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Pro-women allocations aim at bridging gender gap

Myra Imran

Islamabad: The women populace of the country have been included as a vital component of some major social welfare programmes in the Federal Budget 2009-10.

For the first time in the country’s history, the budget speech was delivered by a woman – Minister of State for Finance & Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar – that started with the acknowledgment that without women empowerment, sustainable economic growth is not possible.

In her budget speech, Hina said that targeted and pro-women allocations in the federal budget are aimed at bridging the gap between men and women in acquiring access to basic services. She said the Planning Commission is running the gender-mainstreaming project while an engendering budget exercise is also being carried out under the Medium Term Budgeting Framework in the Finance Ministry.

She said the federal budget for the fiscal year 2008-09 showed a hefty increase in budgetary allocations for women specific expenditures, amounting to Rs44.7 billion compared to Rs7.7 billion during fiscal year 2007-08.

The biggest initiative of social welfare that is expected to benefit women in the form of their registration and economic empowerment is the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) where financial help is released in the name of the women of the household. Under this programme, during the fiscal year 2008-09, Rs22 billion was distributed to 1.8 million beneficiaries, but for the fiscal year 2009-10, the allocation has been increased to Rs70 billion that constitutes more than 200 per cent increase and nearly five million families are expected to benefit from this enhancement.

Plans to relate the BISP with health insurance that will cover hospitalisation, pregnancy, day care, etc and cash transfer programmes in future is also a positive indication. Again, if women are made part of the implementation process for the allocation of these facilities, it promises to bring about a positive change in the overall mindset.

The cash transfer programmes will be complemented to promote household independence via various poverty exit strategies, which can help upgrade the poor beneficiaries to a level of self-sufficiency by various means including the transition to Conditional Cash Transfers, training and employment of one person per household and provision of workfare through small public works under a social mobilisation programme initiative.

The announcement for the provision of marriage grant for every worker, irrespective of the number of daughters, under the Worker Welfare Development Schemes is another step that is directly related to women welfare. The rate of marriage grant has been increased from Rs50,000 to Rs70,000 per daughter.

Some other initiatives for women include the enhancement of limit for exemption in income tax for salaried women from Rs240,000 to Rs260,000 while the government has resolved to increase the outreach of the micro-finance service from two million to three million borrowers, focusing specifically on women. Funds have also been allocated for the establishment of 12 vocational ‘dastakari’ schools for women.

In the women’s health sector, national programmes for family planning are among the top priority areas along with primary healthcare and expanded programme of immunisation with respective allocations of Rs7 billion and Rs6 billion respectively.

In addition to that, the Ministry of Women Development will receive 173 million for its on-going projects, Rs85 million for non-development expenditures and Rs190 million for new projects. The budgetary allocation for new initiatives include Rs15 million for the establishment of nine women centres in collaboration with Earthquake Reconstruction and Reconstruction Authority (Erra) in earthquake affected areas and Rs100 million for the pilot project of economic empowerment of women.

Another Rs55 million will be released for the establishment of 30 women centres in Attock, Chakwal, Gujrat, Jhang, Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalnagar, Layyah, Larkana, Mirpur Khas, Sukkur, Shahdat Kot, Dadu, Sanghar, Badin, Chitral, Batkhela, Bannu, DI Khan, Haripur, Charsadda, Mardan, Zhob and Turbat. The total outlay development of the ministry for 2009-10 is Rs363.7 million.

The biggest disappointment, though, has been the education sector where no effective initiative to increase women literacy is offered that could aim to make them a useful part of the educated human resource, available in the country.

Source: The News


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