Women's groups want a fair budget for all Malaysians

A gender-responsive budget, as well as transparency and accountability towards it, will help address issues faced by women, says Women’s groups. Photo: Freepik

Women's groups in Malaysia are calling for a budget 2023 that is more gender responsible. Women’s Aid Organisation and Engender, two of 21 civil society organisations leading a Gender Budget Group, have prepared a memorandum for what they hope from Budget 2023, says Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) advocacy director Abinaya Mohan.

“Our budget memorandum reveals what we hope to see come through this year, from strengthening access to social protection, strong allocations for community-based childcare that could remove barriers to increased women participation in the labour force, as well as improved and better targeted mental healthcare services,” she says.

In August, at the national Women's Day celebrations, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob promised a gender responsive budget, saying that the Finance Ministry and women-related non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been entrusted with the responsibility to prepare a Gender Responsive Budget. He was reported as saying that the budget will be based on gender-disaggregated data.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) advocacy director Abinaya Mohan. Photo: WAOWomen’s Aid Organisation (WAO) advocacy director Abinaya Mohan. Photo: WAOA gender-responsive budget is defined as one that looks at the impact on every community – whether girls, boys, women or men. It ensures a gender-equitable distribution of resources and contributes towards equal opportunities for everyone.

“Gender budgeting notes the differences in situations, roles, contributions, and needs of different communities and strata of society. It ‘responds’ accordingly by allocating specific budgets for both women and men beneficiaries in projects and programmes, hence the term ‘gender-responsive budget’,” explains Abinaya.

This is essential for gender justice (which ensures equality and equity between men and women in all spheres of life, including policies, structures and decisions that affect their lives and society as a whole), social justice (which ensures human rights are respected and there is no discrimination, and includes fairness in employment, healthcare, housing, and other areas), and fiscal justice (which enables all to exercise their rights and is necessary to reduce extreme inequality and poverty).

“There needs to be a gender perspective to the budget to reduce disparity in access to resources and opportunities. It helps to consider and understand the challenges women and men face in achieving equality and assessing opportunities,” she says.

“A gender responsive budget and gender mainstreaming efforts acknowledge the discrimination and disadvantages faced by women, especially as it intersects with other identities such as ethnicity, disability and minority status,” she adds.

Lived realities of women

We hope Budget 2023 will provide a more holistic allocation towards preventing and addressing gender-based violence in Malaysia, says Abinaya. Photo: PixabayWe hope Budget 2023 will provide a more holistic allocation towards preventing and addressing gender-based violence in Malaysia, says Abinaya. Photo: Pixabay

Abinaya also points out that gender responsive budgeting is critical to rebuilding efforts as Malaysia enters the endemic phase of Covid-19.

“We can only strengthen recovery and move towards sustainable economic resilience through this process. In a snapshot, gender responsive budgeting can look at targeted assistance for disaster risk management, access to healthcare, or acknowledging and alleviating the burden of care that falls on women which happens even more so during the pandemic,” she says.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2018 reveals that rates of depression, anxiety and stress were higher in women than men. Furthermore, survivors of gender based-violence have limited access to trauma-informed mental healthcare professionals because there is a lack of such services.

“Keeping on the trend from previous years, we hope that Budget 2023 will provide a more holistic allocation towards preventing and addressing gender-based violence in Malaysia,” she says.

“Special allocations towards the One Stop Crisis Centre located in public hospitals which act as the first port of call for many survivors are necessary. This must also extend to training the staff, police, doctors, nurses, social workers and other frontliners to identify and manage cases of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and child abuse.

“These investments must also extend to the primary healthcare response such as the Klink Kesihatan to empower them to establish mechanisms to respond to sexual and gender-based violence,” she emphasises.

Renewed committment

There needs to be transparency and accountability for the budget allocations, says Abinaya. Photo: FreepikThere needs to be transparency and accountability for the budget allocations, says Abinaya. Photo: Freepik

The gender perspective was also raised at the previous budget and this year, there has been a renewed commitment from the government on gender responsive budgeting.

“In its pre-Budget statement in June, the Ministry of Finance expressed its commitment towards gender responsive budgeting, and in preparation for the national budget, its annual budget circular to ministries outlined gender analysis as a key requirement to improve resource distribution and uphold our national commitment to gender equality,” says Abinaya.

She adds that there has been some collaborative efforts between the Finance Ministry and the Gender Budget Group.

“A collaborative pilot initiative aimed at building ministry capacities on gender responsive budgeting was held in July and we worked closely with the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry as well as the Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Ministry on this,” she says.

“We have also been part of some national consultative roundtables and have produced and shared a Gender Budget Group memorandum for the government to take note of, with a list of allocations ranging from economic empowerment, education, healthcare to decision-making and leadership,” she adds.

However, Abinaya stresses that there is still a long way to go and so much more needs to be done.

There needs to be transparency and accountability for the budget allocations, she says.

“We hope to see improved monitoring and implementation of existing allocations from previous years’ budgets. The outcome and impact of these must be shared publicly.

“For example, the RM13mil allocated towards D11 (which is the Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division that handles sexual crimes involving children) – what are the outcomes of this, who has access to the data and the resources? It was announced that 100 officers were in the cohort to be trained in response to sexual crimes – how will they be distributed across Malaysia?” asks Abinaya.

“It’s important that everyone sees and understands the short and long-term impact as well as sustainability of budget allocations with data, so that effective improvement can be made by policymakers,” she concludes.

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