AIDWA

Women's Contribution To Economy

24 February, 2002 R Chandra
   
The All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) recently submitted the following memorandum to the union minister for finance, Yashwant Sinha, detailing some of the problems the women and children of the country are facing and the concrete steps that are required from the coming budget to address these problems. The memorandum was signed by AIDWA general secretary Brinda Karat, vice president Premila Pandhe and treasurer Kalindi Deshpande.
 
We had wished to meet you, as part of your pre-budget discussions with "interest groups," to present a more comprehensive picture of the minimum needs of women and children and how the budget could address them. It is a matter of regret that, while preparing the budget, you have not considered it necessary to consult women's organisations on issues which will so deeply impact on women's status. We learn that even the National Commission for Women has not been consulted although, as you are no doubt aware, it is mandatory for the government to consult the NCW on all policy matters concerning women. Chapter 5, Clause 16 in the NCW Act 1990 states, "The central government /shall/ consult the commission on all major policy matters affecting women." In the absence of a meeting with you, we present to you a memorandum which reflects some of the important areas of women's concerns which require budgetary intervention.
 
 
ON TAXES AND DUTIES
 
The budget is an instrument through which the government implements its priorities in the collection and allocation of national resources from and to different social and economic groups. As citizens, we are also concerned that the budget through its taxation, customs duties and excise duties should protect domestic interests while at the same time garner its resources from the rich.

issues of concern > economic policies Economic independence is a pre-requisite for women's advancement. It is AIDWA's understanding that women's oppression has to be understood in the wider context of macro-policies and socio-economic frameworks. The current world order is an order of growing inequalities, between developed capitalist countries and the third world, between the poor and the rich within these countries and between men and women in the entire capitalist world. Neo-liberal economic policies dictated by western nations and their international agencies and institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have adversely affected women. Growing unemployment, poverty and malnourishment are indicators of their declining economic status. Struggles to achieve land reforms with joint pattas (holdings) for women, to protect the Public Distribution System, for a National Employment Guarantee Act, for protective legislation for working women, for budgetary policies that promote public investments in health and education, are an important part of AIDWA's work. Women's Contribution To Economy Has Been Ignored Says AIDWA in memo to Finance Minister 24 February, 2002 The All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) recently submitted the following memorandum to the union minister for finance, Yashwant Sinha, detailing some of the problems the women and children of the country are facing and the concrete steps that are required from the coming budget to address these problems. The memorandum was signed by AIDWA general secretary Brinda Karat, vice president Premila Pandhe and treasurer Kalindi Deshpande. We had wished to meet you, as part of your pre-budget discussions with "interest groups," to present a more comprehensive picture of the minimum needs of women and children and how the budget could address them. It is a matter of regret that, while preparing the budget, you have not considered it necessary to consult women's organisations on issues which will so deeply impact on women's status. We learn that even the National Commission for Women has not been consulted although, as you are no doubt aware, it is mandatory for the government to consult the NCW on all policy matters concerning women. Chapter 5, Clause 16 in the NCW Act 1990 states, "The central government /shall/ consult the commission on all major policy matters affecting women." In the absence of a meeting with you, we present to you a memorandum which reflects some of the important areas of women's concerns which require budgetary intervention. ON TAXES AND DUTIES The budget is an instrument through which the government implements its priorities in the collection and allocation of national resources from and to different social and economic groups. As citizens, we are also concerned that the budget through its taxation, customs duties and excise duties should protect domestic interests while at the same time garner its resources from the rich. We urge you to refrain from levying any taxes on essential commodities and through other forms of indirect taxation. The consequent price hikes play havoc with the family budgets of millions of working people and the poor of India, the main burden of which is borne by women.

