Budget 2020: What women want — safety, access to funds, employment, and more

As the countdown to Budget 2020 begins, Indian women want ease of regulation, processes, access to skill training and safety. Is Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman listening?
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Last year, Nirmala Sitharaman made history by becoming India’s first full-time woman Finance Minister. While presenting Budget 2019, she termed the women of the country as nari tu narayani, suggesting they hold an important place in the development of India. Quoting Swami Vivekananda, Sitharaman had said, “There’s no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing.”

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

However, despite all the hype, Budget 2019 did not have much to offer Indian women. The only noteworthy inclusions were the increased emphasis on self-help groups (SGHS) with an announcement of the expansion of the interest subvention programmes to all districts. Under this scheme, Sitharaman announced that every woman SHG member having a ‘Jan Dhan’ account will be allowed an overdraft of Rs 5,000. Also, one woman in every SHG will also be eligible for a loan of up to Rs 1 lakh under the Mudra Yojana Scheme.

The announcements came across as a whimper considering the build-up by way of the Interim Budget 2019 by the then-Finance Minister Piyush Goyal and the subsequent promises made by the NDA manifesto before the general election.

This year will indeed be a testing time for Sitharaman as she battles concerns about the decline of the economy, rising inflation, and an increasing rate of unemployment.

Women’s safety and security remain top concerns as questions arise on the allocation and distribution of the Nirbhaya Fund as will also those on more security in public transport.

According to the World Bank, despite making up 48 percent of the Indian population, women have not benefitted equally from its economic growth. Sixty-five percent of women are literate compared to 80 percent of men. India also has among the lowest female labour force participation in the world. Less than a third of women—15 years or older—are working or actively looking for a job.

Also, where are the women entrepreneurs?

As the countdown to Budget 2020 begins, HerStory asks a few women what they expect from this year’s Budget. Will Sitharaman introduce new schemes for women entrepreneurs, skill training, and better safety measures in public spaces?

This what they had to say.

Deena Jacob, Jyotsna Uttamchandani, Kiran Dham and Elsa Marie D'Silva

Focus on women entrepreneurship

"This year, we expect more policies focusing on reforming and encouraging women entrepreneurship. Though last year a good share of the Budget was allocated towards the uplift of entrepreneurs, still women specifically were not completely benefited by the existing or newly launched policies due to lack of proper implementation and awareness.

"Dearth of skill training, refinement centres, and employment programmes affect the growth of women entrepreneurs. STEM also needs adequate budgetary allocation. We need to further ease the policies and cost of doing business in India.

"Startups will not only contribute towards improving the economic slowdown but also address the employability issue prevailing in the current scenario. Policies should be introduced to increase the women workforce participation, which is comparatively low in the Indian corporate world. Also, focus on increased measures to ensure women’s safety and security will also encourage them to actively participate in the world of business."

- Kiran Dham, Founder, Globus Infocom

Easing up the processes

"Less than 25 percent of women over the employable age are working in India, of which the vast majority works in the informal sector. The dream of the $5 trillion economy depends a lot on empowering this segment. While there is active thought on schemes to uplift and empower women, there is low awareness about the usefulness of the schemes, thus hindering the effectiveness in solving the root cause of women’s low participation in the active economy.

"The current schemes designed at providing credit, skill development, education, and entrepreneurship development all are initiated in more or less a standalone manner, the design of which limits the possibilities of bringing women to mainstream economy or introducing to the formal sector jobs or entrepreneurship.

"More balanced designs in comprehensive and related schemes, addressing right from women’s education, skill development, financial benefits and its effective access and market creation in an end-to-end result-oriented manner, along with support systems on childcare, would ensure that women become active contributors to the economy at the grass root level. Tax exemptions and easing up of regulatory complexities to enable participation from women including women-led entrepreneurship is the need of the day.

- Deena Jacob, CFO & Co-founder, Open Financial Technologies

Training programmes for rural women

I believe, last year some steps were taken towards women empowerment. However, there are definitely many key areas where India could be more aggressive. I’d personally like to see focus on building better infrastructure for the safety and security of women across the country. In terms of workforce, there should be more accessibility to funds but particularly for women in Tier II areas. The upcoming Budget must also provide more focus on education and training programmes for rural women with an aim to empower them.

There are certain sectors where qualifications of men and women are the same, yet the pay grades are different. Rearranging either tax reforms for women or emphasising on fixing these differences would be something I’d like to see more focus in.

- Jyotsna Uttamchandani, Executive Director, Syska Group.

Effective implementation

There are many expectations that the Budget will ensure women are not left behind. So, of course, we expect investments in women's safety, education, resources for protection, and access to finance. But I would like to know how effective the implementation of any of the previous proposals for women’s empowerment is. Case in point being that the Nirbhaya Fund is largely still to be used. We cannot get excited by only announcements. We need to have effective implementation.

- Elsa Marie D’Silva, CEO & Founder, Safecity

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)


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