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By Rafiqa Nabila Rumaizi Research Intern, Institut Masa Depan Malaysia
Malaysia is perceived as committed and progressive when it comes to attaining gender equality and promoting women’s rights. Recently, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin stated that the government has always advocated and would continue to support the notion of women’s empowerment. But the data seems to suggest otherwise.
Based on the Department of Statistics Malaysia, political empowerment is at a record low of 10.8 percent in 2019. Women continue to be underrepresented in politics or ministerial positions. We are not the only ones who are behind their male counterparts; this is a problem that affects women worldwide. With the exception of New Zealand, all countries have less than 30 percent female ministers. Not only that, women’s participation in the labour force also remains low at 55.2 percent, while men’s participation rate is at 80.8 percent. This indicates that Malaysia is way behind in terms of economic development when compared to other Southeast Asian countries. Usually in developed countries, women’s labour force participation rates, typically surpass 60 per cent.
In accordance with the Malaysia Gender Gap Index (MGGI), Malaysia was ranked 73rd globally in 2019, however, we dropped 10 places from the previous year when it was placed at 63rd. On the positive side, women outperformed men in the Educational Attainment index and their gross enrolment rate in secondary and tertiary level education were also higher than men, which is at 105.3 per cent and the health and survival sub-index at 95.8 per cent.
Since the pandemic, the unemployment rate has increased drastically, especially for women in the workforce. The unemployment rate increased by 4.5 per cent in 2020, marking the highest rate since 1990. According to a study “Unemployment among Malaysia’s Youth: Structural Trends and Current Challenges” by Lee Hwok Aun, the disparity between men and women was clearly reflected among young women. Furthermore, a survey conducted by UNICEF and UNFPA indicates that the unemployment rate among the female head of household stands at 16 per cent, approximately three times the national average. This is alarming as they lose their financial dependency amidst lockdowns. This is a global issue affecting women and Malaysia is no exception.
Hence, during the COVID–19 crisis and recession recovery, the government must ensure that the progress made to narrow gender gaps prior to the pandemic do not go in vain. Then, focus to amplify the efforts on achieving gender equality that creates a better and more equitable workforce. Firstly, by eliminating the impediments that disproportionately affect women and ensuring that they have equal access to education, employment, and healthcare. Secondly, to achieve women’s full economic potential, formal and informal workers’ protection and productivity must be strengthened. Thirdly, to stay on our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030, particularly Goal 5 on gender equality. In this particular goal, we must make women and girls integral and integrated as part of the women empowerment process to close the gap in gender inequality.
Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) aims to achieve gender equality by institutionalizing gender mainstreaming framework in policy making. One of the fundamental principles in achieving equality between men and women will be aided by effective strategies and policies in SPV2030. Women’s rights to education, healthcare, proper employment, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will contribute to the development of a sustainable economy and society. SPV2030 done right will hopefully be the engine to create a country with a thriving women population, socially and economically.