Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil resigned as Women, Family and Community Development Minister since the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) scandal broke out last year and due to the pressure wherein she had been hounded for the fact that the government-backed cattle project belongs to her family. In April 2012, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that he would serve concurrently as Women Minister. Since then, Najib has been critized for non-performance; he has not only failed to reveal any road map or new policies for women to improve their social status and rights, but even marginalised women’s agenda. Nonetheless, speaking at the 50th National Women’s Day celebration, Najib dismissed the need for a women’s rights movement in Malaysia as equality has been given “from the start” and claimed that Malaysia is even more advanced than developed nations in this aspect. Such statement has significantly highlighted the ignorance and contempt of the head of government towards women’s issues and rights, which further revealed the main reason behind his decision to assume his responsibility as the role of Women, Family and Community Development Minister rather than appointing other female senators to hold this important position – this ministry is merely optional for Najib’s administration.
Gender Inequality in Malaysia
According to The Global Gender Gap Report 2012, Malaysia is found in the lower half of the rankings within the region, which is ranked 100 out of 135 countries. When The Global Gender Gap Index first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006, Malaysia ranked 72th. In other words, Malaysia is in nowhere more advanced than any other countries in terms of gender equality, but there is even a trend of increased gender-based disparities.
Table 1: The Global Gender Gap Report 2012
The Global Gender Gap Report 2012
The Overall Performance of the Asia-Pacific Region
|Economic participation and opportunity||98||13||17||49||104||58||102|
|Health and survival||78||85||1||1||107||132||34|
*Singapore failed to provide the enrollment data of both men and women in primary, secondary schools and universities, thus affected the ratings.
Source: World Economic Forum
The graph above has demonstrated that Malaysia ranked the lowest in the political sphere, with a score of 0.0530 on the political empowerment subindex. Amongst the 222 members of parliament in Malaysia, there are only 18 women parliamentarians, which is a mere 8 percent. In order to achieve the targeted 30 percent of women involvement in political arena, women should at least occupy 66 parliamentary seats or above.
Amongst the 73 cabinet ministers appointed by the Prime Minister, there are only 8 women ministers (or deputy ministers), included Datuk Seri Sharizat before relinqushing her position, altogether occupied a 10.9 percent. On the other hand, the State Executive Council (EXCO) of Selangor headed by Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has 14 EXCO members, wherein comprised 5 women members, accounting for 35.7 percent. Why is there such a discrepancy between the number of women members appointed in both of the state excutive council and the cabinet?
Does this signify that a woman is inherently incapable to compete with a man? Undoubtedly, the answer is a no. Statistic shows higher enrollment rate for females than males in universities, ranged from 60 to 68 percent as compared to 32 to 40 percent of males, signifying that females tend to have better performance than males in academic works. However, there is a tremendous reversal when come to the employment rate, with only 46 percent of women employed in workplace.
Political Studies for Change (KPRU – Kajian Politik untuk Perubahan) found that Malaysia is on par wih many feudal states in terms of gender equality, revealing the fact that our society is yet to emancipate itself from rigid gender stereotypes. Crucially, the ruling government has never put emphasis on women’s agenda. In comparison with other issues such as national economy and development, women’s issues are most likely belittled as “housekeeping”, which should remain as family matters. This therefore causing women’s agenda continue to be overshadowed.
Women, the Care-giver
Traditionally, women have been playing the role of a care-giver or a mother. This role has always been highly exalted in our societies. One of the most famous traditional classical Chinese story is about Mencius’ mother, who is often held up as an exemplary female figure in Chinese culture as she moved house three times before settling down in a location that she felt was suitable for the child’s upbringing. Eventually, Mencius became a scholar. There are many stories about mothers departing on an adventurous journey to save their beloved children as well. All this histories and stories lump together conveying the selfless and unconditional love of a mother. When the Industrial Revolution came in the 1970s and 1980s, typical housekeepers and care-givers who had been integrally involved in domestic household chores had also began to get involved in industrialization, contributing to the transformation of national economy.
