Budgeting to bring better lives for all

Voting site set up at the Jalan Sungai flats in Penang, Malaysia. Photo: Penang Women’s Development Corporation

Government planning, programming and budgeting that recognize and respond to the different needs of women and men, girls and boys, bring better lives for all through the promotion of gender equality and justice. Malaysia, like several dozen countries in the world, began to embrace this concept of gender-responsive budgeting almost 10 years ago. The journey has not been easy, but in 2013 the concept is starting to come to fruition in the State of Penang, Malaysia.

At first to gain traction for the idea, Malaysia’s Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development organized workshops, produced a gender-responsive budgeting manual and carried out pilot projects in five ministries. Despite these valiant efforts, there appeared little evidence that budget orientation changed beyond the pilot period.

To advocate for and impart knowledge on the subject, UNDP, with the financial support from the Government of Japan, organized an important regional intensive course on gender and macroeconomic issues. More than 80 women and men from across Asia and the Pacific learned about such issues as the importance of gender statistics and the economic and social implications of unpaid work.

One of the key participants in that pivotal course was Dr. Cecilia Ng. Dr. Ng was then Vice President of a newly established women’s organization called Good Governance and Gender Equality Society, also known as 3Gs, and Visiting Professor at the Women’s Development Research Centre in Universiti Sains Malaysia. She attended the course to better understand issues of taxes and budgets in order to play a stronger role in crafting state gender policies.

Dr. Ng and 3Gs took the course to the next level by organizing a follow-up conference on gender justice in Penang which resulted in a declaration that gender-responsive budgeting be undertaken by the State Government. It was endorsed by the Penang Chief Minister. She additionally received a small seed grant from UNDP through the Japan-UNDP Partnership Fund to provide hands-on training for policy-makers and civil societies in Penang, and a handbook for the State budget.


  • Penang became the first State in Malaysia to adopt Gender-responsive Budgeting.
  • A new State office -- the Penang Women’s Development Corporation – was created to promote gender and social equality.
  • News of these budget shifts in Penang, Malaysia, reached remote Bhutan, which is now exploring possibilities for Gender-responsive Budgeting.

After much effort and hard work by 3Gs and Women’s Development Research Centre, Penang became the first State in Malaysia to adopt gender-responsive budgeting in 2012. Since then, the State Government, with the support of the two Municipal Councils, launched a three-year project that has already established an important state-led agency – the Penang Women’s Development Corporation to promote gender and social equality.

In late 2012, residents at two public apartments for low income households – women and men, girls and boys aged 10 and above – were involved in the implementation of the project and learned of this new budgeting process. They expressed their core needs through group discussions and by casting ‘ballots’ in favor of priorities that they felt were necessary to improve their community. Officers from the Municipal Councils witnessed the process and assured the full support of the voting result. One resident noted, “This is the first time we are experiencing such a process and we are very happy to be given this opportunity to express our community needs. We hope there will be more opportunities in the future.”

The changes were immediate. The Municipal Council of Seberang Perai allocated $15,000 of its 2013 budget to upgrade the recreation park near the Ampang Jajar flats, which was the top ranked priority identified by the residents. The Municipal Council of Penang Island also increased their budget allocation for the Jalan Sungai flats, which identified building maintenance is their top concern.

While local government support to the gender-responsive allocations is relatively small in terms of the percentage share of their total budget, the impact is impressive. The local authorities now understand and have the mechanisms in place to integrate gender concerns into their budgets.

Related Links:
Penang Women’s Development Corporation: www.pwdc.org.my
UNDP web portal – gender and macroeconomics: http://www.inclusivedevelopmentasiapacific.net/gender