The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 exacerbated and brought to the fore pre-existing inequalities disproportionately affecting women, girls and vulnerable groups in all socio-economic areas, reducing them to greater exclusion and poverty. How governments respond to the economic crisis will have far-reaching consequences for political participation and inclusion in the longer term. Mitigating short-term impacts and addressing long-term structural drivers of inequality requires countries to put in place gender-responsive policies and budgets, without which they risk harming long-term prospects for an inclusive and sustainable recovery. Recognising the important role legislators have in shaping national developmental policies and monitoring accountability, WFD’s programming in Malaysia focused on building capacity for gender-responsive budgeting among parliamentarians.
Over the course of 2020-21, WFD supported the COVID-19 response programme in Malaysia, through funding from the British High Commission in Malaysia. This funding is managed by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and implemented by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). The project aimed to promote more gender-sensitive policies and legislative responses in Malaysia to address the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
With the support of the COVID-19 response funding in 2021, WFD created a Gender-Responsive Budgeting Toolkit to help MPs begin to procure comprehensive sex-disaggregated data that could better inform the debate around budget allocations in parliament. However, more work was needed to fully operationalise all aspects of the toolkit. To achieve this purpose, the project sought to strengthen MPs’ knowledge and use of the GRB toolkit by providing capacity building to enhance the understanding of GRB and technical support for its practical application. This led to the development of a further programme: Localising Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Parliamentary Constituencies, which was jointly curated and conducted with a local consultancy, ENGENDER. The objective of the programme was to allow the MPs to understand the reality of the constituency population through a gender lens and apply gender-responsive approaches in their projects and programmes.
Five members of parliament formed the first cohort of legislators to participate in this inaugural initiative in Malaysia.
The learning from the 2021 initiative will inform the same programme with a second cohort of MPs in 2022. The first group of participating MPs will be engaged to support the subsequent cohort while their application of gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting in their constituencies will be monitored and supported further.