to reach women is far from being implemented.
Misleading computations have artificially exaggerated the amount actually being spent on women. For instance, the entire budgets for ICDS of the ministry for Social Justice are regularly shown as women specific expenditure. The ambit of gender budgeting should include gender audit and gender outcome assessment in all ministries/ departments at central and state levels. Further, it should extend beyond expenditure policies to cover the gender-differentiated implications of tax policies as well.
- Allocations should be provided to the gender budget cells located in the different ministries to strengthen their functioning.
- The recommendation made in the mid term appraisal of the 10th Plan allocating 30 percent expenditure for women should be implemented rigorously.
- Sex-disaggregated data must be made available as far as possible to enable assessment of the expenditure and outcomes in gender terms.
- The notion of bringing all schemes for children automatically under the gender component is patriarchal and discriminatory, and should be discontinued.
ESCALATION & ENSURING
The continuous rise in prices of essential commodities is a matter of grave concern for women. The budget must ensure that strict measures are taken to ensure price stability and prevent speculation in essential commodities.
Food insecurity impacts women and girl children first and has emerged as a major problem across the country, especially in recent times. The latest NFHS-3 highlights the poor nutritional status of women and children, and the girl child in particular. The undermining of the PDS through targeting and the inability to ensure adequate food grain stocks procured from Indian farmers, have both played a role in this. Targeting in the PDS has proved to be excessively prone to errors of unfair exclusions depriving a large section of the poor, including widows, single women, tribals and dalits of BPL ration cards and thereby access to cheaper food grain. Those who have cards do not get the full quotas. As strengthening of the PDS is a commitment of the CMP, we demand:
- Return to a universal system of distribution under the PDS, rather than the present targeted system, with a reasonable and low price for food grain and other essential commodities.
- Ensuring sufficient quantities of supply in the PDS system across all states to both BPL as well as APL households.
- Substantial increase in allocations for the Food Corporation of India and the PDS to ensure the extension of the services to all areas of the country.
- Till adoption of the universal system, a major revision of the determination of BPL households be carried out based on the estimated costs of the minimum number of calories plus a basket of daily essentials needed for a healthy life as per the current prices. We suggest a minimum of Rs 850 per person per month as the bare minimum poverty line.
- Increased allocations to the National Food Security Mission.
- Items removed from the scope of the Essential Commodities Act should be revoked and the Act used effectively to curb speculation and hoarding.
- The huge shortage of cooking gas has led to a burgeoning black market in LPG cylinders and has also resulted in sharp rise of the price of kerosene in open market. Fuel being important and a matter of great concern for women, this situation should be dealt with immediately.
ADDRESSING THE NEEDS
OF WOMEN FARMERS
The agrarian crisis continues and there are particular pockets of agrarian distress that need special attention. Women of rural households have been particularly adversely affected. Although credit to agriculture has increased, women cultivators continue to be denied access to institutional credit because of the absence of land titles and other collateral in their name. We therefore demand
- Special measures to ensure that women cultivators not holding land titles but cultivating household land or as tenants get access to institutional credit up to Rs. 150,000, as per RBI guidelines.
- Devising of a comprehensive debt relief package for farmers to address indebtedness, and explicit recognition of the needs of indebted women cultivators as a separate entity. The half-hearted measures to provide region-specific relief packages and token interest subvention need to be replaced by debt write-offs for small and marginal farmers across the country. Ensure reduction of interest rates on farm loans to 4 percent.
- Other crucial commitments made in the NCMP, such as ensuring fair and remunerative prices for farmers should be implemented.
- Relief must be provided for families of farmers who have committed suicide. Women should be recognised as farmers in this respect by all state governments, and relief packages should note the specific difficulties faced by widows in subsequent cultivation. The educational needs of children and particularly daughters should be taken into account. All suicide-affected households must be eligible for a BPL card.
Women form a large bulk of the unorganised work force, especially in the home based and domestic work segments. Women workers have been active participants in the NREGS and have contributed to its success. But the vast majority of women workers are underpaid and operate in highly insecure work conditions. The absence of adequate opportunities for productive employment are also one of the major problems facing women. We therefore demand:
- Adequate funding of the NREGS, especially as it is to be extended to all districts, and ensuring that funds reach the districts in time so that works are not held up.