Women occupy 48 percent of the total population in Malaysia. Nevertheless, only 46 percent of the women population get employed while the rest of them choose to stay at home. The 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report has pointed out the conservative estimates which show that GDP would increase by up to 2-4 percent annually if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent in Malaysia, closer to the rate of many developed countries. Unfortunately, the majority of married women, whether willingly or otherwise, have to lay aside their career development particularly after childbirth in order to bear the responsibility to nurture and take care of their children. Such circumstances are primarily due to the traditional concept of gender division of labor, lack of nursery in workplaces, as well as the parents has no confidence in the quality of childcare services. Similarly, the lack of medicare, social services and benefits for elderly or disabled people have further burdened the women in the family (let it be spouse, daughter or daughter-in-law) with additional duties to look after them.
In view of this, KPRU has particularly studied and adopted some examples from foreign countries to propose several measures in hope of assisting women to once again getting involved in workplace, and more importantly to put pressure on the government so that they will pay attention to women’s agenda, plighting to improve women’s rights and benefits.
(1) Maternity and Paternity Leave
Since the Pakatan Rakyat (PAKATAN) Selangor state government came to power in 2008, many of the family-oriented welfare policies had been implemented, such as 90-day maternity leave for the women, allowances for eligible single mothers, opening a RM100 start-up fund for every child born in Selangor, just to name a few. The implementation of 14-day paternity leave has indeed proven that PAKATAN Selangor state government is much concern and has a better understanding of the importance of a man being a husband and a father in a family. As comparison, BN which has ruled this nation for more than a half century has yet to grasp such essence. Through its 55-year reign, BN has been projecting the image of a valiant parent, asserting patriarchal value, and thus family matters and the topic of raising children would never be the focal point of its discussion. Najib assumed a high profile by claiming that there’s no need for women’s rights movement in Malaysia after taking over the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, and that has precisely reflected the backwardness of the BN government and their ignorance towards the issues regarding women and family.
There is a rise in Malaysia’s total population. In Year 2010 alone, a total of 475,816 babies were born whilst the average of fertility rate was 2.2. Fertility is intrinsically mattered to a family. Men therefore should not be categorized as mere breadwinner or “chores bystander”, but should actively participate in every family matters, sharing household chores together with the wife, taking care of the pregnant or post-childbirth wife, creating parenting memories and experiencing the life hand in hand. Sadly, the reality in Malaysia is that husbands do not have extra leisure time to participate in family activities. The only effort done by the government is to offer 7 days off for civil servants as stated in the civil service manual, apart from encouraging the private sectors to grant their male workers with paternity leaves. There is however no legislation has been created yet to entitle men with parental leave and benefits.
Amongst the 139 countries, working women in 48 countries are entitled to a 14-week maternity leave or above, 24 countries offer up to 13-14 weeks, women from 39 countries are guaranteed leave for 12 weeks surrounding childbirth, while the maternity leave accessed in the remaining 28 countries is below 12 weeks.
|Country||Paid maternity leave||Paid paternity leave||Parental leave for mothers||Parental leave for fathers|
|Taiwan||8 weeks; 4 weeks for miscarriage after 3 months of pregnancy||3 days||Applicable in an enterprise employed more than 30 people, for women who’ve complete 1 year service with employer, up till child’s 3rd birthday. Not exceeding 2 years.|
|Singapore||16 weeks (100%)||14 days (to be announced)||N/A||N/A|
|France||16 weeks (100%) rising to 26 weeks (100%) for third child||3 days + 11 consecutive days||Share of 106 weeks (2 years) with father||Share of 106 weeks (2 years) with mother|
|Germany||14 weeks (100%);12/14 months (14 only for single mothers; 65%, but not more than 1,800 euro/month)||Can request up to 2 months||Share of 156 weeks (3 years, or up until child’s 3rd birthday) with father||Share of 156 weeks (3 years, or up until child’s 3rd birthday) with mother|
|United Kingdom||18 weeks;Additional maternity leave of 11 weeks for women who’ve complete 1 year service with employer.||2 weeks||13 weeks up to child’s 5th birthday18 weeks for disabled child up to child’s 18th birthday||Can request up to 4 weeks (max 13 weeks) non-paid parental leave annually (if they have at least 1 year’s continuous employment )|
|Japan||14 weeks (60%)||Can request up to 12 months||12 months up to child’s first birthday||12 months up to child’s first birthday|
|Korea||90 days (100%)||3 days||N/A||12 months|
|Malaysia||8 weeks (100%)||N/A||N/A||N/A|
In France, for instance, all women workers are entitled to a paid, job-protected maternity leave six weeks before and 10 weeks after the births of the first two children, eight weeks before and 18 weeks after the birth of the third child, 34 weeks (12 prenatally) for twins and 46 weeks (24 prenatally) for triplets or more. Pre and postnatal maternity leave is mandatory. Additionally, at the end of maternity leave, the mother or father can take a 2-year unpaid parental leave or until the child reaches the age of three, with entitlement to re-integration into the previous or a similar job. Parents receive a parental leave allowance if they interrupt their employment, totally.
