India’s Irony: Women Remain Marginal to Gender Budgets

The Constitution upholds gender equality and allows the state to adopt affirmative action policies. The world over, after the Beijing Platform for Action, the UN Millennium Summit and other key summits, there is growing recognition of the connection between fewer gender inequalities and higher performance on overall development indices. Yet, finds NESAR AHMAD, this message seems not to have gone down to India’s departments and ministries which are responsible to allocate funds for women-centric projects, marginalised women in particular, and monitor their progress.


THE ratification by countries of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, adoption of the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals are visible manifestations of growing commitment around the world to gender equality and to empower women. Since the Beijing Platform for Action, many countries have accepted gender mainstreaming as a strategy to achieve these goals.

In this context, Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) has emerged as a critical tool to measure progress in gender mainstreaming, by incorporating a gender perspective in planning and budgeting. GRB is an approach to analyse the budget to ascertain the priorities of governments and examine their impact on women and men.

Gender budget analysis attempts to understand the impact of government spending and implications of revenue collection on women and men. The GRB approach to budget-making acknowledges the gender patterns of society and makes allocations for policies and programmes that will move society towards more equality. One GRB tool is the Gender Budget Statement (GBS) that simply informs what proportion of a government budget is being spent to empower women and pursue gender equality.

The Indian government has released a GBS from 2005-06 onwards. Subsequently, some state governments also adopted GRB and released a GBS. However, various studies show that GRB efforts are often limited to simply releasing the GBS. The GBS largely remains a post-budget reporting exercise. “The strategy has been reduced to an ex-post analysis of budgetary outlays across ministries and departments through the lens of gender.” (Mitra, 2019). There are also problems with the methodology adopted to prepare the GBS and “it neither serves as a tool that informs policy making nor does it nor does it enable policymakers to assess the additional steps needed to make policies/schemes gender responsive” (Mishra and Sinha, 2012).

An even bigger issue with the GRB is that it regards women as a homogenous group and does not give adequate attention to marginalised women (Ahmad, 2014) and the multiple discrimination they face. Studies related to GRB also mainly focus on efforts of governments to incorporate gender issues in major policy documents (such as plan documents). The status of marginalised women groups have not been considered in most studies of GRB, though some authors have certainly flagged it as important (see for example, Mishra and Sinha, 2012).


Patriarchal norms and practices rooted in the collective consciousness in India together with systematic barriers pose multiple challenges that prevent girls and women from enjoying their legitimate rights. This gender inequality poses a significant development challenge in India. The Global Gender Gap Index, 2020, of the World Economic Forum has ranked India at 112 out of 153 counties. “…India’s population Census 2011 found a continuing decline in the sex ratio among children under age 7, a direct result of the preference for the male children rampant in the society. It was as low as 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 and was found further reduced to 914 in 2011.”

Without considering the heterogeneity of women, studying issues related to women would remain incomplete. this study looks at marginalised women, namely Dalit, tribal and minority women, who suffer from intersecting disadvantages; not only on account of gender but also for being members lower down in the social hierarchy.

Dalit, Tribal and Minority Women: Due to their social status, gender and caste, the Dalit and the Adivasi women in India face double disadvantages (Shrivastava, 2013). They lag behind the general population on almost all indicators and are also behind men of their own communities. Census 2011 data shows the literacy rates for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Muslim women is 56.5 per cent, 49.4 per cent and 62 per cent respectively, which are lower than the 64.6 per cent literacy rate for all women. The share of women of marginalised sections in higher education is also much lower than their share in the total population except for SC females, as shown in the table below.

Table 1: Share of Marginalised Groups in Higher Education Enrolment (%)

  Dalits Tribals Muslims
  Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total
Share in total enrolment in Higher Education 14.76 15.02 14.89 5.48 5.58 5.53 5.17 5.31 5.23


Source: MHRD, 2019

According to Ramachandran and Naorem (2013), in India, SC/ST girl children face special challenges in achieving education. SC/ST women also lag far behind in reproductive health, child survival and anaemia (CSD, 2010).


The development of a country is vastly affected by how its people are treated. In India, Article 15(1) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of caste, religion, race, sex place of birth. Article 39(a) and Article 39(d) of the Constitution says the state is enjoined to “direct its policy towards securing for women and men equally the rights to an adequate means of livelihood and equal pay for equal work for both men and women”.

