Insight - Budget with an agenda for women

Budget 2021 did not fall short of measures to empower women. Special micro credit financing and marketing training programmes in addition to business technical guidance have been proposed to further support women entrepreneurship.

NOVEMBER 2020 has been an eventful month with the United States election coinciding with Malaysia’s Budget 2021 announcement.

My heart palpitated on Nov 3 as I sat refreshing my web browser to see who would be the first to reach the 270 electoral votes in the US electoral race. However, the wait on Nov 6 was more trepid as to whether our Finance Minister would finish his maiden budget speech without any glitches.

When the minister reiterated the theme “Teguh Kita, Menang Bersama”, it resonated the famous saying “All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall” from the Three Musketeers (I know, our younger readers will be having a “what is that?” expression on their faces).

With respect to the advice of His Majesty the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to set aside differences and resolutely unite, the Parliament was at its best behaviour to allow the minister to deliver the much-anticipated Unity Budget, a budget meant for all.

The government is akin to the C-suite of management with the people as the organisation. The current headwinds in any organisation profess equal opportunity for employees to grow, develop, succeed, and allow them be their truest selves.

Coupled with an inclusive mindset and diverse workforce, it will spearhead any organisation as their greatest competitive strength.

Listening carefully to the budget speech, you probably heard the Finance Minister presenting his fourth strategy as “to prioritise the inclusiveness agenda”. Coming from a commercial background, he definitely knows what inclusiveness is all about.

Companies are increasingly relying on diverse, multidisciplinary teams that combine the collective capabilities of women and men, people of different cultural heritage, and younger and older workers.

Simply throwing a mix of people together does not guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership – leadership that ensures all team members feel treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and have a sense of belonging, and are confident and inspired.

Along the same token, the budget’s fourth strategy of prioritising the inclusiveness agenda began with empowering the bumiputras and extended to upholding Islamic tenets, enhancing the role of women, community-based initiatives and enhancing rural infrastructure before concluding with youth and sports development.

On the US election campaign trail, we heard a lot of advocacy, activism and support for gender representation and inclusion.

Budget 2021 did not fall short of measures to empower women. Special micro credit financing and marketing training programmes in addition to business technical guidance have been proposed to further support women entrepreneurship.

I must confess that growing up in a safe and gender respectful environment, it was a real eye-opener for me to have to read about violence against women and girls, and especially domestic violence following the outbreak of Covid-19 as a result of the stay at home directives.

Lesser known is the fact that women in abusive relationships find it a challenge to seek support. It is therefore very heartening that a proposal was presented in Budget 2021 to establish a one-stop social support centre for women facing domestic problems, divorce and abuse to receive social protection and moral support.

How mothers worry over their children is indescribable and this maternal instincts cannot be replaced. Budget 2021 hopes to allay the worries with the proposal of childcare centers and enhancing the support system, especially at the hospitals where many women have sacrificed their family to be among the frontliners.

Budget 2021 continues to advocate women’s health with subsidy incentives for cervical cancer and mammogram screening. A critically significant end in inclusiveness is the equality and sovereignty of women and the enhancement of their political, social, economic, and health status.

More importantly, it is for the achievement of sustainable growth. Generally, gender-biased occupations are now seeing more women onboard. We now have women Astronauts, women pilots, women engineers, and women as heads of government!

Forget about housewives, let’s welcome career women! Time to ditch “Desperate Housewives” and start watching “Girl Boss” instead.

Kudos to the minister again for his inclusive budget for the rakyat. Now is the time to walk the talk. We have only just begun.

Ang Weina is Deloitte Southeast Asia Diversity & Inclusion Leader and Deloitte Malaysia Global Employer Services Leader. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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