Budget 2021 was the opportunity to address fundamental inequalities that hold back our development and wellbeing.
It touched in a piecemeal manner areas relating to gender – including violence against women, employment, health, and social protection. However, as a whole, the Budget speech did not demonstrate bold initiative to capitalise on this opportunity.
There are some noteworthy announcements, for example investments in D11 PDRM, addressing period poverty, mandating listed companies to appoint one woman to the board, and expanding social protection to the informal sector.
However, we question if the budget does enough to fundamentally address gender inequalities that permeate all spheres of life.
We did not see an increase in investment in childcare, despite the lack of childcare being a major impediment for women’s work – a challenge which Covid had exacerbated.
Besides investments in D11, we did not hear any indication of increasing investments for crucial services like one-stop crisis centres in public hospitals or an increase in Social Welfare Department officers. A commitment to increase women’s protection shelters was announced, though the investment figure was not mentioned.
Cash transfer programmes – although with a specific allocation for single parents – seems very small at just RM208 a month (RM2,500 one-off).
While mental health was highlighted, we would like to know what the total mental health allocation is – beyond the RM70m announced (given that last year’s allocation was RM313m).
Overall, while we acknowledge there was some emphasis on gender in the budget, we feel this budget could have been more ambitious, especially given that already large gender gaps have worsened following the pandemic.
Sumitra Visvanathan is executive director of the Women’s Aid Organisation.