Last week Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met the stakeholders of the social sector for a pre-
budget consultation. The key areas of the discussion included issues ranging from health, education,
social protection, pension, and human development. The Finance Ministry wanted very specific inputs on budget allocations from the social sector, with a special focus on social protection and health.
Breakthrough, an organization working on norms to end violence against women and girls saw this as
an opportunity to make a strong commitment to Sustainable Development Goals’ that talk about
ending violence against women by 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), seek to change the 21st century by
addressing key challenges such as poverty, inequality, and violence against women. Empowerment of
women and ending gender inequalities are pre-conditions for this which is also the focus for – SGD5.

Though India’s economic growth has brought about an improvement in various socio-economic indicators, it has been observed that many in India still grapple with deprivation, inequality, and vulnerabilities in terms of income, healthcare, nutritional status, educational attainment, access to economic resources, care & protection, and opportunities.

The recent NFHS- 4 data shows that violence against women is very high in the country and there is a strong need to strengthen the existing response and support mechanisms for women. An increasing number of cases of sexual violence against young girls also makes it important for the government to look at institutions and other mechanisms that are supposed to be protective and turn hostile.

In the view of rapidly decreasing participation of women in the workforce, the measures that will be taken towards inclusion will also be something to look out for. India’s Female Labour Force
Participation Rate (LFPR) has dropped to a historic low of 23.3% in 2017-18. According to reports, three out of four women over the age of 16 in India are neither working nor seeking work. We believe the change will emerge only with the possibility of improving the safety of women in public places.
including workspaces and in shifting of the burden of domestic work from women alone.
In such a scenario, Breakthrough recommended that the Union Finance Ministry consider the following points while planning the budgetary allocations for schemes and services to women and

  1. Allocation of funds on all government secondary and senior school teachers’ sensitization and awareness building training on gender-based discrimination and violence will help them ensure gender parity in how they approach students.
  2. Allocation of funds for life-skills training for the age group of 11-18 in government schools in identifying and taking action on gender-based discrimination.

3. Allocation of funds in strengthening the existing institutional mechanism like shelter homes, short stay homes for women and children. The incident of Muzaffarpur shelter home in Bihar was an eye-opener for the country to realize the need for more investments for making such places safer and efficient in functioning. We would make an appeal to the government to set-up a stronger monitoring and accountability mechanism so that abuse of any form could be reported by the inmates without any fear or intimidation.

We would like the government to invest in infrastructure and explore technological solutions for making shelter homes a safe space.
There is also the need to set up more government-run shelter homes across various states as the existing numbers are insufficient for the current population. The shortage often leads to an increase in the number of homeless women and children on the streets, making them more vulnerable.

  1. The NDA government during the previous tenure had initiated the process of creating a National Women’s Policy which was highly appreciated and was considered a big step towards institutionalizing women’s needs and rights. We are very keen to see how social protection can be made a part of this policy and is able to cater to women from marginalized backgrounds, thus reducing their vulnerabilities. One of the key issues is cash-based social protection including pension and other long-term benefits for women in the unorganized sector.  
    It also important to consider cash transfers- regular, predictable payments are important social protection modality.  Research shows that cash transfers promote economic empowerment, build resilience while decreasing poverty and food insecurity. On this matter, we would like the government of India to have both digital and non-digital options. Based on our experience on-ground, we have observed that not everyone in our country has access to the internet or smartphones. There is also a
    low rate of digital literacy and connectivity issues in remote areas. This is especially true for women and children from the rural background who often are most in need of support and these schemes have to be made easily accessible by them.

The total budgetary provision for the Women and Child Development Ministry for 2019-20 stands at Rs.29165 crores. The money allocated on schemes ranging from Women safety, social upliftment, health and maternity benefits, education, empowerment has been increased, however, the implementation delays often remain an issue. The coordination between the Centre and state is another level of hindrance. In this scenario, one wonders if there is any possibility of public-private partnership for better implementation of women and children oriented schemes.
(Sohini Bhattacharya is CEO & President at Breakthrough, an organization working in India to prevent violence and discrimination against women and girls.)

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