#InternationalWomensDay: Numbers speak louder than hashtags

From the decline in women’s participation in the workforce to rising crimes against women, we have little to celebrate this Women’s Day

A women's demonstration over the Nirbhaya rape holds up a placard saying 'Tomorrow is too late, stand up for women today' (photo: National Herald archives)
A women's demonstration over the Nirbhaya rape holds up a placard saying 'Tomorrow is too late, stand up for women today' (photo: National Herald archives)

Rashme Sehgal

In 2015, just when the Union ministry of women and child development launched the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (educate your daughters, save your daughters)' campaign, a social media campaign started by a sarpanch in Haryana was strongly endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hashtagged #SelfieWithDaughter, it encouraged patriarchs to click and tweet selfies with their daughters.

As it quickly went viral, Modi projected it across the world as indicative of his personal commitment to save the girl child. Sadly, there is a huge difference between the kathani (words) and the karni (action).

The Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) provides a comprehensive ground report on the state of education. It reveals that in just one year (2020–21 to 2021–22) over 20,021 schools were shut down. Despite the government giving a push to private education, around 5,000 of these were private schools.

The dropout rate for children in classes 1 to 8 had doubled.

No doubt, some of this can be attributed to the pandemic, but the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, with its thrust on the privatisation of education, has shown that fewer girls are being given access to school education as compared to boys because of the expense involved.

The problem is that budgetary allocation across the social sector has substantially decreased. The budgetary allocation in 2014–15 was 4.6 per cent of the overall budget; in 2023–24, it has been slashed to 2.5 per cent.

If ‘Beti Padhao’ is not reflected in budgetary allocations, likewise with ‘Beti Bachao’ which has seen massive cuts from 0.73 per cent to 0.25 per cent of the overall budget in the mid-day meal scheme.

ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) has been merged with Saksham Anganwadi and renamed Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman or PM POSHAN. This new incarnation has resulted in a higher allotment. While ICDS had a financial outlay of Rs 18,691, PM POSHAN has been given Rs 20,544 crore in the current budget.

A similar situation has been witnessed in several other women- and child-related schemes such as the National Creche Scheme and the Scheme for Adolescent Girls. Despite knowing that we have the most malnourished women in the world, there has been a cut in the much-needed maternity benefit scheme as well.

In none of these highfalutin schemes does reality match rhetoric. Take the case of the much-publicised Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to distribute LPG connections to women below the poverty line. While this reached 93.4 million beneficiaries by April 2022, families were not able to go in for refills due to the high price of LPG cylinders, which rose from Rs 410 in 2014 to Rs 1,060 in 2022.

Rameshwar Teli, minister for petroleum and natural gas told the Rajya Sabha on 1 August 2022 that 9.2 million customers did not take any refill in 2021, while 20 million customers took only one refill.

Another example of low purchasing power is reflected in the fact that while the government claims it has brought electricity to 18 lakh villages, the ministry of power shows that power consumption has been growing at only 5 per cent per annum despite an increase in the number of connections.

The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana shows the same pattern as the Ujjwala scheme—poor households, even when they get a free connection, are not in a position to buy metred electricity.

Poor purchasing power can be directly linked to the decline in India's Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) of women over the last nine years. World Bank data reported LFPR in 2012 at 27 per cent, which dropped to 22.9 per cent in 2021, before rising to 23.9 per cent (with more women joining the agricultural sector).

The Centre for New Economics Studies has documented that post Covid, women were forced to move out of salaried employment to casual and self-employment in the poorly paid unorganised sector.

The MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is but one example of a highly exploitative work situation because of the erratic nature of the work being offered to women, largely in rural India. MNREGA was started to provide a safety net for millions of poor people, but it has since faced huge budgetary cuts.

This current financial year has seen a drastic 33 per cent reduction. It is now down to Rs 60,000 crore with most of the money, experts say, being used to clear pending backlog of wages.

With payments now linked to Aadhaar cards, it is estimated that a large number of women workers will find it even more difficult to avail of this scheme.

Expenditure on healthcare has assumed catastrophic proportions across the country and is one of the key factors for having precipitated rural indebtedness. There is huge inequity in the providing of health facilities at the state and district level. This inadequacy has seen the proliferation of private healthcare in rural India, which is exorbitantly expensive.

The state of health in our country can be best assessed by the fact that between 2014–15 and 2022–23, the expenditure on health remains between 1.2 to 2.2 per cent of the budgetary outlay.

The National Health Accounts Estimates for India 2019–20 showed the central government’s share was Rs 72,059 crore and the state government’s share was Rs 1,18,927 crore. Insurance contributions work out to around Rs 3,51,717 crore while out-of-pocket expenditure comprises the biggest chunk of expenses incurred at a staggering 52 per cent.

The one scheme that the Modi sarkar is banking on to win the upcoming Lok Sabha polls is the distribution of free rations to 80 crore people. Here too, by a clever sleight of hand, Modi has ensured food subsidies be slashed by over Rs 89,000 crore, thereby reducing the ration entitlement by half.

It is not surprising that the Global Hunger Index for 2022 has given India a ranking of 107 out of 127 countries.

The Modi government has been a spectacular failure in reining in crimes against women.

The BJP’s election manifesto in 2014 had declared that under the UPA government, ‘crimes against women had reached unacceptable levels’. As documented by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the past 10 years under the BJP-led NDA government have seen a 50 per cent increase in crimes against women, which include rape, kidnapping, gang rape and murder after rape.

The NCRB data shows that a woman is being raped every 18 minutes in India.

During the past six years, NCRB data points to how crimes against children, especially girls, has increased by 95 per cent. In UP alone, sex crimes against girls have gone up from 8,000 to 60,000 in the span of one year.

The BJP had also promised 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies. The government went through the charade of introducing a constitutional amendment. It will be years before that is implemented.

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