Women’s empowerment has been a part of development planning from the Fifth Five Year plan (starting in 1974) onwards. The current thrust on women empowerment and equality in planning (and now budgeting) has gone through various phases; from women’s welfare to development to empowerment and now to integration of intersectoral women questions, starting with the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) (Mitra, 2019). Some initiatives taken by the Indian government in this regard are:

  • Establishment of National Commission for Women (1992)
  • Reservation for women in local-self-government (1992)
  • The National Plan of Action for girl child (1991-2000)
  • National Policy for the Empowerment of Women (2001)
  • Draft National Policy for Women (2016)

The National Policy on Empowerment of Women, 2001, provides for the mainstreaming of gender in the development process. It recognises the need for purposive policies in education to “eliminate discrimination, universalise education, eradicate illiteracy, and [for] creating a gender sensitive educational system, increasing enrolment and retention rate of girls and to improve the quality of education to facilitate life-long learning as well as development of occupational/vocational / technical skills by women.” (GoI, 2001). This policy mentions “inadequate” access of women, “particularly those belonging to weaker sections including Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/ Other backward Classes and minorities, majority of whom are in the rural areas and in the informal, unorganized sector—to education, health and productive resources.”

In the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017), the last of the five-year plans, participation of women in governance, inclusion of women from marginalised sections and gender budget are stressed.

The Draft National Policy for Women released in 2016 (not yet finalised), however, mentions marginalised women without identifying who the marginalised groups are.

The government also adopted a financing pattern which is “responsive to the gender-based requirements rather than having a gender-neutral approach” (Mitra, 2019). This gave rise to the gender responsive budgeting and beginning of the GBS. The question of marginalised women, whoever, remained unaddressed in the GBS.


In India, the GRB was adopted in principle in 2000-01, but the GBS began to be presented in 2005-06. Some state governments also adopted GRB and started releasing a GBS along with regular budgets.

The GBS (Statement 13) released by the Indian government is presented in two parts—A and B. Part A lists the schemes and programmes which have 100% allocation towards women while Part B lists the schemes and programmes in which at least 30% allocation goes towards women and girls.

While the GBS is purely quantitative, it is an important step for women’s empowerment and gender equality. It is important to be able to estimate how much the government is spending on women. Another advantage of the GBS is that it can highlight how much priority is given to women’s empowerment and gender equality by various ministries and/or departments, by comparing what percentage of their budgets is dedicated to women (Mishra and Sinha, 2012).

However, according to an earlier study, GRB efforts are often limited to just bringing out the GBS, which is also usually considered extra work by departments and ministries. In many cases, the GBS fails to influence the planning process in favour of women and girls. Officials in the Ministry of Women and Child Development feel there is a lack of understanding of the concept of gender itself among many officials in various ministries (BARC, 2017).

The same study (BARC, 2017) found that women from marginalised communities are not focused on enough by select ministries. “For example, officials in the MWCD said that the Ministry considers women as a homogenous group and its mandate is to provide support to all women and not only to some specific groups. Similarly, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare said that it targets allocating at least 30% of the budget of its various beneficiary-oriented schemes for women, but does not give adequate attention to the marginalised women groups. Though the concerned officials in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs said that in order to benefit the tribal women, they try to focus on sectors like livestock, fisheries etc. in which more women are engaged. But no such efforts seem to be made by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Only in one scheme, in which a grant is made to the state government, [does] the ministry ask the state governments to ensure that 15% of the allocation should go towards women.” (BARC, 2017).

Soman and Niaz in their 2014 analysis of the Prime Minister’s New 15 Points Programme in four states, namely Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha demonstrated that “Muslim women continue to be invisible in policy frameworks meant for the development of socio-religious communities” and they face multiple disadvantages and exclusions in all spheres on account of patriarchy, poverty and religion.

The study highlighted the need for greater policy attention on Muslim women. Kotwal and Nafees in their 2014 paper on Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Scheme (KGBVS) found that it was launched to enable girls, predominantly from marginalised communities, to avail upper primary education through residential schooling. Although introduced to empower impoverished girls, the scheme has so far been unable to redress structural inequalities that impede their access to education.


