Budget 2022: A resilient national recovery for women

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Photograph: Patrizia Kramer/Flickr

In rebuilding Malaysia after the pandemic, Budget 2022 must focus on resilient recovery through a gender sensitive approach.

The Women’s Aid Organisation calls upon the government and the Ministry of Finance in particular to ensure that Budget 2022 is inclusive of all. Budget 2022 must not leave out women, families and vulnerable communities – and must address gender gaps in our society that the pandemic has worsened.

Our new report, Budget 2022: A Resilient National Recovery for Women (available here) outlines three pillars – safeguarding women from violence, ensuring economic participation and employment and access to mental healthcare services – that must be prioritised in Malaysia’s road to national recovery. The report makes 13 recommendations for Budget 2022, including the following highlights.

Pillar 1: Budget 2022 must strengthen available support services for domestic violence and gender-based violence survivors

The past two years have seen multiple movement control orders and enforced confinement at home in efforts to manage the pandemic. This has exacerbated instances of domestic violence and gender-based violence across Malaysia.

We recommend for Budget 2022:

  • Earmark RM50m to the Ministry of Health for one-stop crisis centre response, including implementation and a monitoring and evaluation mechanism
  • Commit RM30m to training modules and management standards for frontline responders (police, medical and social welfare officers)
  • Allocate emergency funds of RM5m for services such as national and NGO hotlines in times of crisis, where demand for some hotlines may increase over threefold
  • Provide RM30m to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to set up crisis shelters for domestic violence survivors. In Budet 2021, RM21m was allocated to the ministry; however, the programme could not be implemented due to movement control order construction restrictions.
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Pillar 2: There is a clear need for a gender-responsive approach in addressing national employment and job security

Incentives and subsidies must be provided to address the lack of gender-sensitive hiring and childcare support, to close gender gaps in employment that have worsened due to the pandemic.

Budget 2022 must address women’s participation in the labour force and consider the informal workforce:

  • Allocate RM247m for childcare programmes, including:
    • RM60m to build community childcare centres
    • RM49m to assist childcare centres meet Covid health and safety standard operating procedures
    • RM157m in allowance for childcare centres and the Welfare Department-registered babysitters to purchase essential items, such as food and diapers, to reduce the burden of costs on parents
  • Invest RM20m in upskilling and education programmes to better equip women with necessary skills to enter the formal workforce
  • Raise awareness of the burden of unpaid care work that disproportionately affects women and driving subsidy applications and awareness for women in the informal workforce as part of their 2021-2025 Strategic Plan for Women.

Pillar 3: We must re-emerge with resilience from the pandemic with stronger mental healthcare services, accessibility and awareness, particularly for women and children

Reports suggest that mental illness has soared since the onset of the pandemic, with those reporting suicidal tendencies increasing from 30% to 40% from 2020 to 2021. Women and youth are particularly vulnerable, with women making up 83.5% of suicide cases from 2019 to May 2021.

Budget 2022 should:

  • Apportion 2.4% of the national healthcare budget towards mental healthcare. This allocation of approximately RM765m will put us on par with international standards
  • RM50m of this should be allocated to setting up more community mental health centres to ensure that the most vulnerable populations, including women who have faced violence, the bottom 40% of households, single mothers, and refugees can have access to mental health care
  • RM9m towards training an additional 500 mental health professionals who are equipped to counsel and provide interventions for domestic violence and gender-based violence survivors
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We strongly urge the government to consider these recommendations, to ensure that Budget 2022 provides support to those most adversely affected by the pandemic to thrive.

The pandemic has presented an opportunity to re-evaluate existing systems and structures with a gendered perspective that would benefit the most vulnerable.

Budget 2022’s promise of a resilient recovery across Malaysia is a glimmer of hope for all of us, and it can only be effective if no one is left behind – WAO.

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