Women’s Empowerment Through Gender Budgeting - The Indian Context

Oct. 28, 2020, 11:36 p.m.   apurvabhutani  
Pens of Law students    

Profile of the Author: Dhananjai P.S. Rana pursuing BBA LLB(H) at Amity law School Noida.

Inequalities between men and women and discrimination against women have also been age-old issues all over the world. Thus, women’s quest for equality with man is a universal phenomenon. What exists for men is demanded by women?

They have demanded equality with men in matters of education, employment, inheritance, marriage, politics and recently in the field of religion also to serve as cleric (in Hinduism and Islam). Women want to have for themselves the same strategies of change which menfolk have had over the centuries such as equal pay for equal work. Their quest for equality has given birth to the formation of many women’s associations and launching of movements.

The position and status of women all over the world has risen incredibly in the 20th century. We find that it has been very low in 18th and 19th centuries in India and elsewhere when they were treated like ‘objects’ that can be bought and sold. For a long time, women in India remained within the four walls of their household. Their dependence on menfolk was total.

A long struggle going back over a century has brought women the property rights, voting rights, an equality in civil rights before the law in matters of marriage and employment (in India women had not to struggle for voting rights as we find in other countries).

In addition to the above rights, in India, the customs of purdah (veil system), female infanticide, child marriage, sati system (self-immolation by the women with their husbands), dowry system and the state of permanent widowhood were either totally removed or checked to an appreciable extent after independence through legislative measures.

Two Acts have also been enacted to emancipate women in India. These are: Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act, 2006. The Domestic Violence Act recognizes that abuse be physical as well as mental.

Anything that makes a woman feel inferior and takes away her self-respect is abuse. Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act can be beneficial in preventing the abuse of insti­tution of marriage and hindering social justice especially in relation to women.

It would help the innumerable women in the country who get abandoned by their husbands and have no means of proving their marital status. It would also help check child marriages, bigamy, and polygamy, enable women to seek maintenance and custody of their children and widows can claim inheritance rights. The Act is applicable on all women irrespective of caste, creed, or religion. It would truly empower Indian women to exercise their rights.

To what extent legislative measures have been able to raise the status of women in India? Are women now feel empowered in the sense that they are being equally treated by men in all spheres of life and are able to express one’s true feminine urges and energies? These are the important questions to be investigated with regard to women’s empowerment in India.


[1]“Gender budget initiatives analyse how governments raise and spend public money, with the aim of securing gender equality in decision-making about public resource allocation; and gender equality in the distribution of the impact of government budgets, both in their benefits and in their burdens. The impact of government budgets on the most disadvantaged groups of women is a focus of special attention.”

The Status in Ancient India

  • [2]According to scholars, women in ancient India enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katy Ayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Vedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their own husbands. Scriptures such as the Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi.
  • There are very few texts specifically dealing with the role of women[13] an important exception is the Stri Dharma Paddhati of Tryambakayajvan, an official at Thanjavur c. 1730. The text compiles strictures on women's behavior dating back to the Apastamba sutra (c. 4th century BCE).
  • women are enjoined to be of service to their husbands.
  • Some kingdoms in ancient India had traditions such as nagar vadhu ("bride of the city"). Women competed to win the coveted title of nagar vadhu. Amrapali is the most famous example of a nagar vadhu.
  • According to studies, women enjoyed equal status and rights during the early Vedic period. However in approximately 500 B.C., the status of women began to decline, and with the Islamic invasion of Babur and the Mughal empire and Christianity later worsened women's freedom and rights.
  • Although reform movements such as Jainism allowed women to be admitted to religious orders, by and large women in India faced confinement and restrictions. The practice of child marriages is believed to have started around the sixth century.

Emerging Status of Women

  • [3]During this time there was a little development in the women status. There were many women reformers in India who worked for the uplift & betterment of their female counterparts. The begum of Bhopal discarded the ‘purdah’ & fought in the revolt of 1857. Their education was elevated, and English was introduced during this period. Various female writers emerged in the society.