In Japan, a country purported to have the highest proportion of elderly citizens and is facing the plight of rapid aging, the government seeks to boost birth rate by promoting parental leave system, re-employment or re-integrating system, and to guarantee an reinstatement of those who applied for “parental leave without pay and job retention” according to 1991 Childcare Leave Act.
Meanwhile, private company like Google has been able to retain the participation of women workers by lengthened maternity leave to five months from three and changed it from partial pay to full pay. Google’s move has so far contributed to a decreased postpartum attrition by 50 percent. The United Nations Development Programme in its media release stated that the increase rate of 70 percent of female employees has the potential to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Malaysia by 2 to 4 percent per year.
In comparison with other countries, family care in our country is still being left behind. Moreover, corporate culture in Malaysia inclines to protecting the interests of employers rather than employees. In order not to burden the employers, all parental or family-related leaves are considered as personal leave; there’s no consensus reached amongst many different industries and fields on the definition of paternity leave, needless to say providing parental leave or other benefits for their male workers.
(2) Daycare Centres/Nursery
Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching has recently been awarded with a newborn baby; the overwhelming joy of becoming a mother is however overhauled by the concern of the issue of breastfeeding after getting back to her workplace. Hence, she learnt from the Italian member of the European Parliament Licia Ronzulli – who brought her 44-day old daughter to work two years ago – by bringing her four-month old daughter Jinger Gan to Parliament, highlighting that both the public and private sector have neglected working mothers by not providing daycare facilities. Teo, accompanied by her colleague Nurul Izzah Anwar, MP of Lembah Pantai, are calling for both state and federal government to set a good example by setting up childcare centre fully equipped with a crèche, to accommodate nursing mothers.
Since 1994, the government has been given tax incentives, as well as rebate for the cost setting up nurseries in workplace to encourage private enterprises setting up childcare centre. As the years passed by, there were only 71 and 20 creches provided by the government agencies and the private sector respectively.
According to the latest statistics of the National Development Council, there are 1322 registered nurseries, which are mainly privately operated, accounting for 91.2 percent; only 96 or 7.3 percent of nursery have been set up in workplace, while the remaining 1.4 percent is community nursery. Besides, there are roughly 7000 unregistered nurseries in Malaysia. As the government tightens rules for foreign maids, many families could no longer afford to hire foreign maid, and thus the number of nursery is expected to reach a crescendo.
As a response to the parents, particularly to meet the demands of care-givers, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in the 2013 Budget that the government is going to facilitate and expedite the registration of nurseries, to provide tax-free incentives and grants for setting up new nurseries, as well as tax exemption on allowances or subsidies for childcare. However, the announcement has yet to ripple and sparkle amongst mothers and employers.
The Executive Director of Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), Shamsuddin Bardan pointed out that the core reason why tax-free incentives failed to attract enterprises to set up nurseries is because the cost for establishment and operation of nursery is truly not worth a red cent.