DEVELOPMENT AND WOMEN-SPECIFIC SCHEMES

The concept of women-specific components in planning and budgetary allocations, to address the blatant existence of gender discrimination, has been an accepted policy of successive governments since the sixth five-year plan. This policy framework was created because of the interventions and inputs of women's organisations. The budget should reflect this framework. However, it is a matter of deep concern that gender concerns have been trivialised in budget allocations and reduced to tokenism. We are particularly concerned because available estimates of budgetary allocations for women-specific schemes in the last three years show a steady decline, which could be described as "from nothing to nothingest." It has declined from 1.02 per cent in 1998-99 to 0.94 per cent in 1999-2000 to 0.87 per cent in both 2000-01 and 2001-02. In the so-called year of Women's Empowerment a measly 19.89 crore was allocated through the Integrated Women's Empowerment programme, a large part of which was for the celebrations of the year. Definitions and priorities also require clarification. For example, "fashion designing" is certainly not women-specific. Yet, over Rs 26 crore were allocated to the Institute of Fashion Technology as part of women's programmes under the ministry of textiles! More shockingly, in a period when domestic violence against women is growing, the allocation for short stay home for women victims of domestic violence declined from Rs 14.51 crore in the 2000-01 budget to Rs 9.77 crore in the revised estimates of the same year and Rs 12.84 crore in the 2001-02 budget which, again, may have further declined in the awaited revised estimates.
 

R Chandra, joint secretary of AIDWA-TN, presented the portions of the draft report pertaining to the rural and the unorganised sectors. Since only 5.2 per cent of women in the rural workforce of the state are in regular employment, the rural and the unorganised sectors account for the overwhelming proportion of women in the labour force. While female workforce participation in the state is higher than in many other states, this is not always a sign of empowerment, given the quality of female employment. The ILO's goal of decent employment remains a far-away dream for the women of rural Tamil Nadu, and the same is the case with the unorganised sector. Neoliberal policies have led to unprecedented levels of rural distress and collapse of agriculture. Employment opportunities for women have shrunk sharply as a result. Spread of the labour contract system, mechanisation, changes in cropping pattern favouring less labour-intensive cash crops in place of paddy, conversion of agricultural land to other uses, attempts at corporatisation of agriculture and cutbacks in rural development expenditure and rural employment programmes -- all these aspects and consequences of neoliberal policies have further marginalised women in the labour market. Migration - especially male migration - brought about by the acute shortage of livelihood opportunities in rural Tamil Nadu has caused havoc in the lives of rural working women. The promise made in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government of providing 100 days of guaranteed employment for one person from every poor rural/urban household at the minimum wage is yet to be implemented, and rural distress remains acute, impacting especially on working women

The general record, as far as developmental expenditure is concerned, is quite dismal since even the low budgetary allocations are further cut down, as is apparent from the revised estimates of the budget available for the last three years. For example, in 2000-2001 the actual expenditure by the WCD was revised downwards by Rs 112.41 crore, for elementary education and literacy by Rs 476.71 crore, environment and forests by Rs 249.15 crore and rural development by about Rs 400 crore. Even while these figures are shocking enough, how much the women's component has suffered within these cuts is not clear. For example, the 30 per cent quota in workdays created through government schemes has been rendered meaningless because the schemes themselves have been drastically reduced.
 
