Safe cities and gender budgeting

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Gender budgeting is the need of the hour, as is evident from the increase in crimes against women. Never has there been a more pronounced need for better budgetary allotments to make women’s spaces safe and convenient, says Dr. Vibhuti Patel.

Urbanisation often goes hand in hand with a rise in urban violence and crime that manifests itself in stalking, sexual violence, blackmailing and extortion rackets. Children and women are seen as soft spots who can be victimised by predators.

Smart cities, also safe cities?
Town planners, policy makers and budget experts need to do gender budgeting, incorporating facets such as women-friendly civic infrastructure – water, sanitation, health care, safe transport, public toilets, helplines, skill development for crisis management and, safety at work place. While preparing budgets for social defense services, consideration must be given to safety of girls and women in schools and colleges in terms of prevention of child sexual abuse, through public education and counselling facilities, separate toilets for girls and boys in schools, legal literacy on POCSO Act, 2012 and Prevention of Sexual Harassment Workplace Act, 2013, special cells in the police department to take action against display of pornographic images, cybercrimes that victimise young girls at public places, in public transport – buses, local trains, rickshaws and taxis. Installation of panic buttons for customers in rickshaws and taxis need to be made mandatory in all cities. Women vendors and child workers, women employees working in the night shifts (who are highly exposed to unwanted sexual advances and petty harassment). Hence, budgetary allocation for referral centres /information desks should be provided in markets and public places.

Urban infrastructure and safety of women
From the point of view of macroeconomic policies, gender friendly infrastructure plays a pivotal role in creating gender friendly cities. City planners need to make budgetary provision for safe housing and night shelter for homeless women, and half way homes for elderly women.

Budgetary allocation for installation of CCTV cameras must be made at all public places, highways and streets in the business hubs. Proper street lighting in the peripheral areas of the city is vital for safety of citizens, especially women, children and senior citizens. Safe, clean and free toilets for women at railway stations, bus stops, markets, public places are urgently required in the cities. Budgetary allocation for gender sensitisation workshops for police personnel is important to change the mindset of ‘victim-blaming’ among them.

For women, feeling safe is to feel protected. It is a feeling of well-being which can envelop a family, a community, a neighbourhood and a city. Its composition is hard to decipher, but it is an all-encompassing feeling of calm which is often as invisible as clean, unpolluted air. Safe cities ensure more freedom, less confinement and control, and enhance women’s opportunities to travel, to attain education-job-career.

What is a gender sensitive budget?
A gender sensitive budget demands re-prioritisation of financial allocations by municipal bodies in favour of:

  • Women’s hostels, crèches, cheap eating facilities, public toilets
  • Women-friendly and safe public transport be it local trains, metros, buses or autorickshaws
  • Housing subsidised for single/ deserted/ divorced/ widowed women
  • Strengthening PDS (public distribution system), mid-day meals
  • Abolition of user fees for BPL (below poverty line) population, one stop crisis centre in public hospital for women/girls survivors of violence linked with shelter homes
  • Skill training centres for women and tailor made courses
  • Safe, efficient and cheap public transport – bus, train, metro
  • Safe drinking water in the community centres
  • Occupational health and safety of recycling workers/rag pickers
  • Proper electrification in the communities
  • Multipurpose community centres, half-way homes for elderly and mentally disturbed women
  • Method of revenue generation
    Several state governments have allotted 5% of total revenues for women and children. This should be increased to 10%. Kerala has done this. Moreover, urban local self-government (LSGs) bodies can raise revenues by heavy taxes on tobacco, alcohol, private vehicles and entertainment industry. A portion of the fine collected for causing damage to environment (introduction of Green Tax), high speed driving, wrong parking and breaking rules can be used for welfare of women and children.

    Civil society groups must be allowed to give their opinions on suitable budgetary allocations and generation of revenues from local sources. They can verify/cross check collected data and results of the surveys/interactive workshops, and prepare a vision document.

    Women’s groups are discussing micro economics involved in dealing with problems faced by women at ward levels such as drinking water, health centers, garbage disposal and are moving beyond grievance redressal. Women’s groups such as Anandi (Ahmedabad), Alochana (Pune), Stree Mukti Sangathana (Mumbai), National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (Bhubaneswar), Singamma Srinivasan Foundation (Bangalore), Action India (Delhi), are organising workshops for awareness about technicalities of budget, building knowledge about programmes, schemes, projects under different departments, gathering procedural information about critical issues/felt needs, skills of proposal writing.

    State governments must devolve substantive powers, funds, functions and functionaries upon urban LSGs.

    With this perspective in mind, urban LSGs have to work for gender budgeting. Striving for ‘Gender-friendly’ cities has become a strategic objective of the urban planners, policy makers and practitioners. Citizens’ fora, community based organisers and NGOs are publicly debating the issues concerning revenue generation and public expenditure of the urban bodies with gender lens. Right to information (RTI) has proved to be an important tool in the hands of civil society for transparency in public expenditure.

    Gender budgeting in urban LSGs
    The process of gender budgeting demands special programmes targeting women, based on enumeration of differential impact of expenditures across all sectors and services – gender disaggregated impact on literacy, school drop outs, mortality, morbidity, malnutrition, illnesses, safety and security. Hence, they need to ensure the review of equal opportunity policies and opportunities in the public sector – jobs, school education, wages, health care, skills, technical training, and computer education.

    The following classification of financial allocation on schemes and programmes for gender audit as well as gender budgeting have been recommended:

  • Women specific schemes where 100% of the allocation is required to be spent on women
  • Pro-women schemes where at least 30% of allocation and benefits flow to women. E.g., all anti-poverty programmes
  • Gender neutral schemes meant for community as a whole
  • Need of the hour
    State governments must devolve substantive powers, funds, functions and functionaries upon urban LSGs. The central government should strive for simplification of programme guidelines by central ministries and departments regarding women specific schemes. Structures and mechanisms for RTI Act must be put in place to sort out problems concerning utilisation of funds allocated for area development. To avoid urban unrest and guarantee socio-economic justice, at least 100 days of employment at minimum wages must be provided under EGS in all urban centres. Elected representatives, ward officials and NGOs working in the area should act as facilitators in preparation of the plan for area development and social justice.

    Conclusion
    Budgets garner resources through the taxation policies and allocate resources to different sections of the economy. It can help to reduce economic inequalities between men and women as well as between the rich and the poor. Hence, the budgetary policies need to take into consideration the gender dynamics operating in the economy and in the civil society. There is a need to highlight participatory approaches to pro-poor budgeting, bottom up budget, child budget, SC budget, ST budget, green budgeting, budgeting for differently abled people, local and global implications of pro-poor and pro-women budgeting, alternative macro scenarios emerging out of alternative budgets and inter-linkages between gender-sensitive budgeting and women’s empowerment. Gender economists must lift the veil of statistical invisibility of the unpaid ‘care economy’ managed by poor women, and highlight its equality and efficiency dimension, and transform macro-policies so that they become women friendly.


    Vibhuti

    Dr. Vibhuti Patel

    The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Economics, SNDT Women’s University, Churchgate.

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