WOA: Ensure that Budget 2022 is inclusive for all, including women

WOMEN’S Aid Organisation (WAO) has called upon the Government and the Finance Ministry to ensure that Budget 2022 is inclusive for all.

Budget 2022 must not leave out women, families and vulnerable communities, and must address gender gaps in the society that have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, said the non-government organisation (NGO).

WAO’s new report, ‘Budget 2022: A Resilient National Recovery for Women’ has outlined three crucial pillars – safeguarding women from violence, ensuring economic participation and employment, and access to mental healthcare services – that must be prioritised in Malaysia’s road to national recovery.

The report made 13 recommendations for Budget 2022, including:

Pillar 1: Budget 2022 must strengthen available support services for domestic violence and gender based violence survivors.

The past two years have seen multiple movement control orders (MCOs) and enforced confinements at home in effort to manage the pandemic.

This has exacerbated instances of domestic violence and gender-based violence across the nation.

“We recommend for the Budget 2022 to earmark RM50 mil to the Health Ministry for One-stop Crisis Centre response, including implementation and a monitoring and evaluation mechanism,” said the NGO.

“RM30 mil must be committed to training modules and management standards for frontline responders, including police, medical personnel and social media workers.

“In addition, Budget 2022 should allocate emergency funds of RM5 mil for services such as national and NGO hotlines in times of crisis, where demand for some hotlines may increase more than three-fold.”

WAO further recommended that RM30 mil be provided to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) to set up crisis shelters for domestic violence survivors.

“In Budget 2021, RM21 mil was allocated to KPWKM, but the programme could not be implemented due to MCO construction restrictions.”

Pillar 2: Need for a gender responsive approach in addressing national employment and job security.

WAO further recommended that incentives and subsidies be provided to address the lack of gender-sensitive hiring and childcare support to close gender gaps in employment that have worsened due to the pandemic.

“Budget 2022 must address women’s participation in the labour force and consider the informal workforce.

“RM247 million must be allocated for childcare programmes, including RM60 mil to build community childcare centres, RM49 mil to assist childcare centres meet COVID-19 health and safety standard operating procedures (SOPs) and RM157 mil in allowance for childcare centres and the welfare department (JKM) registered babysitters to purchase essential items.”

Meanwhile, RM20 mil should be invested in upskilling and education programmes to better equip women with the necessary skills to enter the formal workforce.

“There must also be efforts to raise awareness on the burden of unpaid care work that disproportionately affects women and driving subsidy applications as well as awareness for women in the informal workforce as part of the 2021-2025 Strategic Plan for Women.”

Pillar 3: Re-emerge with resilience from the pandemic with stronger mental healthcare services, accessibility and awareness particularly for women and children.

Reports have suggested that mental illnesses have soared since the onset of the pandemic, with those reporting suicidal tendencies increasing from 30% to 40% from 2020 to 2021.

“Women and youth are particularly vulnerable, with women making up 83.5% of the cases of suicide from 2019 to May 2021.”

Therefore, as per WAO’s recommendation, Budget 2022 should apportion 2.4% of the national healthcare budget towards mental healthcare.

“This allocation of approximately RM765 mil will put us on par with international standards,” said the NGO.

RM50 mil of this should be allocated to setting up more community mental health centres (MENTARIs) to ensure that the most vulnerable populations, including women who have faced violence, the B40 community, single mothers and refugees can have access to mental health care.

On top of that, RM9 mil should be allocated towards training an additional 500 mental health professionals who are equipped to counsel and provide interventions for domestic violence and gender-based violence survivors.

“We strongly urge the government to consider these recommendations, to ensure that Budget 2022 provides support to those most adversely affected by the pandemic to thrive.

“The pandemic has presented an opportunity to re-evaluate existing systems and structures with a gendered perspective that would benefit the most vulnerable.

“Budget 2022’s promise of a resilient recovery across Malaysia is a glimmer of hope for all of us and it can only be effective if no one is left behind.” – Sept 16, 2021.

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