Women entrepreneurs and activists give thumbs down to Jaitley’s ‘gender budget’, say more steps needed to increase women’s participation in workforce.
New Delhi: Although the budget proposal to reduce women employees’ contribution to the provident fund was met with much cheer Thursday, women entrepreneurs and activists say that the move is an ill-conceived and half-hearted antidote to a deeply entrenched problem.
“I think the objective is correct, which is to incentivise employers to hire more women; so let’s see how it plays out,” Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson of Biocon, told ThePrint.
However, others are less optimistic. “It takes a lot more to ensure women’s participation in the workforce than reducing their provident fund liability,” said Charulata Ravi Kumar, entrepreneur and director, digital marketing, SP Jain School of Global Management.
“I think in the absence of an infrastructure that allows women to come into the workforce, this announcement is only a frill,” she added.
In what seems to be an attempt to check the declining number of women in the formal workforce, the government Thursday announced that it would ease payments under schemes for women workers administered by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to 8 per cent from 12 per cent for the first three years of employment.
This is expected to boost employment of women in the formal economy as the reduction in the PF liability would act as an incentive for employers to hire women.
High attrition rate
However, the decline in women employees in the workforce is a result of high attrition rates among women, argues Aparna Jain, marketing consultant and author. “Women entering the workforce is not the problem, retaining them is the issue,” she said.
“Women typically drop out of the workforce after childbirth, which happens after 3-4 years of having worked, so the government should be reducing the PF liability during, say the maternity leave, and not at the beginning,” she explained.
Besides, with a work culture like India’s that does not spread out maternity leave for women and does not allow them to work from home, coupled with the breakup of the joint family system, it is all the more difficult for women to stay in the workforce, argues Charulata Ravi Kumar
The impact of the healthcare scheme
Yet, she is of the view that even though the budget presented could have specifically focused more on women, the larger schemes announced by the government such as the new flagship National Health Protection Scheme would ultimately benefit women hugely.
The scheme will provide a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh a family per annum to 10 crore vulnerable families, Jaitley announced Thursday.
However, Jasodhara Dasgupta, senior adviser, Sahayog, an NGO that works in the field of women’s health and rights, disagrees. “It is actually an anti-women policy that would bleed them dry,” she said.
“Schemes such as the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) have been tried before, and there is ample evidence to show that the unscrupulous and unregulated private sector only takes advantage of such schemes — conducting surgeries on women which they don’t need, removing their uteruses, etc. – (thereby) taking away the entire family’s insurance coverage in one go,” Dasgupta added.
Loans under MUDRA scheme
An increased allocation of Rs 3 lakh crore for entrepreneurial loans under the Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY), 76 per cent of whose beneficiaries, Jaitley says, are women, is also just a “bad excuse for not generating formal jobs”, Dasgupta said.
The scheme, launched by the Prime Minister in April 2015, provides loans of up to Rs 10 lakh to the non-corporate, non-farm small/micro enterprises. “It’s like saying people selling pakodas are also employed,” she quipped.