Budget 2022 missed opportunity to meaningfully tackle inequalities

The budgetary needs of women, families and vulnerable communities must be viewed in an inclusive, cross-cutting manner

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DR WONG SOAK KOON/ALIRAN

It is important, now more than ever, that our Budget presents a gender-focused response particularly in the economic recovery of Covid.

A gender-sensitive Budget is critical to ensuring that gender equality considerations are taken into account in tax and spending decisions, and must feature in fiscal policy moving forward.

As such, the Gender Budget Group, a coalition of 20 organisations calling for gender-responsive budgeting, closely followed the Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s Budget 2022 announcement on 29 October.

As the government presents its largest national budget yet – with an allocation of RM332bn, the GBG is concerned by the lack of gender-focused policies and sufficient gender analysis across various sectors and ministries.

Despite many consultations with stakeholders, there is still a need for gender-disaggregated data in determining allocations that would benefit women, children and other vulnerable groups in Malaysia.

While we appreciate the government’s efforts in addressing certain areas affecting women through allocations for single mothers, childcare, women re-entering the workforce as well as gender-based violence, it must be noted these fall under the limited purview of selected ministries – primarily the Ministry of Women, Community and Family Development.

For example, targeted policies for the industrial sectors and supply chains in the fishing, agriculture and manufacturing industries failed to account for the women in their labour force.

There was also little to no gender focus in budgetary measures under education (the largest budget of all ministries), sports and mental healthcare nor in improving economic opportunities affecting women in binational families, minimising the lived realities and needs of women, girls and vulnerable groups.

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This is disappointing as it was a good opportunity to address deep-rooted inequalities that affect the wellbeing of women and their families and could positively affect their participation in the economy.

Furthermore, there was very little information on the implementation and impact of allocations made previously in Budget 2021. This lack of transparency in a time of urgent economic recovery leaves us concerned at the efficacy of policies intended to improve the wellbeing of all in Malaysia.

The GBG also hopes the government will improve its surface-level understanding of gender inequality which was apparent in the visuals and language used throughout the speech. The use of stereotyped images of women and references to childcare primarily being the mother’s responsibility is a clear sign of the need for gender sensitivity and that budgetary implications on women are not regarded seriously.

Promises made in Budget 2022 must be viewed in a gender lens, scrutinised and monitored in a transparent manner and must show accountability to the public.

Women make up half the population, therefore the budgetary needs of women, families and vulnerable communities must be viewed in an inclusive, cross-cutting manner. Only then, can we be certain that gender equality is truly on the agenda of Malaysia’s fiscal policy. – GBG

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