Progressing towards raising gender equality index

PETALING JAYA: From mandatory representation of women on boards to support systems for working and single mothers, women have generally given Budget 2022 the thumbs up, saying that their welfare and empowerment have received the attention it deserves.

Women Leadership Foundation (WLF) deputy chairman Datuk Hazimah Zainuddin (pic) is happy with the government’s decision to make it mandatory for public-listed companies to appoint at least one woman on their boards as well as the allocation of RM5mil to WLF to increase women’s participation in the workforce through leadership and training programmes.

“We are so happy the government is recognising women and our participation on boards. Harnessing female talent is a business-imperative. It is very timely and this can help to increase Malaysia’s gross domestic product,” she said.

Under Budget 2022, all public-listed companies will be required to have at least one woman director on their boards with the deadline for major companies being Sept 1, 2022, while other public-listed companies must comply by June 1, 2023.

Hazimah pointed out that Malaysia was placed ninth from 10 countries in the gender equality index in the Asean region and the incentives are a good start to achieving better gender diversity.

Other incentives for women in the workforce in Budget 2022 include RM230mil which will go towards capacity building such as the Program DanaNITA under Mara and TEKUNITA under Tekun (National Entrepreneur Group Economic Fund) to especially help women entrepreneurs affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The MyKasih Kapital programme is another programme to help women generate income from their homes.

Incentives will include a startup capital, along with training on how to run online businesses. This will benefit some 5,000 women, including 2,000 single mothers.

To ease the burden of working mothers, RM30mil has been allocated to set up childcare facilities in government buildings, especially in public hospitals and universities.

Additionally, there will also be an extension of individual income tax exemption up to RM3,000 for childcare centres and kindergarten fees until the assessment year 2023.

Support for victims of domestic violence – setting up more social protection centres and shelters in collaboration with NGOs – and efforts to address the issue of period poverty among the B40 community were also addressed in Budget 2022. The National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) will distribute personal hygiene kits to 130,000 young women in the B40 community while sexuality and reproductive health education programmes will also be amped up in schools with the help of NGOs.

Women’s Centre for Change programme director Karen Lai said the focus on increasing the representation of women is positive but hoped this will also be reflected in Parliament representation as well.

“We commend the attempt to increase women’s representation in the private sector. We hope that the government equally supports the increase of women’s representatives in parliament and state assemblies because that’s lagging behind and that directly impacts citizens,” she said.

Lai added that while increasing funding for the police D11 division that handles sexual and gender-based violence is good, it is equally important that this not only increases the number of personnel but also the gender sensitivity towards the victim and the victim’s case.

Though acknowledging the sizeable share that women and children were allocated in Budget 2022, Sisters in Islam spokesperson Aleza Othman points out that the allocation for single mothers will only cover a portion of the affected group.

“Allocations for single parent households can see them benefiting up to RM2,500. However, the allocation for MyKasih Kapital will only benefit up to 2,000 single mothers when the number of single mothers in Malaysia far exceeds this figure.

“Whether the budget has addressed the structural poverty issues faced by single parent households affected by the pandemic remains to be seen.

“We also do not see any allocation for impact assessment on how the pandemic is linked to various crimes against women and children, nor the setting up of data management centres and training of officers to collect and carry out gender analysis for more gender-sensitive policies in the future,” she pointed out.

Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Sumitra Visvanathan said although overall there was some emphasis on gender in Budget 2022, she felt it could have been “more ambitious”.

“This is especially given that already large gender gaps have worsened following the pandemic. Budget 2022 was the opportunity to address fundamental inequalities that hold back our development and well-being.”

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