By simplifying and expediting the registration procedures of nurseries and superficially believe that the setting up of nurseries can all at once resolve the issues revolving childcare and thus holding women back in the job market have totally deviated from the core issue. Nursery is not merely a place to settle down children, it is essentially an early childhood education centre; high quality childcare and education are parents’ greatest consideration. What is the ideal age for nursery? What are the qualifications and requirements to become a childcare giver? These are amongst the most concerning aspects. If these issues remained unresolved, no matter how much incentives offered by the government can hardly persuade the parents – who love their children so much and value them above anything else – to send their children to nursery.
Take France for instance, the government stipulated that only 3-month-old baby or above can be placed in either a crèche or in the home of a childcare-giver. Assistante maternelle (also known as nanny or childcare-giver) are strictly regulated by the state and must be certified, regularly inspected and attend classes. Since 2007, French government requires childcare-givers to go through six-month review and 60 hours of vocational training course before joining the childcare industry. Furthermore, after two years of professional internship, it is mandatory for all care-givers to go through another 60 hours of comprehensive and professional training. After a total of 120 hours of vocational training, childcare-giver can be then certified as a childcare practitioner and eligible to participate in government examination, and eventually get employed.
In additional, Japan imposes strict governmental regulation upon childcare-giver as well. Apart from having related certificate, it is necessary for the childcare-givers to pass a few examinations, which including psychology and practical classes, before becoming a qualified childcare-giver. In comparison, childcare-givers in Malaysia only required to possess a minimum qualification of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). Generally, they would attend a 6-month training of early childhood curriculum organized by Social Welfare Department of Malaysia after joining this field for some period of time. The lacks of professional evaluation system and proper training course have in fact left question mark over the quality of childcare-givers. Issues of child abuse and death of infants in nurseries due to malpractices have been on the rise for the past few years and such trend is indeed alarming. Supposedly, establishment of nurseries should go hand in hand with the supervision of the quality of childcare-givers or teachers in nurseries. As a parent, there is nothing comparable to give their small ones the best care. The act of Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching bringing her 4-month-old baby to Parliament has precisely highlighted the plight and the struggle of working mothers in Malaysia.
In 2008, 28 percent of companies in the United States allow parents to bring their babies to the office. Some companies even provide private office specially catered for these parents. The company policies stated that baby less than 9-month-old can be brought to office as the baby at this age is able to crawl and move on their own. In fact, care centre has also been established by the U.S. government to bring advantages for the government officials. There are about 110 child-care centres and about 8,000 government officials benefited from this program.
KPRU believes that Malaysia is a society that adheres to collectivism and attaches utmost importance to family values. Hence, government should not disregard the role of family and its related issues, but to establish a safety net to protect the rights and benefits of women in terms of childbirth, employment or reinstatement after childbirth. Moreover, men should also be entitled to paternity leave, thereby promoting division of family labour by not letting wives perform the household chores and childcare activities alone. All in all, Malaysian government should never ever be complacent and proclaim that the government has already provided an equal space for women and thus no women’s agenda is needed.
(3) Community Daycare Centre for the Senior Citizen
Children or baby are not the only member to be taken care of in a family, nor are they the only impediment to women career advancement. Apart from children who have limited capacity to act independently without the assistance of adults, Alzheimer’s sufferers and family members with disability are, too, likely to become the factors that force women to stay at home. In fact, taking care of the elderly can take a serious toll on family life and disturb the routine of the entire household.
Data collected in 2011 shows that Malaysia has 2.1 million elderly people, occupy a 7.3 percent of the overall population, and is expected to increase to 3.2 million in 2020. As mentioned earlier, Malaysian society put great emphasis on family values; sending the elderly people to old folks home or adult daycare centres might not be widely accepted as compared to western society. Filial piety is constantly advocated as one of the humanistic ethics and noble values within society that should be adhered to. Therefore, in addition to the establishment and development of childcare centres or related policies, government should take the initiative to approach private sectors by providing incentives for them, to encourage them setting up well-equipped and affordable community daycare centres for elderly people. Such approaches can at least take a burden off the women’s shoulder, and thus allowing them to return to the workforce and contribute to the growth of women’s labor force participation rate.
Daycare centres for senior citizen have been commonly implemented in many progressive and developed countries. On one hand, it provides a platform for the families who have no time to take care of the elderly people during the day, while on the other hand encouraging interaction between old people within the community and promoting wellbeing through social and health related services.
