The recently revealed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year promises funding for women’s development in various social areas. Some target women specifically, while others seek to indirectly improve their wellbeing via more general programmes such as funding for old age and shelter homes, as well as assistance for children of survivors of violence. Women’s development is indeed an area that has been neglected. Prudence tells us, however, that the more inclusion of women there is in a society, the better progress the society will experience. This is particularly relevant in economic terms; participation by women in a country’s economy not only yields better financial security for the household and family, but makes a positive impact on a country’s overall GDP as evidenced by research. Hence, the Rs675 million allocated for women’s development is well-received.
Primarily, the new initiatives, such as research on gender issues, training for domestic workers, and developing women’s hostels are broad. This is not to say they are insignificant; the projects are highly relevant, ambitious and necessary. Rather than adding on breadth however, it would be more efficient to concentrate on first establishing only a few but well-developed programmes at this time and adding more in the next fiscal year. Furthermore, an area that has been overlooked is the education sector and young women’s empowerment, which can accelerate progress.
As usual, Punjab is being favoured even though women’s development is perhaps more urgently needed in other provinces such as Balochistan and Sindh. The allocation of Rs210 million for the Punjab Working Women Endowment Fund and Rs100 million for the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women results in a heavy imbalance of distribution. Regular reports should, therefore, be sought as to where the funding goes. Finally, as a cautionary tale, funding was ‘revised’ (read:cut) in the previous fiscal year. Hence, the higher amount promised this year could face a similar result so we must not rejoice too soon.