Couple of days after the “Pink Economic Survey 2018” was submitted by the Chief Economic Advisor, Arvind Subramanian, that emphasised on women empowerment and gender equality, the Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, gave reasons for women to cheer in the Union Budget for the financial year 2018-19 tabled on Thursday, February 1, 2018. The Budget has beneficial measures for women across the nation including rural, urban, poor, salaried, and non-salaried.

Empowering women in the country and promoting the idea of gender equality as one of the prime focus, finance minister presented this year’s Budget. Earlier, at various stages, the government has clearly indicated its interest in eliminating gender gaps that have been a hindrance to the social and economic integrity of the country. Through this Budget, it looks like the NDA government has made the right move to boost women.

In a bid to encourage and motivate women towards employment, and influence them to join the workforce, the finance minister has proposed take-home pay for the new women employees to go up in the formal sector. The women joining the workforce for the first time will have to contribute only 8 percent (instead of 12 or 10) of the Employee’s Provident Fund (EPF) for the first three years. However, the employer’s contribution to the EPF would remain 12% in all sectors of the government. The EPF contribution reduction for women will enable higher take-home wages and reduce the burden on employers to hire more women.

As part of another flagship programme, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (Ujjwala scheme), the Centre intended to provide free cooking gas connection to 8 crore women below the poverty line. The initial target which was to provide free LPG connections to around 5 crore poor women was now proposed to increase the target to 8 crores.

In a serious bid to encourage women towards self-employment and make them more self-reliant, Mr. Jaitley allocated Rs 3 lakh crore for Micro-Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd (MUDRA) scheme in the Budget. The government’s MUDRA Yojana designed to provide first-time entrepreneurs with funds at a concessional rate of interest has a whopping 76% of women beneficiaries with more than 50 percent belonging to SCs, STs, and OBCs.

Under the MUDRA scheme, women can avail a loan of Rs 10 lakh and a maximum amount of Rs 50 lakh, encouraging them to start their own ventures and promote self-employment. The loans to women’s self-help groups would also be increased as much as by 37 percent, said the finance minister. The government will encourage the women’s self-help groups to take up organic farming to boost the organic farming sector.

The Budget 2018 will also provide and allocate four crore electricity connections to underprivileged women under Saubhagya Yojana scheme.

In a commendable note, the government has also increased the maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks simultaneously ensuring the provision of creches in organizations. The move will retain women to work even after childbirth.

Several top government officials including Jaitley have previously mentioned that this year’s financial focus will be to uplift the condition of women in the country. With the budget presented by the NDA government, there’s no exaggeration that this indeed is a budget for women and their empowerment.