CHENNAI/MUMBAI, India, Feb 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - I ndia will create more jobs for women, increase their pay and access to loans and improve healthcare, it said in Thursday’s annual budget, in a bid to boost a declining female workforce.
Loans to support small businesses run by women will increase, finance minister Arun Jaitley said, adding that he hopes some would be used to invest in organic farming.
Female participation in the workforce in India has been declining in recent years, with only 22 percent of women in working in the formal economy, well below the global average of 47 percent, according to UN Women.
India more than doubled maternity leave and required employers to have creches last year to encourage more women to return to work.
Ahead of elections next year, India also said it would create “the world’s largest government funded health care program” to enhance productivity and wellbeing and reduce wage loss due to sickness.
This will create more than 100,000 health centres and tens of thousands of jobs, especially for women, Jaitley said.
India’s overburdened health system is plagued by an acute shortage of government hospitals in rural areas. In 2016, more than 1 million children died before turning five, the highest number for any nation in the world, the United Nations said.
Jaitley also announced pension reforms to encourage more women to take up formal jobs, by reducing deductions from their pay packets and with the government contributing 12 percent for the first three years.
Labour rights campaigners said the government was catering only to the formal workforce, ignoring casual workers and the self-employed.
“The government has offered nothing to the informal sector which constitutes 93 percent of the Indian workforce,” said Chandan Kumar, a campaigner with the charity ActionAid.
“Workers have been completely ignored by the budget.” (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj and Roli Srivastava, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)