In this section, we try to calculate the gender budget allocation for marginalised women. We assess it in the following ways:

  1. Share of gender component (the budget going towards women) in the total budget of the selected ministries as reported in the GBS.
  2. Assessing the total budget going towards Dalit, tribal and minority women in comparison to the total gender budget.


Certain ministries are mandated to work to empower and develop marginalised groups. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) does this work for -the tribal groups. It can be assumed that the amount earmarked as Gender Budget in MoTA goes toward benefitting tribal women. Similarly, the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment (DoSJ&E) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E) was selected as it caters to the development needs of the Dalits among others and the Ministry of Minority Affairs was selected as the needs of women from minority communities are catered to by this ministry.

The share of Gender Budget in India is only 4.71% of the total Union Budget expenditure in 2020-2021. The gender component of the total Union Budget has been always hovered around 5% (see Chart 1), which is abysmally low.

Source: Gender Budget Statement, various years

However, the gender components of the selected ministries are higher than the 5% average for the total Union Budget. Table 2 shows the amount of budget the selected ministries have allocated for the welfare of women.

Table 2: Gender Component in the Budget of selected ministries (rupees crore.)

Ministry 2018-19 Actuals 2019-20 BE 2019-20 RE 2020-21 BE
Total Union Budget 2315113 2786349 2698552 3042230
Total Gender Budget 115206.61 136934.10 142813.30 143461.72
Gender Budget (% to Total) 4.98 4.91 5.29 4.72
Total Budget of Ministry of Women and Child Development 23025.59 29164.9 26184.5 30007.1
Gender Budget of Ministry of Women and Child Development 14425.46 18606.29 18226.27 20709.52
Gender Budget % in Ministry of Women and Child Development 62.65 63.80 69.61 69.02
Total Budget of Ministry of Tribal Affairs 5994.14 6894.96 7340.16 7411
Gender Budget of Ministry of Tribal Affairs 1569.2 1827.63 2026.74 2031.57
Gender Budget as % Ministry Budget (Tribal Affairs) 26.18 26.51 27.61 27.41
Total Budget of Department of Social Justice and Empowerment 10070.5 8885 8885 10103.57
Gender Budget of Department of Social Justice and Empowerment 2902.39 2568.79 2506.54 2886.2
Gender Budget as % Department Budget (Social Justice and Empowerment) 28.82 28.91 28.21 28.57
Total Budget of Ministry of Minority Affairs 3564.17 4700 4700 5029
Gender Budget of Ministry of Minority Affairs 1156 1290.82 1281.31 1375
Gender Budget as % of Ministry Budget (Minority Affairs) 32.43 27.46 27.26 27.34

Source: GoI, 2020

The MWCD, obviously, performs the best, putting about 69% of its total budget towards women in 2020-21. However, even in MWCD, the scheme belonging to Part A (100% women-specific programs) consist of less than 20% of the total budget of the Ministry (GBS, 2020-21).

The MoTA also seems to somewhat prioritise women in its various schemes, with more than 27% allocation going towards women, though it has declined from 32% in 2018-19. However, there is not a single programme in the MoTA of which 100% of benefits go towards women.

The DoSJ&E caters to the development needs of SCs, elderly and other groups. This department has some schemes which are 100% women-specific, for example hostels for SC girls, though there was no allocation to these schemes in 2019-20 AE and 2020-21, as per GBS 2020-21.

The DoSJ&E reports that about 28% of its total expenditures were allocated towards women, a figure that has remained unchanged for the last three years.

The Ministry of Minority Affairs also reports to be spending about one-fourth of its budget on women-specific schemes. It has only one programme in Part A of the GBS, which is a leadership development programme for minority women.


To assess the allocations for marginalised women, the GBS of the previously-mentioned ministries and departments was analysed.

Separate Ministries work for development of Dalit (DSJE), tribal (MoTA) and minorities (Minority Affairs) communities. Hence, it will be assumed that the amounts earmarked as “Gender Budgets” in these ministries goes towards women belonging to these marginalised groups.

In the case of the DSJE, however, the allocation is not so simple, as the department also caters to the constituency of the elderly and other groups. So, for Dalit women, we have selected all programmes meant for Dalit communities mentioned in the DSJE’s GBS.