- Financial provision for time and motion studies within NREGS to ensure proper rates that will ensure that women earn the prescribed minimum wage after a day's work.
- Ensuring the provision of childcare facilities, rest and shade and other facilities as specified in the guidelines, with separate financial provision.
- Extension of the employment guarantee to urban areas.
- Anganwadi workers, mid day meal workers and health workers in the public system who perform crucial social functions should be entitled to receive minimum wages.
- Provision for childcare facilities for all working women, particularly from the unorganised sector.
- Provision for providing hostels to working women should be increased.
- Comprehensive legislation backed by adequate central funding to address the social security needs of all women workers.
- The economic contribution of unpaid family workers should be recognised by extending social security provision to them as well.
There has been a decline in per capita public expenditure on health. The latest NFHS points to very poor performance in basic health indicators, including child immunisation. Serious issues of under-financing of major schemes such as the creation and up gradation of public health infrastructure, the provision of emergency ambulance services, the provision of essential drugs and supplies, and the failure to create institutional frameworks for programmes have to be overcome. The ICDS programme has also not been able to meet targets because of inadequate geographical coverage. The expenditure per child on supplementary nutrition and childcare is inadequate and the range of activities carried out in the centres also fall short of requirements. In this context, we demand:
- Public expenditure on health must be increased to at least 3 per cent of GDP as promised in the NCMP.
- Outlays on provision of drinking water, universal sanitation and food security also need to go up as part of the commitment to safeguarding the health of the people.
- The outlay for the ICDS programme and for all child specific schemes needs to be stepped up considerably from the current Rs 4761 crores to at least Rs 12,000 crores.
The government is still far from allocating 6 percent of the GDP on education, as per the commitment made in the CMP. Significant increases in central government programmes on both literacy and education are required, and special allocations must be made to ensure greater access to women. We therefore demand:
- Literacy programmes must be expanded with an emphasis on functional literacy, especially given the large proportion of young women who remain illiterate
- Expenditure on SSA must be increased to ensure universal access, especially for girls, and "education centres" must be upgraded to proper schools to provide all children with good quality schooling
- Increase in secondary school spending; ensure provision of proper secondary schools within 3 kilometers of all habitations to enable girl students to attend school
- Allocation of special funds to ensure separate and functional toilets (with water provision) for girls in all schools
- Enhanced scholarship scheme for girls in secondary school, with special emphasis on girls from educationally deprived categories
- SHGs: Increase of allocations for self-help groups; more funds should be made available for credit at lower interest rates (4 percent per annum), health insurance and social security for their members and training and marketing support for the groups to become economically productive. Strengthening of the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh in order to play a supportive role for SHGs.
- Minority Women: Provision for matching budgetary outlay for implementation of the Sachar committee recommendations with allocation towards a subcomponent plan especially for Muslim women who are amongst the most deprived and marginalised sections of society today. The provision of Urdu language teaching in schools, and better amenities in the local schools and madrasas should be budgeted for. Special allocations for hostels and sanitation in schools should be provided
- Tribal Women: In tribal areas, a special focus to ensure electrification of all tribal areas, PHCs, drinking water, and hostels for tribal girls with all required facilities, needs to be budgeted for. There should be a separate monitoring mechanism to ensure that this special fund is effectively utilised.
- Welfare Schemes for Women: There is a need for a major step up in outlays for welfare and social security schemes for women and children. In particular widow pension schemes, shelters for women in distress situations, hostels for single working women with or without children, and shelters for children without adult protection, need to be provided support to expand and improve quality of services. The restriction on widows with sons losing their eligibility for receiving the widow pension should be removed.
- Domestic Violence Act: Since the funds required to implement the Domestic Violence Act have not been provided for at the central level, institutional mechanisms for implementing the Act are not in place. As a result, many women are facing difficulties in utilising the Act for their benefit. There has to be a budgetary allocation to ensure that the institutional mechanisms required for the proper implementation of the Act are properly operationalised.
- Special scheme and allocation for addressing the needs of physically, and mentally challenged women should be made.
The memorandum requested the Finance minister to firmly uphold the promises contained in the CMP, and ensure that the interests of the poor and marginalised women are safeguarded by the policy directions adopted in the budget.