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Gender mainstreaming: Towards a positive and workable reality

Gender mainstreaming requires a long-term commitment and a vision of what is possible for social justice and inclusiveness


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The recently released 12th Malaysia Plan mentions the introduction of a gender-mainstreaming framework to incorporate a gender perspective into the formulation of policies.

“Emphasis is placed on enhancing institutional capacity and evidenced-based policy making particularly in gender related analysis.” We can find this in Chapter 5: Addressing Poverty and Building an Inclusive Society, 5-37. (Strategy F3: Empowering the Role of Women: Promoting Gender Equality)

Introducing a gender-mainstreaming framework as part of government policy is most welcome and represents a continuity with previous and recent initiatives, including those undertaken by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and the Ministry of Finance.  

The latter ministry has issued several treasury circulars encouraging the adoption of gender-responsive budgeting in the past.

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development led a pilot project on this more than a decade ago. More recently, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it has produced a detailed gender-mainstreaming framework from which the 12th Malaysia Plan commitment can draw.

It should be emphasised that the adoption of such a framework should fit into the wider commitment to inclusion, social equity and an efficient, effective government.

It is also important to acknowledge several points:

  • Gender equality supports the fulfilment of every person’s potential. It has a positive effect and benefit for all of us
  • Adopting a gender-related analysis will allow us to better understand the different experiences of different people, in different roles and with different options. This will enable us to move away from a ‘one solution fits all’ approach towards a more accurate, focused, targeted response
  • Gender mainstreaming reaches out to all of us, but it will highlight where and how women experience discrimination differently and more than men and suggest solutions to address this in policies and programmes
  • Gender is not the only indicator of people’s experiences: we need to consider other crucial forms of discrimination and differences, including age, location background, socioeconomic status, health, mobility, education, family status and nationality. But the advantage of adopting gender as integral to policies and programmes is that gender cuts across all these
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Implementing a gender-mainstreaming framework in government, however, will be a real challenge on several levels.

First, all too often there is a lack of understanding of what ‘gender’ actually means and therefore a lack of clarity as to the benefits of ‘gender mainstreaming’ and the necessity for ‘gender equality’. People may mistake ‘gender’ for women and ‘gender equality’ for women’s empowerment.

One definition of gender mainstreaming asserts that it is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally”(UN Economic and Social Council).

Without a clear understanding of these terms, gender mainstreaming cannot begin with any real meaning, and the commitment towards gender equality is unlikely to be met.

Second, gender mainstreaming requires the use of certain tools, for example, the use of sex-disaggregated data. Without such data, both the design and monitoring of gender-related policies and budgets would be flawed or ineffective.

With good data collection comes the need to have the capacity to analyse such data. This will enable us to use the available tools and approaches to make gender-related initiatives realisable. These include tools that can assess the impact of programmes through the involvement of beneficiaries, or track budget expenditure and its breakdown according to impact on men and women. So, we need to ensure agencies are encouraged and supported to collect sex-disaggregated data following agreed standards and criteria.

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Other equally important tools in gender mainstreaming include gender analysis, gender-responsive budgeting, and monitoring and evaluation with relevant indicators. 

Hence, the capacity to gender mainstream requires knowledge and skills, including the use of these ‘tools’ to ensure the incorporation of gender into policies, programmes and the respective budgets, as well as in the monitoring of the impact of these tools.

What this all means is that if a gender-mainstreaming framework in the formulation of policies is to succeed, we can start by ensuring that institutionalised and systematic training reaches across the civil service and other government agencies. This will allow us to build capacity and competency within the civil service.

This can be done, for example, through the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan), the training arm of the country’s Public Service Department. The institute had in the past offered a gender component in their training of civil service officers.

Such training could be reinstated and offered as modules encompassing different competency levels over a period. It would be even better to link the completion of gender-related training levels to civil service key performance indicators (KPIs) and promotions.

Another area to consider to secure the adoption of gender mainstreaming is the establishment of gender focal teams within ministries and other agencies who would help guide and monitor the implementation of gender-related activities within their respective organisations.

This can occur at the state and district levels as well. There have been initiatives in Penang and Selangor to show how this might work.

However, the commitment to gender mainstreaming requires a whole organisational commitment and prioritisation – not just the assigning of an individual as a gender focal point or a few people as a gender focal team and leaving it at that.

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Agencies intent on gender mainstreaming need to equip themselves not only with a gender focal team with the relevant skills and capacity. They also have to ensure the team’s efforts receive full organisational support.

And of course, legislation defining and stressing the commitment to gender equality is critical for the realisation of gender mainstreaming. Such legislation, for example, a Gender Equality Act or equivalent, would provide the authority and mandate for action. It is a fundamental step to be taken.

Gender equality and gender mainstreaming are not abstract terms or notions occurring in a vacuum to fulfil a ‘tick box’ and gain points for use in a project or as buzzwords for an international audience.

Gender mainstreaming towards gender equality requires a long-term commitment and a vision of what is possible for social justice and inclusiveness. It needs policies and corresponding budgets targeting and addressing the needs of especially vulnerable groups of both men and women. 

The effort will require courage, commitment and capacity. We look forward to its progress.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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