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A visionary stride for women-led development in India’s 2024 budget
Nirmala Sitharaman
Photo Courtesy: PIB

A visionary stride for women-led development in India’s 2024 budget

| @indiablooms | 04 Feb 2024, 07:33 pm

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has offered a progressive vision for the nation’s women through the interim budget which prioritized empowering women ("Nari Shakti") through entrepreneurship, making their lives easier, and ensuring their dignity.

She dedicated a portion of her 58-minute interim budget speech to highlighting women's empowerment initiatives.

Following introductory remarks on national development, social welfare programs, and youth development, she shifted focus to themes and schemes specifically aimed at empowering women during the upcoming fiscal year.

The Finance Minister noted women’s participation at work and business has gained momentum in the past decade, highlighting a rise in female labour participation from 23.3% in 2017-18 to 37% in 2022-23.

Out of a total of 44.46 loans sanctioned under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) in 2023, 68.92% went to women.

She also mentioned that the government has disbursed 30 crore Mudra Yojana loans specifically to women entrepreneurs, aiming to expand their participation in the business world.

Finance Minister of India NirmalaSitharaman in her 2024 budget speech, referred to women alongside "the poor, youth, and farmers" as one of the four key groups receiving the Modi administration's "highest priority."

Recognizing their crucial role in propelling the nation forward, she emphasized their "empowerment and well-being" alongside initiatives promoting entrepreneurship, improved living conditions, and a sense of dignity for women.

This focus builds upon ten years of policies enacted since Prime Minister Modi first took office, aiming to empower women and enhance their quality of life.

Incidentally, on the eve of the Budget Session, which began with President DraupadiMurmu addressing a joint session of the parliament, Prime Minister Modi observed that India was celebrating a ‘festival of Nari Shakti’, referring to President Murmu and Finance Minister Sitharaman, who occupy two of the highest offices in the country.

Finance Minister Sitharaman highlighted various initiatives supporting women's empowerment in India. She mentioned over 300 million Mudra Yojana loans empowering women entrepreneurs.

Additionally, female enrolment in higher education has risen by 28% in a decade, with STEM fields boasting a remarkable 43% female enrolment, among the highest globally.

These efforts translate to increased female workforce participation.

She also referred to empowering legislative measures like outlawing Triple Talaq, reserving one-third of seats for women in legislatures, and granting over 70% of rural houses under a national housing scheme to women, promoting their dignity and ownership.

Earlier, in the 2023 budget, Finance Minister Sitharaman introduced the Mahila Samman Saving Certificate, a scheme designed to empower women and girls financially.

This certificate offers a fixed interest rate of 7.5% for two years, with a maximum deposit of Rs. 2 lakh and the option for partial withdrawals. This initiative aims to encourage women to save and build financial security for themselves and their families.

Singling out the significant impact of 83 lakh Self-Help Groups (SHGs) empowering 90 million women in rural India, Sitharaman described them as "transforming the rural socio-economic landscape" and an inspiration to others.

She announced plans to honour these groups. Further encouraged by their success, the government has set a new ambitious target of creating 30 million "LakhpatiDidis" (women entrepreneurs earning Rs. 1 lakh annually), up from the previous target of 20 million.

Prime Minister Modi in his 2023 Independence Day speech outlined a vision to empower 2 crore rural women in India through self-reliance and entrepreneurship.

He highlighted the crucial role of existing self-help groups led by "bank-walididis," "anganwadididis," and "dawai-walididis." To achieve this goal, the Lakhpati Didi scheme was launched, providing skill training and encouraging micro-enterprise development in areas like plumbing, drone technology, and traditional crafts.

Investing in programmes like women-led Self-Help Groups (SHGs) has proved to be an effective means to significantly empower women economically, socially, and politically.

Through SHGs, women gain financial literacy, make better financial decisions, build strong social networks, acquire assets, and diversify their income sources.

Initiatives like the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAY-NRLM), reaching millions of women through SHGs, are linked to increased self-esteem, reduced social issues, and ultimately, greater empowerment for women.

Sitharaman also outlined several initiatives to improve healthcare for women and children in India. Her plans include encouraging vaccinations for girls aged 9-14 to prevent cervical cancer, consolidating various maternal and child care programs for better coordination, and upgrading Anganwadi centres to enhance nutrition, early childhood care, and development.

As part of the Ayushman Bharat initiative, all ASHA and anganwadi workers, including helpers, will now receive healthcare coverage.

They can now access cashless inpatient care up to Rs. 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary hospitalizations, offering them much-needed financial security and peace of mind. These measures aim to improve the well-being of girls and young women across the country.

Meanwhile, India has been consistently pushing the question of gender equity on various international platforms.

Earlier, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, India announced the launch of a global alliance for gender equity and equality, supported by industry giants and NGOs.

This alliance, to be called ‘Alliance for Global Good: Gender Equity and Equality’ aims to share best practices, knowledge, and investments in women's health, education, and enterprise, building on India's G20 efforts.

The initiative was further highlighted by a dedicated "We Lead Lounge" showcasing women's achievements and hosting discussions on women's economic participation and bridging the digital gender gap.

Smriti Irani, Indian minister for Women & Child Development Minister actively participated in various sessions, promoting India's policies and initiatives, especially around gender equality and women-led development.

She also held bilateral meetings with global leaders, fostering international collaboration on shared concerns. India's participation at WEF 2024 was marked by a strong focus on women's empowerment and collaboration for global progress, reflecting its philosophy of 'One Earth, One Family, One Future'.

In essence, the 2024 budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman outlined a visionary path for women's empowerment, solidifying their pivotal role in India's progress.

The budget reflects a decade-long commitment, with initiatives like Mudra Yojana loans, educational advancements, and legislative measures enhancing women's participation and dignity. The focus on rural women through Self-Help Groups and the ambitious Lakhpati Didi scheme amplifies economic empowerment.

Sitharaman's healthcare initiatives address critical needs, ensuring comprehensive well-being. India's global stance on gender equity, showcased at Davos, demonstrates a commitment beyond borders.

The "Alliance for Global Good" underlines India's role in fostering international collaboration for women's health, education, and enterprise.

This affirms India's dedication to initiatives promoting gender parity, women-led development, and inclusivity across various sectors.

(Dr Divya Rani is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, BHU, Varanasi. She contributes articles on issues of utmost importance.)

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