The New National Budget’s Initiatives For Women Come Down To Just Two Things

It’s the budget all of Malaysia has been waiting for, the first non-Barisan Nasional one since Malaysia’s independence. What does the new government’s #Budget2019 hold for Malaysia Baru— especially when it comes to empowering women?

The Pakatan Harapan government built their election campaign on strong female empowerment promises. And with the first female Deputy Prime Minister in Malaysian history, and a well-represented cabinet of 4 female Ministers, our hopes were admittedly high for a budget that would do its part to empower the women of our nation.

Minister of Finance Lim Guan Eng began by quoting the findings from economic think-tank Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) that we’ve reported before: Only 52.8% of working age Malaysian women were employed or looking for jobs in 2016, compared to 77.7% of men, and 60% of the Malaysian women who stay out of the workforce this way say they to do so because of housework. Using more KRI findings, he also pointed out that a 30% increase in women labor force participation will cause Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to increase from 7% to 12%.

With that in mind, here’s what they allocated to help get more women into the workforce in the 2019 Budget.

1. More accessible childcare at work

The government has allocated RM10 million to build 50 childcare centers in government offices and buildings to help working moms. At the same time, the government will also encourage and incentivise private bodies to do the same.

2. More women in leadership roles

As promised in their election campaign, the government is committed towards seeing more women involved in the leadership and decision-making levels of the country. They mention this in their budget speech, highlighting their own achievements in leadership representation. As such, they would like to see others follow their lead, and will ensure that women make up 30% of the boards of directors of listed companies by the end of 2020, but right now there doesn’t appear to be any strict official quotas to enforce this.

And that’s it.

You may feel that these initiatives look familiar, and that’s because they are. These two points were part of last year’s Barisan Nasional-led budget, which also included additional initiatives for longer maternity leave, tax exemptions for women returning to work, and education programmes. All these were missing from Pakatan Harapan’s new budget.

It’s a little disappointing to say the least. A lot more can be done to get and keep women in the workforce. Mandatory paternity leave, for one. Training and education initiatives. Tax exemptions, flexible working hour initiatives, and perhaps even family planning assistance.

Of course, the disproportionate participation of women in the workforce is a complex, multi-layered issue that goes beyond financial efforts, and maybe there’s only so much that monetary efforts can do to ameliorate it. But it’s worth remembering that one of Pakatan Harapan’s campaign promises was to “implement policies and programmes that will optimise women’s capacity and increase their employment rate.” Childcare centers in offices and weakly-enforced leadership quotas barely scratch the surface. And it’s not like this government is working on a tighter budget– this is one of the largest budget allocations ever, and more than last year’s.

After all, if you want more women working to help increase GDP, why not allocate it the money you think it’s worth?

Watch the full #Budget2019 speech below and let us know what you think.

Source: The Ministry of Finance