Featured, Gender, General, Govt

NEWS: Penang council initiates gender-sensitive budget

Source: GoodTimes

The Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) is set to become the first local government to have a gender responsive budgeting (GRB) policy.

MPSP councillor Steven Sim said they are aiming to start a three-year plan by next year to implement GRB by 2015.

Contrary to common beliefs, GRB is not about spending equally on men and women or doing more women’s programmes, but it is budgeting with both genders in mind and allocating the funds where it will have the most impact.

“To me, GRB basically means good governance,” said Sim, adding that it does not need massive changes to implement GRB.

“I asked in MPSP, how many women had applied for business permits and got it approved. We don’t know,” he said.

A simple way to start GRB, therefore, is to tweak application forms to provide data needed for more well-informed and targeted decision making.

Within the three years, the proposed action goals include creating awareness among decision makers about the GRB agenda, assessing current policies, training officers handling financial analyses and creating sex disagregated database – the most important part of GRB which will tell decision makers where public funds can meet the greatest needs as it has detailed breakdown including gender, race, age, geographical location and income level.

Without a proper database, decision makers can end up making so-called “gender neutral” decisions which benefit only one group of people.

For example, developers tend to build football fields to fulfill the recreational requirement for a project but such facility will more likely benefit the male residents. Although constructing equal number of public toilet cubicles for males and females seem fair, it is likely that more women have to wait longer in queue because there are more female users than males.

Sim said GRB will also take into consideration the “unpaid sector”, such as homemakers, volunteers and long-term caregivers who are usually overlooked in their contribution to society.

“Homemakers, for example, travel more between housing areas to fetch their children to tuition classes, than from housing area to the commercial centre. So, public transport needs to consider this aspect as well,” he said.

At least one pilot project will be carried out during the period to prepare MPSP to run municipal-wide GRB afterwards. It will focus on three areas – safety, cleanliness and capacity building – which are among the seven key result areas in MPSP.

In implementing GRB locally, Sim is expecting to meet three challenges. First up is the cultural challenge since people do not see the need for affirmative action for women, even among women themselves.

Secondly is structural challenge to support and facilitate the GRB system, and thirdly comes the political challenge.

Although the state opposition party, Barisan Nasional, had implemented GRB at the federal level in a few ministerial units in 2003, Sim said the effort had not yielded any concrete result.

“If the federal government can do it before us, we’ll be happy. I feel the federal government should continue with this because they’ve done the pilot. I don’t see why they can’t go into Phase Two,” Sim said.

GRB is a joint effort among MPSP, research group Women’s Development Research Centre (Kanita) and NGO Good Governance and Gender Equality Society, Penang (3Gs), where Sim is the executive director.

MPSP, which has been in the forefront of changes, is the first local council to introduce a Gender Mainstreaming and OKU (People with Disability) Committee to give men’s and women’s concerns due weightage in policymaking and decisions.

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