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NEW DELHI: A new fund to ensure women’s safety, a women-only bank and an overall nine percent increase in spending for gender were among measures proposed by finance minister in his budget, yesterday. Gender rights featured prominently in this year’s budget speech, partly due to pressure to address women’s issues after the gang rape and murder of an Indian student in December. The case sparked protests and fuelled national debate about women’s rights.
“We have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women. Recent incidents have cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials,” Chidambaram told parliament.
“As more women enter public spaces - for education or work or access to services or leisure - there are more reports of violence against them. We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women and we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure.”
He proposed setting up a fund with an initial investment of `10bn, which would be called Nirbhaya (meaning fearless) — a Hindi name given by the media to the December gang rape victim who reportedly fought her six attackers as they beat and raped her on a moving bus.
Experts say the fund could be used for shelters, compensation and medical support for victims of rape, helplines, or public campaigns to change age-old patriarchal attitudes which promote violence against women. The National Crime Records Bureau says more than 24,200 rapes were reported in India in 2011 — one every 20 minutes. Women also face other forms of violence including dowry and ‘honour killings’, domestic abuse and trafficking.
Another highlight of the budget was Chidambaram’s proposal to establish the country’s first-ever women’s bank.
“Can we have a bank that lends mostly to women and women-run businesses, that supports women SHGs (Self Help Groups) and women’s livelihood, that employs predominantly women, and that addresses gender-related aspects of empowerment and financial inclusion?” asked the finance minister.
“I think we can. I therefore propose to set up India’s first women’s bank as a public sector bank and I shall provide `10bn as initial capital.” He said he hoped to receive a banking licence by October.
Experts say millions of women lack access to finance across India — partly due to illiteracy, remote locations, lack of documentation, but also because men still often control family budgets.Reuters