The problem of Gender Gaps

[4]To look at all areas of gendered life and inequality is beyond the scope of this piece. Therefore, I will discuss arguments that have been put forward that argue a case for the continuing existence of international gendered power relations in a number of specific areas: initially, education and violence. These arguments suggest that gendered inequality is visible in both public and private spheres, especially the economic, political, and social aspects, and provide evidence across some of the most pressing examples of gendered inequalities. The validity of the arguments that gender inequalities are still entrenched and persist over time, place, and culture will initially be compared to alternative claims that gendered power relations, and thus inequalities, are gradually being eroded. Moreover, given the current academic focus on the concept of intersectionality, that is, how the variables of class, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, for example, intersect in relation to people’s gendered experiences, this concept is included in discussion here. The case study of women’s global activism will provide a framework to further discuss these issues and take up some of the questions that have been raised.

Women in MENA [ Middle East and North African countries] are twice as likely to be illiterate as men are and makeup two-thirds of the region's illiterate adults.

The gender gaps in education vary greatly across countries in the region but are generally wider in countries where overall literacy and school enrollment are lower.

In Yemen, for example, the illiteracy rate among young women (54 percent) is triple that of young men (17 percent). But countries that make political and financial commitments to reducing illiteracy, as Jordan and Tunisia have, generally see significant improvements in reducing illiteracy and narrowing the gender gaps in literacy and school enrollment generally persist regardless of rural or urban location. Gender gaps in school enrollment are especially wide in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and Yemen. Closing gender gaps in education would benefit countries' economies. One study estimated that the region's average annual growth in per capita gross national product would have been nearly a full percentage point higher between 1960 and 1992 if MENA's gender gap in education had shrunk as quickly as East Asia's did.

[5]Cultural and Economic Factors That Reinforce the Gender Gap

MENA countries generally have lower levels of women's education and labor force participation than other regions with similar income levels. The interaction between the region's economic structure and its conservative culture, in which traditional gender roles are strongly enforced, is largely responsible.

Men in the MENA region are more likely to have direct access to wage employment and control over wealth, while women are largely economically dependent upon male family members.

The region's oil-based economy, which produced tremendous wealth in some MENA countries, reinforces the region's gender roles. In a number of MENA countries, the use of capital-intensive technologies that require few workers, along with relatively high wages for men, have precluded women's greater involvement in the labor force.

Women's employment options have been limited to a small number of socially acceptable occupations and professions, such as teaching and medicine. In the Gulf states, jobs not considered appropriate for MENA women, such as waitressing, are often filled by imported female laborers from South and East Asia.

Why is there a need for action?

  • [6]Efforts to improve female education in MENA countries need to go beyond rhetoric and should involve policies and programs with measurable results. Governments can start by making the MDGs part of national development plans and monitoring progress toward those goals. Governments also need to make an extra effort to ensure that education is more accessible to low-income families and rural populations, with special attention to the quality of the education provided and the need for girls to complete school.
  • Richer countries both inside and outside the region are encouraged to help resource-poor countries improve their educational systems and collect data on their progress. Improving access to and the quality of education is the most rewarding investment a country can make. Investing in female education will accelerate the MENA region's economic and social development by enhancing human capital, slowing population growth, and alleviating poverty.
  • Most of the MENA women who work outside the agricultural sector are college-educated professionals employed mainly in government (except in Lebanon, where the majority of the female labor force is found in the private sector).17 A smaller share of women work in factories, but many lack the educational qualifications of factory workers in countries such as China, Vietnam, and the nations of the former Soviet bloc.
  • The current high unemployment rates among men in MENA countries make it harder for women to compete in male-dominated job markets, and women's unemployment rates are higher than those of men in the region. In Saudi Arabia, where Saudi women account for only 7 percent of the labor force, the unemployment rate for women in 1999 was 16 percent, more than double the unemployment rate for men. In 2000, the unemployment rate among urban Iranian women was 25 percent, compared with 16 percent for men; in rural areas of the country, women's unemployment reached 20 percent, versus 17 percent for men. Improving the quality of education, providing more vocational training, developing job-creating programs, and removing obstacles to women's entrepreneurship can help alleviate the high rates of female unemployment.

