A few days ago, MAKERS India asked its readers: What women-centric solutions and rebates would you want from the Union Budget 2020? Out of nearly 2000 respondents, the topmost 41 percent voted for cheaper/free health services for women – especially seniors and mothers – as their priority.
Second came the demand for more investment into education for the girl child from 25 percent voters, followed by 18 percent voters demanding for investment in building tech and other capabilities for women’s safety. More incentives for companies employing women and higher stipends for women from backward classes in higher education was voted for by eight percent and seven percent respondents respectively.
Undeniably, the results of the poll points to the desperate need for medical welfare for women in the country. Although India has reduced its maternal mortality ratio by 77%, from 556 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 130 per 100,000 live births in 2016, the National Health Portal of India says that India has one of the highest rates of malnourished women among developing nations.
Government spending on Healthcare
While implementation is the key for any ground-breaking policy, in India’s case, the government spending for healthcare itself is low. In 2018, the National Health Profile report stated that the government was spending hardly 1.3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for healthcare, while the global average is six percent.
The National Health Policy has urged for increasing this spend to 2.5 percent from the Centre, and allocating eight percent of each State’s total budget for healthcare. Experts claim that states increasing their allocation by one percent every year will help reach the recommended goal of eight percent in four years.
Gender bias in Healthcare
According to a joint study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Statistical Institute, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, and Harvard University recently, only 37 percent of Indian women got access to health care, as compared to 67 percent of men, in 2016.
The study stated that a woman's reproductive age played a major role in determining her access to doctors. It had found that women in the age groups of 31-44 and 45-59 faced relatively lesser gender bias, at 1.5 male patients per female patient and 1.4 male patients per female patient respectively. However, the case is different for girls up to the age of 18, and those in 19-30 age group, with 1.9 male patients per female patient and 2.02 male patients per female patient respectively.
The NHP states that although initiatives like the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the Family Welfare Programme were meant to address the maternal healthcare needs of women across India, maternal mortality is still high compared to other developing nations.
Pointing out that cultural and socio-economic factors are affecting women’s access to healthcare, the portal adds: “Addressing the gender, class or ethnic disparities that exist in healthcare and improving the health outcomes can contribute to economic gain through the creation of quality human capital and increased levels of savings and investment.”
The patriarchal society’s stigma about menstruation is one of the major factors affecting women’s health rate in the country. Besides lack of hygiene and access to sanitary pads or menstrual cups, dearth of access to iron-rich food also plays a major role in female mortality rate. Iron intake is essential due to the blood loss during menstruation, and its deficiency has been proven to lead to anaemia, which in turn causes high infant and maternal mortality rates.
Counting on Sitharaman
In her first budget speech (in 2019), Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had clarified that rolling out women-led policies and bringing women into the socio-economic transformation of India is important to the NDA government. A new committee, ‘Naari tu Narayani,’ was formed to ensure maximum allocation of funds for women’s welfare.
Stating that no social transformation is possible without the upliftment of women, Sitharaman had also introduced new policies at the time. This year, Indian women are looking up to the Finance Minister to not just loosen her purse strings for women’s healthcare needs but also ensure implementation of said policies.