A leading women's empowerment group in Bangladesh has expressed concern over the non-submission of the gender-budget report for the 2021-2022 fiscal by the government.
At a virtual post-budget press meet on Wednesday, the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad called on the government to ensure women empowerment through special initiatives.
The group also urged the government to take steps to eliminate gender inequality in the society by allocating budget for women in various development programmes.
Sharmind Neelormi, Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University and a member of the NGO's central committee, emphasised the importance of the gender-budget report.
"Since 2008, the Finance Division of the Ministry of Finance has specifically published a gender-budget report, which came as one of the aftermaths of our women rights movement. Due to the Covid-19 situation in 2020, the gender budget was not published last year. This year also, it was not published."
“Without the gender-budget report, it is difficult to know what benefits will be available from the projects for women. Considering its necessity, we hope and urge the government to consider publishing the gender-budget report during the final release of the proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal."
Professor Neelormi also said that the government should also disclose whether funds allocated for the upliftment of women in the previous fiscal were spent properly.
“Although 5 percent of the stimulus package was promised towards the development of women last year, there is no obstacle on part of the government to add more to that. Also, the Department of Agricultural Extension needs to do more to benefit women farmers.
"To give women access to small plots of land, they need to be given family based farmer cards. A study suggests that a total of Tk 676 crore was allocated for the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in the previous budget, however, not all of it was spent -- so we definitely need proper implementation,” Prof Neelormi said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Dhaka University's Professor of Economics Saima Haque Bidisha said the imposition of tax on e-commerce and mobile banking-based services would harm women entrepreneurs.
She suggested that emphasis should be placed on ensuring gender-decentralised data collection, creating gender-sensitive structures in monitoring and making further evaluation to make the gender-budget effective. She also said that the government should provide low-interest loans or interest-free one-time financial assistance to women who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
On her part, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) Senior Research Fellow Dr Nazneen Ahmed said that even if the gender-budget report is not published, a brief record of the progress of the projects should be shared.
Presiding over the webinar, the President of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Fauzia Moslem, said, “Women's participation is important for the development of any country. Society and the state are helping women, however, it is unfortunate that we don't see significant plans for the betterment of women in the budget.”
"Continuous monitoring of the gender-budget needs to be evaluated and institutional framework needs to be developed," she suggested.