Criticising the government for not incorporating the gender budget into the proposed national budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, economists and women leaders on Saturday said that the budget also did not reflect the challenges women were facing due to the COVID-19 and plans to recover from the challenges.
At a virtual discussion on ‘Impacts of COVID-19, challenges of women, recovery and gender budget’, they also said that the government should undertake specific programmes for ensuring health service, social security and employment for women directly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in the budget before its passage in the parliament.
The Bangladesh Mahila Parishad arranged the discussion.
Dhaka University economics professor MM Akash said that there was surprisingly nothing effective in the proposed budget which had been framed on the assumption that the outbreak would come to an end soon and had projected a higher gross domestic product growth on that basis.
It remains unclear whether the stimulus will be implemented due to the heavy dependence on the banking channel, he said.
Although all people are at risk of losing their lives and livelihoods, the risk to women is particularly higher, he said.
He said that the government should take steps to retain existing jobs, arrange alternative employment opportunities for women and ensure easy access to finance.
Recovery of the economy will not be possible without saving lives, he said, adding that if people continued to be infected with the virus, it would give the wrong signal to the global market which would also affect the country’s exports.
He said that there were no concrete programmes and actions in the budget for immediate recovery from the health risks as well as nothing regarding medium term directives for economic recovery.
‘It is like a castle in the air,’ he said.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad acting president Fauzia Moslem said that the budget did not meet the expectations of women as it did not include the gender budget.
She said that it seemed that women entrepreneurs, particularly the small ones, would not be able to access finance from banks under the stimulus package due to their inexperience in banking.
Jahangirnagar University economics professor Sharmind Nilormi, in her keynote paper, said that the government should adopt a universal healthcare system for all.
The health security of women cannot be ensured without a universal healthcare system, she said.
Income and employment should also be ensured for women workers and entrepreneurs as their unemployment will result in multifaceted problems in family and society, including a rise in the incidence of abuse and exploitation of women and the number girls dropping out of schools, she said.
Agriculture, social safety net and education should also get proper priority in the budget.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies senior research fellow Nazneen Ahmed said that women workers and entrepreneurs were struggling for survival in the time of the outbreak while banks were also not interested in providing loans to them under the stimulus as they had no previous transaction relationships with the banks.
The existing rules and regulations should be relaxed for the women entrepreneurs, she said.
Centre for Policy Dialogue executive director Fahmida Khatun said that there should be a cell at the finance ministry for monitoring the implementation of the budget allocation for women.
She said that women were at higher risks of losing jobs in sectors like readymade garments and that funds from the stimulus should be disbursed on condition that the employers cannot terminate the women workers from jobs after the owners get the loans.
She said that the rate of disbursement of the stimulus for small entrepreneurs was very poor as only Tk 70 crore had been disbursed to the sector so far.
Policymakers should pay attention so that women entrepreneurs can get loans easily as their unemployment will have varied repercussions in family and society, she said.
South Asian Network on Economic Modeling research director Sayema Haque Bidisha and BMP general secretary Maleka Banu, among others, spoke at the programme.
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