Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Nari Shakti: A significant theme of Interim Budget 2024-25

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman emphasises on the need for women empowerment, with a focus on increased female labour force participation

Samidha Jain
Published: Feb 1, 2024 03:03:02 PM IST
Updated: Feb 1, 2024 03:29:11 PM IST

Female labour force participation rate has risen from 23.3 percent in 2017-18 to 37 percent in 2022-23. Image: Shyamalamuralinath / Shutterstock

Female labour force participation rate has risen from 23.3 percent in 2017-18 to 37 percent in 2022-23. Image: Shyamalamuralinath / Shutterstock

“The prime minister firmly believes that we need to focus on four major castes: Garib (poor), mahilayen (women), yuva (youth) and annadata (farmers). Their needs, aspirations and welfare are our highest priorities,” Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Interim Budget speech. A significant focus of the budget was on Nari Shakti or women empowerment through entrepreneurship, ease of living, and dignity for them, which according to the FM, has “gained momentum in the past 10 years”.

There has been a rise in female labour force participation rate from 23.3 percent in 2017-18 to 37 percent in 2022-23, as per the government, yet as per observation of the year-on-year figures (see chart), the percentage increase has been rather stagnant. To increase the scope of women entrepreneurship in the country, the FM mentioned that 30 crore Mudra Yojana loans have been given to women entrepreneurs.

Mitali Nikore, a feminist economist and founder of youth-led think tank, Nikore Associates, feels Nari Shakti is a major theme for ViksitBharat @ 2047, with women entrepreneurs receiving over 70 percent of the total MUDRA loans and about half the loan value. “This will have a huge impact on women's financial independence,” she says.

Schemes for the development of women and increased participation in the labour force

Women-led Self-Help Groups (SHGs) exert a positive and statistically significant impact on the economic, social and political empowerment of women, which is achieved through leveraging women to increased familiarity with handling finances, enhanced financial decision-making, improved social networks, ownership of assets, and diversification of livelihoods. The Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAY-NRLM), a government SHG programme that encompasses approximately 9 crore women through 83 lakh SHGs, has been linked to women's empowerment, heightened self-esteem, and reduced social issues.

In an effort to further empower women, the government initially aimed to create 2 crore 'Lakhpati Didis' (women with annual earnings of Rs1 lakh and more) by imparting marketable skills like plumbing, LED bulb-making, drone operation, and repair to SHG members. This target has now been expanded to include 3 crore women.

Also read: Budget 2024: Sitharaman announces launch of a new bio-manufacturing and bio-foundry scheme

Through the PM Kaushal Vikas Yojana, over 59 lakh women have been certified, constituting more than 40 percent of the total certifications as of June 2022. PM Mudra Yojana has sanctioned approximately 70 percent of loans to women entrepreneurs, while 80 percent of Stand-Up India beneficiaries are women. Advancing the vision of Digital India, over 53 percent of beneficiaries in the Prime Minister’s Rural Digital Literacy Campaign (PMGDISHA), as of July 2023, are women. The success of PM Jan Dhan Yojana has increased the proportion of women with bank accounts that they actively use, rising from 53 percent in 2015-16 to 78.6 percent in 2019-21. In September 2023, the women's reservation Bill (Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam [NSVA]) was passed, aligning with India's G20 Presidency, which designated "women-led development" as one of its six priorities.

As per the fine print of the budget, allocations for the schemes for the safety of women have been increased from Rs321 crore to Rs955 crore. However, the allocations for the Protection and Empowerment for Women scheme have remained largely the same with Rs3,146 crore allocated to it.

Also read: Budget 2024: With infrastructure in mind, the Modi government has upped India's capital expenditure outlay

According to Nikore’s analysis of the budget speech on the women empowerment front, industry pledge and advisory to the private sector to gather commitments to enhance women's workforce participation, and investments in women entrepreneurship through national rural and urban livelihood missions are a great move for the development of women in the country. However, she believes that there is still a lot more to do. “We need more investments in care infrastructure and services for women, skill training of care workers, and gender intentional actions to bridge the gender digital divide,” she concludes.