Most importantly, in a decade when the sex ratio has declined, when girls and women are being viewed as burdens, easily expendable, the government needs to make a firm commitment of its concern for the girl child through the budget. This requires a comprehensive approach --- social, economic and political. As far as the budget is concerned, a very specific allocation for girl children which will include components in the health, education and social sector schemes must be made.
Single women, particularly older single women including widows, require social security. Even the meager and inadequate widow pension and old-age schemes have been drastically reduced, causing great hardship. A comprehensive scheme for the welfare of this section is required.
We demand an increase in allocations to women-specific schemes. The budget must also specify allocations for women-specific schemes within the general schemes. We demand increase in allocations for old age and widow pension schemes. Specific allocations for the girl child must be made.
EMPLOYMENT, WORK, INCOME, LAND
In the evening, a well-attended public seminar was held to explain the decisions of the convention. Powerful cultural performances by the Shakthi troupe (consisting entirely of women) and songs and dances by other young artistes attracted wide public attention.
The processes of globalisation have been cruel to the mass of women. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women 2001, released by your government (incidentally without any discussion or consultation with those it supposedly benefits) admits this reality, though in an oblique manner: /"Benefits of the growing economy have been unevenly distributed leading to wider economic disparities, the feminisation of poverty, increased gender inequality through often deteriorating working conditions and unsafe working environment especially in the informal economy and rural areas"/ (Clause 5.4).
The mid-term appraisal of the ninth plan states that unemployment rates for male and female in both rural and urban areas, which had declined between 1987-88 and 1993-94, have once more risen in the years after 1997 (Chapter 21). According to a range of micro surveys conducted both by the WDC and by research organisations, the number of workdays in rural areas has drastically reduced, male migration has increased, and the number of female-headed families in rural India has increased. Although in some operations wages may have increased, the number of workdays being less, the total income has decreased. Women are still getting 40 to 60 per cent less than male workers and in most places minimum wages are not implemented. The mid-term plan appraisal admits that access to land is still critical for employment and income generation in rural areas (Chapter 6).
Industrial women workers, particularly those in the export zones, suffer from inhuman working conditions and have even been denied the right to unionisation. Unfortunately, the Planning Commission has itself ignored the myriad problems of working women in industry, since there is hardly any mention of planning for this important section. Even where they are mentioned, as in the provision of working women's hostels, the mid-term appraisal is that only 840 women's hostels have been set up. Since most of the women in the export zones and in other industrial areas are young, single migrant workers in need of accommodation, clearly a much larger number of hostels is required.
The fastest growing work sector is the home-based sector where women find work, though at a pittance. Although the government has ratified the ILO convention for protective legislation for unorganised workers, including home-based workers, there is no law as yet. This section of women workers are among the most exploited as they are not even recognised as workers ---no minimum wages, no social security, no welfare funds.
 
Around 12 lakh Anganwadi workers who are the backbone of the largest government scheme, the ICDS, have been paid a pittance. The budget must make provisions for minimum wages for this section of women workers
 
The government's declared strategy for income generation for women is through micro-credit schemes. Yet the ninth plan target itself was for a modest 50,000 groups. According to the mid-term appraisal, even this has not been achieved and only 37,000 such groups have been set up, benefiting just eight lakh women. This is a meagre number. Women's organisations and NGOs would probably have set up more than this number! /
 
Considering that 15 crore women in the unorganised sector require micro-credit for different reasons, the target must be increased. Additionally, the government must help in marketing for such production units for which an allocation is required.
 
There is an urgent need for extension of child services. There has been practically no increase in the number of state-run crèches in the last 3 years. There are only about 15,000 creches throughout the country, which excludes 75 per cent of the approximately 11 crore children under six years who require such care.
 
What is the strategy your budget is going to adopt to meet these problems? Clearly, the budget has to make a fundamental change by providing employment to the rural poor, including women, and in its land policies. What we demand is that the budgetary allocation for food for work and employment generation schemes, with at least a 40 per cent component for women, should be a major thrust of the budget. The government should reverse its policy of corporatisation of land and ensure distribution of land to the landless with joint pattas.
 
A much larger corpus is required to provide credit to poor women. A special fund for welfare of women in the unorganised sector, which could also have a component of contribution from the employer and the worker, is essential. The labour ministry must be given funds for a scheme for mass identification and giving identity cards to home-based women workers. Some of the state governments earlier like Kerala and Tamilnadu do have some social security schemes which could be strengthened and expanded by the central government.
 
Your budget should increase allocations for working women ensuring them child-care facilities, crèches, transport and extended maternity benefits. Many more working women's hostels are required. A separate budgetary allocation for this is required.
 
Child-care facilities, and allocations for it, must be increased.
 
