As Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman prepares to present the interim budget for the fiscal year 2024–25 on February 1, 2024, in the Lok Sabha, the Population Foundation of India urges the government to prioritize strategic investments to leverage India’s demographic and gender dividends.
India, with the world’s largest adolescent and youth population (aged 10 to 24 years), stands at a pivotal moment. Our demographic profile offers a unique advantage, but this window to leverage the demographic dividend is limited. The forthcoming budget must accelerate investments in education, healthcare, skilling, and employment opportunities for the youth. This is especially crucial as India has now overtaken China to become the most populous country globally. Targeted investments in young people are vital for harnessing the demographic dividend, which in turn can bolster our nation’s economic growth and global standing.
The focus on women’s empowerment, a key aspect of last year’s budget, must translate into tangible and increased budgetary allocations. Over the last few years, the differential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, including the gender divide in access to technology, healthcare and workforce participation, highlighted the urgency for focused investment in women’s empowerment. With declining fertility and changing age structures, more women entering the workforce can significantly drive economic growth. This requires ensuring their health, education, skill development, and empowerment. As emphasized in a recent UN policy brief, investments in human capital, particularly for women, can yield substantial economic and social dividends.
“Modern family planning methods are crucial for women to not only plan their families effectively, but also their work lives,” said Poonam Muttreja, the Executive Director of Population Foundation of India. “With more than 24 million
currently married women aged 15-49 years having an unmet need for family planning, it is imperative to expand access to these services.”
The success of initiatives like Mission Parivar Vikas shows the path forward in reducing this unmet need. The government’s introduction of new contraceptives in 2023 was a positive step, but there is a pressing need for increased budgetary allocations for promoting health literacy and generating demand for health services, including family planning. The budgetary outlay designated for public awareness and mass communication under the family welfare major head, had decreased by 8.6%, dropping from 40 Crores (BE) in 2022-23 to 36.56 Crores (BE) in 2023-24.
The budgetary outlays for family welfare programmes and the National Health Mission have seen nominal increases that do not keep pace with inflation. For instance, the increase in the budget for NHM by 0.8 % in 2023-24 could be interpreted as a decline when adjusted for inflation. It is imperative that the upcoming budget makes adequate allocations for these critical areas to ensure that the investments have a real impact on the ground.
To further empower women and girls, reducing the digital gender divide is crucial. “This involves designing digital solutions with the active participation of women,” said Muttreja. “Accelerating digital adoption among women can be a game-changer in their empowerment journey.”
Population Foundation of India strongly advocates for a budget that prioritizes young people and women, recognizing their critical roles in India’s present and future prosperity. Strategic investments in these areas are not just socially and morally imperative but are also key to unlocking India’s full economic potential. We urge the government to act swiftly and decisively in the upcoming budget to secure a brighter future for all Indians.
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