World Bank: Removing barriers for women workforce would boost Malaysia’s economy

World Bank senior economist Achim Schmillen speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya September 27, 2019. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
World Bank senior economist Achim Schmillen speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya September 27, 2019. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 27 — Malaysia’s per capita income could grow by 26.2 per cent if all barriers to women workers are removed, according to the World Bank report Breaking Barriers: Toward Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia.

The World Bank believes that improving economic opportunities for women can be one of the key drivers for the country to fulfil its development potential.

According to World Bank senior economist Achim Schmillen, that is income gain of RM9,400 for each Malaysian.

“In this report that we launched today, we investigate barriers to women’s economic opportunities and develop policy recommendations,” said Schmillen during a press conference after the report launch.

Schmillen said as of 2018, women comprised 39 per cent of the total Malaysian labour force.

“Women’s participation in leadership positions has increased, but there is a lot of unfinished business.

“We still have this situation where the labour force participation is 55.2 per cent for women (of the overall women population) and 80.4 per cent for men (overall men population)

“We still only have 22 per cent managers who are women, and we see that overall women are struggling in terms of the protection and the productivity of their jobs,” said Schmillen.

Schmillen said these require policy pushes in five areas.

Among others, the five areas include the importance to expand the availability, quality and affordability of childcare and elderly care and to strengthen the protection of informal workers, productivity of these workers as well as business owners.

“There are a number of legal reforms that are planned including the gender equality act, sexual harassment act, the employment act and in other laws.

“We are also looking at improving the support of parents in line with international legal norms, and this would be increasing maternity leave to at least 14 weeks and to introduce paid paternity leave,” he said.

Schmillen added that, labour force participation is usually the easiest way to detect whether there is women participation in the labour market in any form.

“If we look at Asean as the relevant comparison group, 10 years ago, Malaysia was very close to the bottom with really very low participation rates, lower than almost all other Asean countries.

“Malaysia has come a long way since then. Now the country, although it is still not performing with the top group, not even with the mid-group but it has left the bottom group behind it,” he said.

He also cited countries like Thailand and Singapore, which could aspire Malaysia, as these two countries have quite high female labour force.

World Bank Malaysia country operations officer Tan Mei Ling at the launch of the World Bank report on Breaking Barriers: Toward Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia in Putrajaya September 27, 2019.
World Bank Malaysia country operations officer Tan Mei Ling at the launch of the World Bank report on Breaking Barriers: Toward Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia in Putrajaya September 27, 2019.

Commenting on the follow-up of policy recommendations, World Bank Malaysia country operations officer Tan Mei Ling, said prior consultation meetings in preparation for the report were held with the women’s, family and community development ministry and human resources ministry.

“Labour reforms as well as policy recommendations will take time to come to fruition so yes, the ministries are already actively planning as well as an inter-task force committee towards implementation of those recommendations.

“Especially the labour reforms, they are already very much in advanced stages. And the ministry has started a couple of years back,” said Tan.

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