Fiscal Policy for Sustainable Development in Asia Pacific: Gender Budgeting In India
Author: Lekha S Chakraborty
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Price: Rs 13,300
At the outset Lekha S Chakraborty makes a significant observation about the role of fiscal transfers to generate a better gender outcome. “While social mores cannot be changed by fiscal fiats, especially when prejudices run deep, state action is called for when they are blatantly oppressive to any section of the community. Indeed such action is imperative,” she writes. This is the starting point of Fiscal Policy for Sustainable Development in Asia-Pacific.
Gender budgeting, as the subsequent 11 chapters go on to explain, is about being creative to generate outcomes and should not be limited to the allocation of money alone. The book, in this context, is a most useful primer to guide policymakers. With each chapter, the author walks with policymakers, at central, state, and at the local governance levels, to show how to make use of the fiscal space to generate better gender outcomes.
This becomes necessary to read in the context of efforts like the one by the United Nations Population Fund, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, which is collaborating with the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj to improve the delivery of Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP). The UN agency is clear that gender should be integrated as part of the GPDP and has a long laundry list. Each one of those outcomes are laudable but to an outsider may often seem little more than a wish list. To make them work, policymakers need to follow the building process that the author, a professor at the National Institute for Public Finance and Policy, mandates for public finance. Since this is a new area, despite the long-standing concerns, working out the policies involves painstaking effort requiring the details to be fleshed out for policies to succeed.
For instance, while several studies highlight the role of local government to deliver a better deal for women, this book points out this may not be possible as local government expenditure is only 3.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in India. In terms of revenue mobilisation, the tier brought in just 0.54 per cent of GDP. The implication is clear. Unless more money flows through the pipe at this level, many of the Sustainable Development Goal outcomes that UNFPA is keen to generate, will not materialise.
“An ought-to-be reforms package may be designed by the highest policy making body with gender budgeting as one of the high policy priorities…Right institutions and innovative tools should be adopted to strengthen the gender lens of public spending decisions and how gender differential outcomes of fiscal policy are measured,” Dr Chakraborty writes.
In fact, Dr Chakraborty’s magisterial enquiry studies a large raft of policies to discern how “innovative” they have been as public policy tools For instance, while there is often an assumption that unconditional fiscal transfers help improve outcomes, Dr Chakraborty uses a range of statistical tools to demonstrate this does not necessarily hold in all circumstances.
“Unconditional transfers have a significant and positive impact on gender parity outcomes, (in achieving) enrolment parity, in the education sector at the primary and secondary levels, in comparison to conditional transfers…Conditional or tied transfers also have a positive effect, in some models. This result likely reflects the design of tied transfers in India within a cooperative federalism framework,” she says.
These results are important, demonstrating the author’s willingness to work with data to identify the best outcomes towards gender budgeting. This openness is guided by the author’s decades of study of both public finance and its application to gender issues.
One caveat is the arrangement of the chapters. Government officials in India and abroad, despite their concerns, will not be as familiar with the subject as the professor. In this context, it may be a useful idea to frame the introductory chapter as a guide to each of the topics and thus be sub-divided into self-contained summaries of each. The chapters, too, could have benefited from a summary at the beginning, and a conclusion to help more categories of readers navigate the key lessons.
As the author points out, gender budgeting has a very useful spin-off. It promotes greater fiscal autonomy at the local level, it helps identify special gender needs, unlike one-size-fits-all policies, that promote administrative capabilities at the sub-national level and, finally, is “significant for the redistribution objectives between regions”. This is a powerful combination of results to achieve for any regime of fiscal policy and sells itself as a smart policy to adopt.
This article appeared first in Business Standard print on April 5th 2023 .
Subhomoy Bhattacharjee is Consulting Editor with the Business Standard Newspaper. Lekha Chakraborty is Professor, NIPFP and Research Associate of Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, New York and Member, Governing Board of International Institute of Public Finance (IIPF) Munich.
The views expressed in the post are those of the authors only. No responsibility for them should be attributed to NIPFP.