Need for gender responsiveness and public participation in Budget process

Engender Consultancy (Engender) and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) held a “Gender Lens on Budget 2021” roundtable event, supported by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

The roundtable featured six experts addressing different aspects of gender-responsive budgeting.

Janet Veitch, chair of the UK Women’s Budget Group, and Suhakam commissioner Madeline Burma addressed the more overarching aspects of gender-responsive budgeting, including the need for every government leader to be a gender-sensitive leader.

MP Teo Nie Ching, former deputy education minister, talked about the need to incorporate a gender perspective in education, as well as the need for women to play a bigger role in government, particularly in Parliament, to ensure their perspectives and priorities are vocalised and accounted for.

Sharifah Syahirah, senior lecturer at the Mara Poly-Tech University College (KUPTM), discussed women’s political empowerment, while Sivananthi Thaneniran, executive director of Arrow, zoomed in on women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health, citing the need to take a rights-based approach to these issues in the national budget.

Yap Lay Sheng, senior research and advocacy officer at WAO, talked about violence against women and the measures the national budget must take to combat it, also highlighting gender equality as a cross-cutting social, political and economic concern.

“Today’s roundtable event is part of the inaugural cycle of coordinated civil society advocacy, monitoring, and analysis of the national budget,” said Omna Sreeni-Ong, founder and managing director of Engender. “Engender and WAO view this as just the beginning of a larger campaign to build capacity around gender-responsive budgeting and promote greater public awareness and participation in the budget process.”

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The ongoing civil society advocacy, monitoring and analysis around the national budget will be coordinated by Engender and WAO as part of the project “Engendering The National Budget: Empowering Civil Society Advocacy in Gender Responsive Budgeting in 2021”.

“Participation in the national budget process should be viewed not only as a right of citizens, but as a critical part of our civic duty,” said Sumitra Visvanathan, executive director of WAO. “Too often the budget process is viewed as something far removed that only policymakers should deal with, but the national budget is a reflection of our priorities as a country and of our fulfilment of political and social obligations.”

Engender and WAO’s advocacy around the budget includes articulating the need for specific budget allocations that take into account the varied benefits and impacts on men, women, boys and girls.

During the recent parliamentary debate on Budget 2021, an allocation of RM21m was made for domestic violence ‘local social support centres,’ as well as the MySTEP allocation for short-term social workers and medical officers.

“The budget allocation made for domestic violence shelters is an example of how the government can respond to the needs and realities of women on the ground in Malaysia, and ensure that adequate resources are being allocated,” said Lay Sheng of WAO.

“These allocations must be made across the board, from healthcare, to education, to the care sector, and their impact analysed to ensure that our national budget is meeting the needs of all communities and individuals.”

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