Advancing Gender, Advancing Development: Perspectives from UNDP’s Gender Week 2023

March 8, 2023

What does it mean to inculcate gender into our programmes? How should we speak to stakeholders, and partners, when it comes to mainstreaming gender? And, what is ‘gender’, anyway?

These were the pertinent questions asked, discussed, and debated on, during UNDP Malaysia’s Gender Week, held from 27 February – 1 March 2023. The 3-day long event saw both government implementing partners and UNDP staff engage with gender specialists through workshops and discussions, all held with the aim of building capacity to act for Gender Equality.

Government partner attendees with their 'gender lenses'.

UNDP Malaysia

Gender mainstreaming as a driver for Gender Equality

Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels, according to the United Nations(1). In other words, ensuring that any decisions made take into account the different implications on both genders. 

Dr. Asa Torkelsson, Chair of Gender Results Group, UN Country Team, asserted in her keynote address that at the current rate of progress, it would take 132 years to close the global gender gap(2). For gender parity to be achieved in politics, it would take 155 years, while for economic participation, it would take 151 years. If we are to accelerate progress on gender equality, we need to advance gender mainstreaming – that is to incorporate measures that reduce gender inequality across all policies and programmes.

Below are reflections from the event on four barriers to gender mainstreaming that need to be addressed.

    Four challenges to mainstreaming gender

    Firstly, power imbalance and asymmetries are one of the biggest causes of women being held back today. In Malaysia, the country has made notable progress on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment but gender inequality persists in several key areas. For instance, although the education attainment of women in Malaysia surpasses that of men, only 55.5% of women participate in the labor market compared with 80.9% of men in 2021 and women’s wages continue to lag behind men(3). Additionally, women’s participation in political leadership remains low. 

    “If you deconstruct Malaysia’s Human Development Report, women are doing well in education, with a higher rate of education than men. In the health realm, women have also achieved similar life expectancy as men. But when you move to the economic dimension, or power dimension, the gap is clear.”

    – Niloy Banerjee, Resident Representative of UNDP Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam

    Resident Representative of UNDP of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darrusalam, Mr. Niloy Banerjee

    UNDP Malaysia

    During the panel session, themed 'Partnerships for Advancing Gender Development', panelists grappled with religious, cultural, and societal norms and how they intersect with gender bias and perceptions. Addressing the challenge of entrenched cultural norms, panelist and VIP guest, Datin Dr. Syahira Hamidon, Undersecretary (Policy & International Relations) of the Ministry of Entrepreneur and Cooperatives Development, said, “The best way to change any cultural mindset is through our education system. Every child in Malaysia has access to free education. So if you to change the mindset of gender, in terms of equality from schools, those who are in the schoolchildren at the moment will be parents one day. So once they become parents, the way that they look at this matter will be different.”

    (From L-R): Moderator, Manon Bernier, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Malaysia; Melisa Idris, Assistant Vice President of Astro Awani; Chua Choon Hwa, Deputy Sec-Gen of KPWKM; Datin Dr Syahira Hamidon, Undersecretary (Policy & International Relations) of MECD; Radhika Behuria, UNDP International Gender Expert

    UNDP Malaysia

    The second challenge is the lack of gender-disaggregated data. This makes it difficult to carry out baseline analysis, understand differences in women’s and men’s experiences, and develop targeted solutions. This gap in data also challenges the delivery and monitoring of targeted programmes. 

    Dr. Prema, gender equality trainer and specialist, elaborated in her sharing session, “We have issues with collection, where people do not collect sex-disaggregated data, or the method for doing so is not standardized. So it's slightly odd, you can't compare and match. We also don't have people who are able to analyze the data. So even when you've got the data, there’s a trend that we can't or don't have the expertise to analyze.”

    Thirdly, there is a clear need for gender expertise and capacity building within organizations. Within the Government, there is a need to institutionalize training on gender, gender equality, and gender mainstreaming components, as one-off training events cannot support the continuity of gender mainstreaming efforts. Staff turnover is one clear driver of this problem, where many staff who have been trained leave organizations or agencies.

    Apart from the lack of understanding and training for staff, there is also a lack of accountability, when gender mainstreaming is not institutionalized. Bringing gender focal teams and a focal point is one method of ensuring the topic of gender is mainstreamed, and highlighted within development agendas.

    “Gender focal point and focal teams is one thing that we are aiming to bring with this whole-of-government concept. It cannot just be Kementerian Wanita [Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development]. It doesn't work that way.”

    – Chua Choon Hwa, Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development

    Attendees donning their 'gender lenses', symbolic of attaining a better perspective on gender mainstreaming in Malaysia.

    UNDP Malaysia

    Finally, there is a clear gap in the understanding of gender-responsive budgeting, which leads us to the fourth challenge of raising resources for gender. Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) is a strategy that aims to ensure that public budgets are designed in ways that promote gender equality, taking into account the different needs and priorities of women and men.

    However, many policymakers and budget planners lack the tools and skills to implement GRB, or perhaps view it as an unnecessary expense rather than an investment in social and economic development. This often results in a lack of funding for gender-responsive programs and initiatives, and a failure to mainstream gender perspectives into all aspects of budget planning and implementation.

    Furthermore, there may be cultural and social barriers to gender-responsive budgeting, and a lack of understanding of the benefits of GRB. This is further exacerbated by a lack of reliable and accurate data on women's and men's needs, priorities, and experiences, as elaborated in the second challenge above. This makes it difficult to develop gender-responsive policies and programs, and to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness.

    It is imperative that capacity-building for gender happens across the board, inclusive of the crucial GRB component. A related perspective is the need to connect with partners with the right resources and expertise, and mobilize it alongside them. Hence, leveraging innovations and partnerships in pushing forward the gender agenda, as echoed by the panel session’s theme.

    Gender lenses for UNDP Gender Week

    UNDP Malaysia

    UNDP Malaysia’s commitment to gender equity

    The event also saw the launch of the Malaysia Country Office Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025, which outlines the commitment of UNDP to consider the key barriers to gender equality in Malaysia and find ways to integrate these concerns and find solutions to them through its programming. 

    The launch of UNDP Malaysia’s GES is an opportunity for UNDP to reflect on our internal practices and examine our workplace culture, with a view to celebrating our strengths and being open to change. It is also a time to unlock new ways to leverage our programming and partnerships to improve our development impact by bringing a gender lens to our work.

    “Diversity is the seed you sow, and inclusion is the fruit it bears. Working towards diversity goals is just the first step in a longer journey of creating inclusion.”

    — Radhika Behuria, Global Policy Network, International Gender Expert, UNDP 

    In conclusion, UNDP’s Gender Week 2023 wrapped up with key lessons taken home by participants, and saw many attendees broaching tough yet essential topics. Gender mainstreaming continues to be a critical approach to achieving gender equality and equity, and requires a shift in mindset, policies, and practices that acknowledge gender equality as a fundamental driver to achieve the SDGs.

    Group photo of attendees

    UNDP Malaysia

    1. Report of the Economic and Social Council for 1997; accessed 7 Mar 2023 (
    2.  Global Gender Gap Report 2022, World Economic Forum (WEF)
    3. Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM). (2022). Labour Force Survey Report Malaysia 2021. Putrajaya: Malaysia.