This can be considered as the budget allocation for Dalit women in India. Going by this method, we have assessed the total amount going towards dalit, tribal and minority women. The table below provides the total budget amount going towards the selected groups of marginalised women.

Table 3: Allocation towards Marginalized Women in India (In rupees crore.)

Marginalised Women Groups 2018-19 Actuals 2019-20 BE 2019-20 RE 2020-21 BE
Total Gender Budget 115206.61 136934.10 142813.30 143461.72
Budget Tribal Women 1569.2 1827.63 2026.74 2031.57
Budget for Tribal Women as % of Total Gender Budget 1.36 1.33 1.42 1.42
Budget for Dalit Women 2474.46 1978.36 1914.61 2182.7
Budget for Dalit Women as % of Total Gender Budget 2.15 1.44 1.34 1.52
Budget for Minority Women 3564.17 4700 4700 5029
Budget for Minority Women as % of Total Gender Budget 3.09 3.43 3.29 3.51


Source: GoI, 2020

As mentioned above, in India, the ratio of total gender budget to the total Union government budget hovers around just 5%, which is abysmally low. However, in the table above we have tried to assess what percentage of the total gender budget is going towards Dalit, tribal and minority women, and what we find is again disheartening.

As shown in Table 3, the total amount allocated towards Dalit women from the Union Budget is almost Rs.2,182.7 crore in financial year 2020-21, which is even less than the total allocation going towards Dalit women in 2018-19.

The allocations for Dalit women are less than 2% of the total gender budget, and it has declined in the last two years. Most schemes meant for Dalit women are related to education, such as running girls’ hostels (the only Part A scheme for dalit women under the MoSJ&E) and providing scholarships to Dalit students, such as the Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship and Top-Class Education schemes, etc.

Allocations for tribal women are assessed from the Gender Budget allocation of the MoTA, which is Rs. 2,031 crores in 2020-21, which is more than the previous year’s allocation.

However, this amount is not even 2% of the total Gender Budget. The schemes of the MoTA are mainly related to education and scholarships meant for tribal students, such as the Ashram schools, post- and pre-matric scholarships, Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship, Top Class education, National Overseas Scholarship, etc.

Similarly, just about 3% of the total Gender Budget is going towards minority women. Also, most schemes of the Minority Affairs Ministry are meant for both men and women, except one, which is a women-centric leadership development programme.


This is a very important step in order to ensure proper implementation of GRB. In India, Gender Budget Cells established in 56 Ministries/Departments are responsible to monitor the GRB in respective ministries. However, there is no designated agency responsible for monitoring GRB.

As per BARC’s 2017 study, “[The] MWCD is responsible for GRB implementation, reporting, monitoring and evaluation”. According to the Ministry of Finance, “[a] midterm review of the ministry’s budget implementation is a mechanism to ensure effective implementation of the budget” (BARC, 2017).

“However, there does not seem to be any specific mechanism to monitor the GRB process in the MoF because of which the implementation of GRB is not very effective and does not lay much effect on the planning process. For monitoring of implementation of its own programmes, the MWCD organises a quarterly review meeting in which every department of the ministry reports the scheme wise progress and budget expenditure. The MWCD officials also make field visits in various states to monitor state level GRB efforts” (BARC, 2017).


The GRB does not focus on women who belong to marginalised communities. The gender budget allocations are abysmally low, at about 5% of the total budget, and within this the allocations meant for women from marginalised sections are extremely low.

Also, although GRB is gaining momentum in India, it still has a long way to go before being properly implemented. The GRB can be an effective tool to address gender gaps in any development indicator. But the current focus on post-budget reporting does not give enough attention to including gender in the planning process itself.

The biggest issue is realising that women are not a homogenous group and accepting the need for an intersectional approach that addresses discrimination and exclusion that marginalised groups of women such as SC/ST and minority women face.

There is a lack of sex-segregated data in the country and rectifying this lack, especially for marginalised sections, is important if women are to be mainstreamed in the process of development. There is a need to make special efforts to integrate the concerns of marginalised women in the gender responsive budget process so as to include women from marginalised categories in budgeting and planning.

(Nesar Ahmad is director of the Budget Analysis and Research Centre, Jaipur. The views are personal.)

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