[7]Ways to empower

  • Create a safe space: Women in South Asia often have nowhere to gather with other women and talk about issues like gender equity, women’s rights, or health. READ Centers provide a safe, trusted space for women to gather and learn.
    "The Center is a safe place for women, and we don't really need approval from our family to visit."
  • Support independence and mobility: Most women in rural Nepal and India have to ask their husbands for permission to leave home. Because of their local READ Center, a large majority of women (75-77%) report being able to freely travel outside of their home unaccompanied.
  • Teach women to read: If you are illiterate, simple things like reading signs on a road, numbers on a phone, or directions on a medicine bottle make daily life a struggle. READ Centers teach thousands of women to read each year.
  • Increase savings and income: 63% of women increased their savings or income after joining savings cooperatives at READ Centers in Nepal. Savings cooperatives allow women to invest money and then take turns receiving micro-loans to start micro-businesses or invest in education for their children.
  • Teach job skills and seed businesses: Women learn beekeeping, mushroom farming, sewing, and other income-generating skills through training programs at READ Centers. One in five Nepali women report going on to start her own income-generating business after joining a savings cooperative and taking skills training at a READ Center.
  • Build self-esteem and confidence: A majority of women (58-83%) report that their self-esteem or confidence has increased since coming to a READ Center – helping them to become more comfortable speaking in front of groups and sharing opinions.
  • Boost decision-making power: About two-thirds of women in Nepal (62%) and India (68%) say that they have greater decision-making power in their homes and communities as a result of coming to the READ Center.

“We were mostly busy doing household activities before… we now can travel outside of the village alone, [earn an income] in our family, and participate in decisions related to our children’s education.”

  • Impact health: Women report increased influence in their families and communities after receiving training or information from their local READ Center on health care, family planning, domestic violence and reproductive rights. Almost all READ Center users (88-97%) access health information and services at Centers that they would not otherwise be able to access.
  • Build networks: By building social networks, women have more support and greater opportunities to effect change in their communities. Three-quarters of women in Nepal and half in India and Bhutan report expanding their network through their local READ Center. Women say that once this network is in place, they are emboldened by the knowledge that they are not alone in facing issues like domestic violence, reproductive health or family planning, and that they are inspired to help other women in their community by sharing the knowledge they have learned about these topics.
  • Create public leaders: In South Asia (particularly Bhutan), women rarely hold public leadership roles. READ Centers provide leadership training for women to increase their presence in the public sphere. 61-65% of women report that they are now able to express their opinions in public or in their home. Women report joining committees, facilitating meetings, participating in protests, raising their voices against violence, and organizing community programs.


“It is more important to create a general awareness’ and understanding of the problems of women’s employment in all the top policy and decision making and executive personnel. There is also the special problem facing women like the preference for male children for social and cultural reasons. This will require awareness, understanding and action. The best way to do so is to educate the children, orient the teachers, examine the textbooks and teaching-aids and ensure that the next generation grows up with new thinking.”

[1] Available at https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/gender-budgeting last visited on October 5,2020

[2] Available at https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/mgrsd/23/3/article-p180.xml?language=en last visited on October 5 2020

[3] Available at https://medium.com/@apeksha.0503/status-of-women-from-the-past-into-the-future-e9154f7429c1 last visited on October 5, 2020

[4] Available at: https://www.cry.org/issues-views/gender-inequality last visited on October 5,2020

[5] Available at https://thewire.in/economy/ten-charts-gender-inequality last visited on October 5,2020

[6] Available at https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/03/10/2017/women%E2%80%99s-rights-middle-east-and-north-africa last visited on October 5,2020

[7] Available at: https://www.readglobal.org/126-10-ways-to-empower-women/ last visited on October 5,2020

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