A letter from Indian women to their Finance Minister, before his budget

This originally appeared in Tesh — a daily knowledge capsule for women — here.

Dear Mr.Finance Minister,

Hope you’re doing very well.

We know you’re very busy matching revenues and expenditures for your February 1st budget, but we would love it if you spare a minute to read and consider our wish list from your budget.

Essentially, all that we want from you is to make everything from Zara and Fabindia tax-free and please help them have year-long sales.

OK, just kidding :)

But there really is a lot that the Government can do via the budget that’ll make us women of India a happier lot — if you can understand WHAT WOMEN REALLY WANT!

We know that India has already been following “gender-responsive budgeting” since 2005, under which there are schemes that have a 100% provision for women and some more where at least a 30% budget of allocated funds have to be spent on women. We also know there are 57 state-level “Gender Budgeting Cells” to facilitate gender-fairness in budget allocations.

We know that in last year’s budget (for 2016–17), women-only schemes were provided Rs 17k crores — 55% higher than the 11k crores in 2015–16. This money went into funding schemes like the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, Nirbhaya schemes (for women’s helplines and one-stop crisis centres), schemes for maternal and child health, LPG connections for rural women, etc.

This, Sir, is great and please do more of the same — but if you notice majority of these are schemes that assist women in their role as mothers and homemakers! There’s not really been much for enhancing women’s participation in the workforce, nothing big enough to help women develop skills and careers, very little to help increase our productivity.

And that’s not a good sign because, according to research by the International Monetary Fund, India’s GDP can rise by 27% if women’s participation in workforce equals men’s! But, as the World Bank notes, only 27% of women over 15 years are in the labour force (vs 80% of men). And only about 18–34% women return to work after having kids (says a BBC survey).

So, maybe you need to really take this more seriously and include provisions that help females join the workforce and contribute more to our country’s income.

To help you, we’ve drawn up a list of suggestions that we’d love if you consider and include in your budget:

Income Tax incentives

  • What if we introduce a tax-rebate or just lower the tax rate for men whose wives are also earning? That could be an incentive to “allow” women of the house to work!
  • Is it possible that after child-birth, salaries for new mums be made tax free for a year — to encourage them to return to work (upto 2 kids that is)
  • Can we have interest earned from investments exempted from tax for women? This might motivate us to invest more. In case you haven’t realised, we women don’t invest enough. We can spend, save but not easily invest!
  • This may sound bizarre — but how about a 250% tax penalty on those molesters and eve teasers and rapists and wife beaters? Perhaps, slam this “respect women” tax on urban males who are easily traceable via Facebook, Aadhar and PAN numbers — wherein we penalise the income of a man against whom a report has been filed for being bad to a woman! This might even send out a threat message those in the lower income groups. Just a thought!

Incentives for women entrepreneurs

  • You could consider making investments into women-owned businesses tax free, so that more individuals and funds come out to sponsor and invest in our ventures.

Reduce indirect taxes and duties to make following items cheaper

  • Everything that helps a multi-tasking mother look after her kids while finding time to work — from diapers to breast pumps to prams and cribs
  • Health supplements and essential drugs for women and children

Please consider providing more funds in your budget allocations for the following

  • Child care facilities, such as day-cares and pre-schools so mothers can return to work
  • Government sponsored flexi-work centres and women-focused co-working spaces to facilitate work-from-home moms, freelancers and budding entrepreneurs — maybe even with attached child care facilities
  • Subsidised higher education fee for girls (in engineering, medical, MBA schools) so more girls are allowed to study
  • Skill-based training courses for women, especially as an alternative to full-time courses
  • Fund programs that educate men about the dangers of unsafe sex, penalties for ill-treating women and benefits of treating women like equal bread winners!

You’re getting the general idea, right?

Maybe a lot of this sounds a little over the top — but Sir, this is the age of artificial intelligence and commercial space travel and what not! Anything’s possible!

Oh, and we won’t mind if that tax-free Zara and Fab suggestion can be considered too :P

Thanks, in advance!


Women of India

image credit srikant_kuanar(flickr)