Budget 2020: Women’s group welcomes extra funds for childcare, welfare services

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Children after school - Puteri Nur Syuhada Abdul Rahman/Unicef report

These extra allocations are welcome as such services have been underfunded in the past, says Sumitra Visvanathan.

For years we’ve known that Malaysia needs to improve female labour force participation, both to build a robust economy and to ensure women’s economic rights. Now, the government is putting in some financial commitment towards achieving this.

We are excited to hear about the Women@Work incentives for women and companies, to encourage and enable women to return to work. Such support is especially important for domestic violence survivors, who are rebuilding their lives and working towards financial independence.

The allocation of RM30m for childcare facilities, especially in schools and hospitals, is a significant and welcomed increase. Access to childcare would enable more women to participate in the workforce, as currently, over 2,563,800 women in Malaysia were not working due to “housework or family responsibilities”. There is also an increased tax exemption for childcare fees.

Public funding for childcare is critical because childcare is largely out of reach for many parents, especially those from low-income groups. In 2017 only 6.9% of children aged up to 4 were enrolled in childcare, according to a World Bank report. We would like to see more details on how many parents and children would benefit from this and whether this benefits lower-income families as well.

We are pleased that some positive amendments to the Employment Act have been announced – including increased paid maternity leave, improved sexual harassment protection and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender, race and religion.

We look forward to seeing the rest of the amendments to the Employment Act, including paid paternity leave – which we hope will be at least seven days.

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We also urge the government to ensure the prohibition of discrimination includes discrimination against job seekers, not just employees. These improvements should also be extended to the Sabah Labour Ordinance and the Sarawak Labour Ordinance.

Increased funding for welfare services

Malaysia’s welfare services have been severely underfunded.

It is encouraging that the government has announced RM80m towards 67 JKM (social welfare department) institutions. Many of these institutions currently lack the capacity and resources to provide comprehensive services – centres and shelters are not just a roof over the head. This funding must not just be for facilities but also for specialised personnel – social workers, counsellors, centre managers, carers and so on.

In addition to institutions, we hope the government plans to increase funding for frontline officers handling welfare cases and abuse cases. This includes welfare officers, healthcare workers, counsellors and police officers. Currently, there are too few frontline officers, who are overloaded with work.

Sumitra Visvanathan is executive director of the Women’s Aid Organisation.

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