Local women's group Women's Centre for Change (WCC) calls for the women and gender portfolios to be reinstated as individual portfolios in the State Government Executive Council (Exco) lineup.
"We are concerned that the women and gender portfolios have been incorporated under the new and wider portfolio of Social Development because we believe that women and gender should remain individual portfolios," WCC said in a press statement.
According to the NGO that addresses issues faced by women as well as helps women in crisis, portfolios function as an important platform and rallying point for public discourse and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
"The creation of specific portfolios within government is no minor matter. It's a direct reflection of the priority given to the issues involved, and serves to reinforce the visibility of these portfolios in public consciousness and perception," WCC said.
"Women are half the population and gender is a constant trending concern. Women and gender should therefore be named as specific portfolios which apply across all aspects of social development.
For this reason, many countries have these specific portfolios, including South Korea (Ministry of Gender Equality and Family), India (Ministry of Women & Child Development) and the Philippines (Philippine Commission on Women," said WCC programme director Karen Lai.
Penang has done remarkably well in its efforts to promote gender equality and women’s development, Lai points out.
The state government, she says, has set up the Penang Women’s Development Corporation, institutionalised gender responsive budgeting, implemented a gender inclusiveness policy, gathered sex dis-aggregated data, and to this day continues to push for greater women’s representation and participation in leadership and decision-making, the statement acknowledged.
"Nonetheless, with only one woman at a time represented in the Exco since 2008 (who also happens to hold the women and gender portfolio), and the number of women councillors in local government well below 30%, we still have a long way to go towards achieving full gender parity.
"Ironically, by subsuming the women and gender portfolio under social development, we risk diluting the visibility and impact made to-date," Lai said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected women disproportionately: domestic violence has increased drastically, and women are the vast majority of victims. Economic gender gaps have intensified.
Women, many who are in informal and low income groups, shoulder the greatest burdens. The Penang State Government has correctly recognised the problem through its special funding for NGOs working to curb domestic violence, the statement said.
"Now, more than ever, is the time for us to zoom in on women and gender issues," Lai said.
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