Saturday, March 2, 2013

Budget 2013: An open letter to the finance minister

The writer is the Director of Manav Rachna International University
Dear Finance Minister,
Thank you for talking of women. Women empowerment has suddenly become the 'holy grail' word. Everyone is talking about how the budget is women empowering. The smile on Soniaji's face has become the mascot of your budget and also the media.

As a woman needing to feel empowered I read and re- read and then played your budget speech over and over again but I did not feel empowered. There must be something amiss here and with me.

Your magnanimous proposal to set up a special Public Sector Unit bank solely for women, to support businesses run by women and a whooping Rs 1000-crore initial capital for the bank made me perplexed and confused. How is an all women bank going to help me? Will it give me loans at a cheaper interest rate (though I would prefer interest free); will this bank give me higher rates on my savings account? Will this bank not ask for collaterals and documents from the rural women and those with nothing to offer against loans? How many branches will you set up so that women from all over the country can avail of the facilities? And the answer to all these is NO.

But don't lose heart here Sir, your bank will contribute to the research as now we can do a comparative analysis of 'Women Banks vs Men Banks' and prove that being a man or a woman will affect banking. . The second contribution it will make is in terms of safety, instead of men pushing women in bank lines, women will be pushing women.

Sir, let me give you a shortcut...gender sensitization training of your bank employees and increasing the quota of women employees will work just as well, you can increase the interest on savings for women account holders, decrease the interest rates for women on loans, increase the quota for business loans to women entrepreneurs by lower interest rates. Give incentives to women, lower the tax returns for women, etc, etc.
Sir, you said, "Recent incidents have cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials. As more women enter public spaces - for education or work or access to services or leisure - there are more reports of violence against them. We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women." And therefore, you proposed to set up 'Nirbhaya Fund' and allocated Rs 1,000 crore to it. You also proposed to provide an additional sum of 200 crore to Ministry of Women and Child Development to design schemes for women belonging to vulnerable groups.

I almost clapped at the performance which seemed so real. Only Sir, how is it going to be used? Over the years the money has been allocated to the department and neither children nor women are better off. We all know who has benefited and who is safe!

Maybe Sir, you could consider allocating money for safety of women through investing more in the security of women, and training and recruitment of women in the police force. Maybe Sir, you can allocate extra funds for the health and education of women and children. Maybe Sir, you can provide more employment avenues for women in the rural areas. Maybe Sir, you can consider allocating more funds to encourage women for higher education and skill development. And maybe Sir, you can think that LPG is not only a commodity for earning but it is the only way most people can cook food.

Yours truly

Not So Empowered Women

* PS Sir, gold and women are synonyms.
The writer is the Director of Manav Rachna International University

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