IN 2006, then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched on behalf of the prime minister a manual on gender budgeting in Malaysia. The manual was published a year earlier after the completion of a gender budgeting pilot project with five key ministries.
Gender budgeting seems to have dropped off the government radar
Since then however, gender budgeting seems to have dropped off the government radar. Budgets, previous and current, demonstrate no gender framework. Additionally, there seems to be a lack of political will, both within the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat, about the importance of gender budgeting.
A 1998 Commonwealth Secretariat report on gender budgeting says that gender budgeting is about breaking down data. With the disaggregated data, analysis can be done to determine how the subsidies and resources stated in the budget are allocated to women as compared to men. In this way, a government’s commitment to gender issues can be evaluated in terms of dollars and cents.
“The budget reflects the values of a country — who it values, whose work it values and who it rewards … and who and what and whose work it doesn’t,” the Commonwealth report says.
At the same time, the Malaysian government manual adds that gender budget work does not mean having a separate budget for women or even separate budgets for women and men. “Instead, it looks at the impact of every part of the budget on women and men, girls and boys,” the manual, published by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the United Nations Development Programme, explains.
What gender budgeting?
According to the Malaysian report, the ministries of education, higher education, human resources, health, and rural and regional development were to implement gender-responsive budgeting from 2006 onwards.
However, obtaining information on the progress of gender sensitive budgeting and how it has influenced Budget 2010 proved to be challenging.
“I have no idea,” said a Finance Ministry corporate communications official when asked about gender budgeting in the various ministries. “Call the budget management division.”
Calls to the budget management division were also fruitless. Budget department officials were either away, claimed ignorance or referred the call to another official. Seven to eight calls later, an official agreed to respond. However a week later, he had still not done so.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry proved no different. When contacted by phone to comment on whether Budget 2010 was gender sensitive, the Women’s Development Department director-general said she was in Sabah and was “busy”. Although The Nut Graph was later informed that a response was being prepared, a week later, no response was forthcoming.
Not PR’s priority either
Gender sensitive budgeting also does not seem to be a focus for Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim seemed to be caught off guard when questioned about gender sensitive budgeting for Selangor at a recent PR forum about Budget 2010.
When asked whether he thought the federal government was committed to improving women’s participation in the labour force and to achieving gender equality through the budget, Khalid responded: “I think if the economy moves towards a direction where it is based on high skills and services, gender inequality will become less.”
Tony PuaThe two other forum participants, Petaling Jaya Utara Member of Parliament (MP) Tony Pua from the DAP and Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad from PAS did not respond to the questions.
Allocations too general
Budget 2010 does provide allocations for training in entrepreneurial skills for a mere 3,000 women. But women’s rights advocate Rozana Isa argues additionally that as far as she can see, there was no gender analysis in Budget 2010 about the different ways that expenditure would affect men and women.
The Sisters in Islam Musawah coordinator says that Budget 2010′s key result areas of crime, corruption, affordable education, standard of living and transport did not specify how it would assist women, especially those who are vulnerable.
“For example, for single mothers, a lot of them may not have gone into employment before and during marriage. When something happens, they are left to fend for themselves. How much is allocated to providing training, education and skills for them so they can be economically independent?” she asks.
Rozana says that even where an allocation was made, for example RM100 million for a corporate social responsibility fund for community services, it was hard to tell how much would benefit women.
“How is it targeted to help women? The community is very wide — [senior citizens], children, communities with disabilities. How will this fund be divided and disbursed, according to the states or the corporations? Among the 14 states, how much is that per state?”
Rozana also observes that although RM100 million could look like a lot of money, when divided between districts and communities, the portion actually allocated to women could be very small.
Zuraida Kamaruddin (file pic)
PKR Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin agrees that Budget 2010 is not at all gender sensitive. “They talk about cross-cutting, that the budget for women is placed in all the other ministries. No doubt, but there is no specific plan. There is no monitoring on how much is allocated to women,” she says in a phone interview.
Bukit Mertajam MP Chong Eng also released a press statement that gender provisions were missing in the budget. The DAP Wanita chief’s statement, however, only made reference to more direct expenditure for women and did not touch on gender sensitive budgeting per se.
Rozana says that gender sensitive budgeting is not just about allocating money specifically for women but also on educating society about gender issues. “There should be an allocation for gender sensitisation programmes nationwide for the police, immigration, judges and [all the government training institutes].”
“At the end of the day, if women use public services like the hospital or the police, will the first person they meet have the sensitivity to understand what they’ve gone through and provide the support and services accordingly? If she’s been beaten up [at home], what do they need to do to help? If they are not gender sensitive, they might not have empathy for the woman.”
Zuraida notes that Malaysia has been slipping in the rankings of the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap report. Out of over 130 countries, Malaysia ranked 92nd in 2006. Since then however, it has progressively slipped to the 96th, 99th and 101st position every year after.
“This shows that there’s no political will to monitor or keep a close watch on this,” Zuraida says. Truth is, she is likely to be right.
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