FOOD SECURITY, NUTRITION
 
The mid-term appraisal paints a grim picture of the spread of food insecurity in the country. It states that "the food consumption of the poor in India has gone down in the last 10 years (and is at least 30 three per cent below as compared to per capita consumption of the top 10 per cent" (Chapter 8). This shows that a large majority of people in this country require government intervention to provide them the minimum food requirements. It is not because there is no demand for food but, as is pointed out in the appraisal, the causes lie in the inability of the poor to buy 20 kg at a time, prices charged often exceed the official price by as much as 10 to 14 per cent, and so on. It should be noted that because of inequalities within families, among the poor it is women and children, particularly girl children, who suffer most.
 
The experience clearly shows that, however well intentioned the targeted food system plan may have been when it was started in 1996, it has actually excluded larger sections of the poor from benefits of the public distribution system. Also, as studies have shown, in a country where a larger number of people need to be covered by a particular system, the cost of exclusion is higher than that of inclusion.
 
We demand that the budget reverse the current policies which have led to this serious situation for India's poor that has led to starvation deaths even as 6.6 crore tonnes of foodgrains rot in government godowns. The answer is not to sell off the grains at huge profits to private traders but to distribute it to the poor at reduced prices and also as part payment in employment generation schemes.
 
HEALTH AND MEDICAL SERVICES
 
The mid-term appraisal states: "NSSO data indicate that escalating health care costs is one of the reasons for indebtedness not only among the poor but also in the middle-income group" (Highlights 3.71). The collapse of even the highly inadequate primary health care system, the retreat of the government from its responsibility in this crucial sector, increasing privatisation and reliance on privately managed health insurance schemes have put essential health care and medical services out of the reach of vast section in our country. The budget must reverse this trend, increase allocations for general health facilities with priorities to primary health care, particularly in the more inaccessible regions of the country and Adivasi-populated areas. The health policy of your government includes a commitment to strengthening primary health care centres. The budget should actualise this commitment through appropriate allocations. The only component of "welfare" which has increased has been the budget for family planning mainly as a result of funds from international agencies. The budget should allocate these funds for provision of health care for pregnant women, lactating mothers and infants.
 
Another crucial aspect of health is the guarantee for potable drinking water supplies and sanitation. The mid-term appraisal states: "…the problems of drinking water have remained unresolved and in fact are becoming more serious every year. Although the ministry of rural development claims more than 95 per cent coverage, independent reports show scarcity of drinking water in about half the villages of India." There can scarcely be a more damning indictment of the ministry concerned.
 
The budget must seriously deal with this problem of drinking water supplies and adopt its solution as a national priority.
 
Another most serious problem affecting women's health and general well-being is the lack of toilet facilities. Whereas the problems in urban areas and particularly slum areas are well known, in the rural areas, because of intensive land use, including panchayati land by commercial interests, space for women to use as toilets has greatly shrunk
 
It is essential to have an allocation of funds in the budget for women's toilets.
 
EDUCATION
 
The adoption of the 83rd constitutional amendment enjoins on the government to increase budgetary allocations to the education sector, with special emphasis on elementary education that has a declining share in the total allocation. However, the Act unjustly kept out a large section of children till under the age of six from government responsibility. Early child-care development must be an integral part of any educational system. The budget should specifically address this problem.
 
The earlier commitment of at least 6 per cent of the GDP for education should be implemented
 
CONCLUSION
 
These demands reflect an understanding that holds that investment in women's development and for the guarantee of women's minimum rights is essential for the country's advance. The previous Economic Survey had taken the first welcome step of recognising the value of women's unpaid work. If the government puts a value on it, as it should and has been demanded by women's movements, it will find that women's contribution to the economy is one of the highest subsidies being enjoyed by it. In an era when the government cuts down on essential subsidies, it is unfortunate that the government has not paid sufficient attention to cutting down on a subsidy --- the women-provided subsidy---which is so clearly based on injustice and inequality. Social and financial recognition through more investment in policies to promote women's rights, is one way to address these issues.
 
This memorandum lists some of the priority areas. We urge you to address women's concerns in your budget.

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