There are three types of daycare centre for the elderly citizens in Hong Kong, which are under the regulation of Social Welfare Department: full-time daycare service, part-time daycare service and lastly, respite service. The services provided consist of medical advices, health talks, shuttle services, social and recreational activities and so forth. Family members can send the senior citizens to daycare centre in the morning and pick them up after work at night. While keeping them occupied with social activities during the day with assistance and cares from daycare centres, elderly people can go back to their family and maintain close ties with their children and grandchildren. Furthermore, respite service provides accommodation and cares for the elderly people, in case their family members need to take a few days leave for business trip and cannot take care of them personally.
Taiwan implements a very similar daycare service system to Hong Kong. The services and facilities are designed to provide convenience for community residents during the day, there is also respite care offered to the elderly people. To be precise, daycare centres can be further subdivided into three types by differentiating the provision of services:
– Social type: Social daycare centres feature various activity programs, including social, recreational and educational activities, alongside with providing catering, dietary management services and others.
– Medical type: Medical daycare centres focus on providing personal and medical care, as well as physical and occupational therapy services.
– Mixed: This kind of daycare centres provide all the general services listed above.
Most of the daycare centres for elderly in Taiwan are social-based; the service hours varied from the characteristic of each operating centre and also based on the needs and demands of elderly people. Generally, some operates during the normal working hours while some only open for a specific period. In addition, some daycare centres would hire volunteers to visit the senior citizens in the community or giving them a call to show care and concern for them.
On the contrary, Malaysian government shows little effort in putting forward comprehensive policy regarding elderly care. The so-called “policy for the elderly” to benefit senior citizens, which particularly been highlighted in Budget 2012 and 2013, are again, discounts – discount for the processing fee of passport, waiving public transportation fees for elderly citizens and no registration fees charged in public hospitals and clinic. By rights, elderly care should not be a financial burden; affordable and high quality elderly care should be easily accessible within the community. Unfortunately, privately operated daycare centres for the elderly people in our country are often too expensive to bring forward convenience and benefits for middle-income or lower-middle income families.
(4) Promoting Working from Home
The emergence of internet and technological advancement has brought forward tremendous change to the traditional work pattern. The revealing of new working pattern – working from home, which also known as homeworking, telecommuting or teleworking – is believed to be more conducive in encouraging more women re-entering the workforce, at the same time reducing the conflict between work and family.
Malaysia is not a crowded place compared to other Asia countries like Japan or Singapore. Nonetheless, metropolitan area in Malaysia, particularly, has the country’s highest rate of congestion. The heavy traffic and congested roads, which largely due to the policy failures, has definitely intertwined with one’s routine, inseparably. Such circumstance presents more than a headache for commuters; it is truly a waste of time, killing off one’s family times. Homeworking, by contrast, can reduce commuting time; consequently saving energy, reducing air pollution and promoting other environmental benefits, increasing productivity and efficiency – on the whole, improving quality of life. Essentially, working parents can have longer time to spend with their family.
In April 2003, the United Kingdom’s Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young and disabled children to apply to work flexibly. And in April 2007, this right was extended to cover carers of adults. This provision has then created an environment for homeworking, whereby employees can spend a proportion of their working week working from home. According to the survey of the British labor force, there are about 2.2 million of employees have adopted the model of homeworking at least once a week at the moment, accounting for 7.4 percent of the total labor force, in which private enterprises occupy the majority 74 percent while the government agencies account for 26 percent. Such working flexibility appears to be a rising trend as new form of employment.
There are certain conditions to be met if an employee is request for flexible working under the statutory provision in UK. The applicant must be an employee with a contract of employment, have a child under seventeen or a disabled child under 18, have worked for their employer for 26 weeks continuously at the date that the application is made. Germany, on the other hand, is more lenient at the request for flexible working:
– Besides working from home, the applicant is required to go to workplace at a fixed time to keep in touch with their department or colleagues.
