Budget 2020: Paving the Way Forward For Women

the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) applauds the 2020 federal budget aimed at stimulating the economy, generating growth and improving the quality of life for Malaysians, but especially the poor.

“It is clear that the government has put a lot of thought and consideration into the allocation of funds, and it is most heartening to note that these have been allocated in key areas such as education, narrowing the gaps of inequality with respect to gender, needs and opportunities.” – Nisha Sabanayagam, Programs and Operations Manager, AWAM.

AWAM also notes that the government has set a target of achieving 60% in terms of the labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women. In 2018, the LFPR stood at 55.2% according to the National Department of Statistics. In order to achieve this, we must look at this issue in the long-term. While the Women@Work to reintegrate women back into the workforce by creating 33,000 employment opportunities for women is very promising, other structures need to be in place in order to make this opportunity accessible to these women.

Sexual Harassment-free Workplace
The proposed Sexual Harassment Bill is needed to fill in the gaps in the current provisions and provide a better template in addressing the procedures, protections; and most of all, ensuring that women feel safe at work.

“Not all victims of sexual harassment wants to drag the harasser to court or be embroiled in a lengthy case at court. Most victims – including men – simply want the harassment to stop.”
– Nisha Sabanayagam

One of the key aspects of the Sexual Harassment Bill is that it addresses sexual harassment outside the workplace which does not fall under the category of sexual assault. What this means
for working women is that women may travel to and from work safely without fear of being sexually harassed.

Reproductive rights and mental health are one of the few things not specifically addressed in the budget. If we want more women to enter the workforce and we want to boost the productivity and earning capacities of women, giving women access to reproductive rights is a must.

Globally, UNFPA estimates that 20,000 teenagers give birth to a baby every day. In Malaysia, it is estimated that 90,000 pregnancies end in miscarriages or abortions every year. What this means for the teenage mother or woman living in poverty, is that her access to education, disposable cash or job prospects immediately diminish.

Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh had cited mental health as a crucial issue in Malaysia in an interview a few days ago. Alarmingly, the deputy minister also mentioned that 56% of calls to Talian Kasih by those under the age of 18 had called in because they felt lonely. Mental health is a growing issue among Malaysians, and more mental health facilities need to be made affordable and accessible to people of all ages – including young children. It is globally estimated that 1 in 10 people experience clinical depression in their life.

Domestic Violence
Every year, the police investigates approximately 5,000 cases on domestic violence. Domestic violence does not only destroy lives but it also negatively impacts the country’s capacity for productivity and growth. Every time an abused spouse is denied the opportunity to work, or is forced to give up their education, takes time off work because of abuse, is harassed at the workplace by their spouse or spends too much time recovering at the hospital – all of these factors takes away from the productivity and capacity for growth of the individuals involved. It also makes it harder to leave the abusive situation.

Domestic violence is an issue that needs to be addressed as a social issue, and not just a women’s issue. While the current protections under the Domestic Violence Act is helpful, there needs to be more integrated efforts by various ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Ministry of Human Resources in tackling this matter.

AWAM congratulates the Finance Minister for addressing care work. Caring for children and the elderly has long been seen as a feminine task. Owing to the lack of affordable or reliable care for children and the elderly, many women have chosen to perform care work themselves. This allocation towards caring for children and the elderly will positively contribute towards the efforts to reintegrate women into the workforce.

AWAM would also like to remind the cabinet that while the budget has done a good job recognising, reducing the gender gap – and to some extent, redistributed funds, opportunities and access – these need to be reflected in the results. Without affirmative action in policy, deed and results; Malaysia will continue to be mired in social problems of inequality, poverty, and violence, hindering not only economic growth but holistic prosperity.

Issued by:
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
12 OCTOBER 2019