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Gender insensitive budgeting

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. 

Najib's gender-sensitive budget goes 'poof'
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.

Fair distribution

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.

Speech bubbles with unhelpful statements like 'gender what?'

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.

Khalid Ibrahim

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 Pua with steepled hands
Tony Pua
The 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.

Gender insensitive

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. favicon

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2 Responses to “Gender insensitive budgeting”

  1. rashidah shuib says:

    I cannot agree with you more. When it was announced that we were piloting gender budget involving five ministries a few years ago, I was very excited. There was even a circular to that effect from the Treasury. But nothing more. I don’t know whether the gender budget stops at the pilot stage.

    But my problem is how can the ministries claimed to have done gender budget if no gender analysis is done and for that to be done we need sex disaggregated data in order for us to see the differentials and suggest interventions? I met a member of parliament from the Ministry of Finance who said that there is already a gender budget because the allocation to the Ministry of Women has been increased. But does this make it a gender budget? My answer is NO.

    There was also this gentleman who questioned the need to do gender analysis. He insisted that a needs analysis should be enough. To him the needs analysis would be able to show us are where the needs are for both men and women. But this is where he misses the point. Gender analysis and gender budget are all done with the aim of moving society towards gender equality and therefore there must be an understanding of what this issue is all about. Gender budget does not talk about a separate budget for women and men but a budget that takes into account the gender issues.

    In fact I honestly think that the basic problem is that gender mainstreaming as a strategy agreed upon by countries, including Malaysia, is not really taking place. What is in place is ad hoc, piece meal gender mainstreaming activities such as capacity building (and this includes gender budget?) because the country does not even have a national gender mainstreaming action plan for the country. I wonder sometimes whether our leaders are just being politically correct.

  2. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    I think in general, we need to be able to better track what resources are helping which demographic groups. The “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” problem is an issue not just for gender budgeting, but also for programmes that are designed to support other groups, e.g. the NEP/NDP.

    Not that I’m a fan of the NEP, but as long as it’s around, who’s making sure that the resources are really going to poor bumiputera and not being skimmed off by rich urban dwellers in Mercedes?

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