– The applicant must have worked for the employer for more than 1 year, served for their position for more than six months, worked 19 hours or above a week, able to work independently and reliable. When the above requirements are met, employers may take into account of their needs and caring responsibilities.
Ministry of Human Resources in Malaysia has introduced and established “work-at-home” program in 2008 to assist single mothers, physically-challenged people, housewives and poor families to earn extra income from home, basically through incorporating small domestic enterprise such as manufacturing handicrafts and others. Nevertheless, this is inherently different from the UK or Germany’s flexible working model as the latter are fully employed, in which benefits and protection have been guaranteed to them, whilst the former is self-employed without fixed income and employee welfares.
In 2010, the Ministry of Public Works has carried out its pioneer program to allow some of its 39 staffs working under three categories in the ministry – draughtsmen, technicians and assistant quantity surveyors – to work from home for three months. Under this program, staffs only required to go to their workplace once a week. “This program is found to be a success as it has helped to increase productivity rate by up to 85%,” quoted Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor. In addition, 36 high-performance internal officials from Attorney General’s Chambers have been selected to participate in the program of homeworking as well. Despite of the positive responses from some government departments, Malaysian federal government shows little willingness and determination in pushing forward this initiative into another stage.
Studies and analysis have found that the advantages of homeworking outweigh its drawbacks. Flexible working is not only a vital element to allowing women to manage both their work and caring responsibilities effectively, it also helps to encourage men to participate in family care, all together providing disabled people a friendly working environment. When the labor force participation rate is increased, a country’s productivity might be growing as well.
However, it should be noted that not all types of works are suitable to be carried out at home. The work within the general scope of writing, researching, data processing and analysis, which do not require heavy equipment or complicated system upon completion, can be carried out at home. Whereas, the works which required face-to-face contact with customers, or involving complicated equipments, confidential and sensitive data, just to name a few, are of course not suitable to bring back to one’s home.
In order to make an equal employment available, Malaysia government should first amend the related policy and legislation, and set this as the primary goal. After all, a mere 46 percent of women workforce can hardly make Malaysia’s vision of becoming a high-income country in the next eight years to come to a realization. How to prompt selfless mothers to return to workforce in order to spur transformation of national economy has become the most critical task of the new government.
Time has changed but the evolution of human civilization has yet to dismiss the role of women being a care-giver and mother, although women are allowed to seek for self-achievement and to excel in their respective career. Worse still, bias-based policy has not yet to be alleviated and very often causing women to give up on the options available outside of family. In KPRU’s view, if Malaysian government intended to liberate the other half of the potential labor force of this nation and to advocate women’s employment, thereby enabling our country to take its path towards high-income country, government should really put great emphasis and pay serious attention to the development and implementation of policy that benefits women, such as providing parental leaves, including maternity and paternity leave, supervising and regulating nursery, promoting homeworking and so forth.
Family is the basis of the society. Government should thus stressing on the cruciality and placing importance on resolving family-related matters by establishing a social safety net to support care-givers and women, acting as an auxiliary to empower them. Furthermore, traditional concept of women should be altered, together with the disposal of stereotypical and bias-based policy, and developing policy that is conducive for women’s employment.
KPRU suggests that the government should put aside if not annihilate gender stereotypes when come to formulating policies. The most direct and quickest way to show its sincerity and determination in giving voice to women is by strictly enforcing measures to increase women’s participation in national-level parliaments to the targeted 30 percent, let it be women MPs or women ministers. Let their voice be heard in the parliament, in a democractic government’s legislature. Last but not least, respect for individual choice. Provide them the space to pursue their dream freely, and altogether enabling men who choose to stay at home taking care of their family can be free from any form of discrimination, thereby enjoying their role of being a care-giver.
 Life Inc, Google’s Formula To Retain Women: Longer Maternity Leave, 24 Ogos 2012, http://lifeinc.today.com/_news/2012/08/24/13439661-googles-formula-to-retain-women-longer-maternity-leave#comments
 UNDP, Raising Women’s Employment Rates To 70% Could Increase Malaysia’s GDP By 2-4 % Annually: UNDP, 15 April 2010,
 US General Services Administration, Child Care Overview,