KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — Women who were previously coping well on their own are now the new face of poverty in Selangor as their income levels and ability to care for their families have been hard hit by the movement control order (MCO) and the Covid-19 outbreak, Selangor-based think tank Institut Wanita Berdaya Selangor, or Selangor Women’s Empowerment Institute (IWB), has said.
IWB arrived at this conclusion based on its recent survey of women living in Selangor and how the MCO had impacted their lives and livelihood, further saying that cash needs to be distributed directly to them to help them cope.
“In the context of Selangor, as per the findings of this study, women are the most affected group due to the MCO and they are a group that before this were able to care for their family without any assistance, but after the MCO was implemented, they face difficulties and loss of income source or business.
“The state government should be ready to translate the existence of this ‘new face of poverty’ by drafting policies targeted towards this new group,” the think tank said in the findings of its survey released yesterday.
How has the MCO affected women in Selangor financially?
According to the online survey of 442 women in Selangor from March 24 to March 28 which was during the first round of the MCO, IWB said 84 per cent, or the majority of its respondents, are in the B40 or low-income household category earning less than RM6,275 per month, including 40 per cent earning between RM989 to RM3,000 each month and also 16 per cent below the poverty line of RM989 each month.
Out of the 442 women polled, 26 per cent rely partly on daily wages such as baking biscuits, catering services, doing work that can be done from home such as folding boxes, sewing, washing clothes, transport services for children to and from school.
IWB noted that 31 per cent of women polled were students and housewives, while the remaining 69 per cent reported their occupational status including those who now work from home during the MCO at 31 per cent, 11 per cent who were put on unpaid leave, 9 per cent who were forced to close their business and 1 per cent who had their job contracts terminated due to the MCO.
IWB said that 25 per cent of the women polled experienced income loss, further noting that this occurred more frequently for women with bigger families, or women with lower monthly household income and that partly rely on daily wages or women breadwinners.
But women from the M40 or middle-income category in the survey were also affected financially by the MCO, with 7 per cent of them given unpaid leave or forced to close their businesses, while 12 per cent lost their source of household income, the think tank said.
Cash to the needy, even M40 women
As part of its six policy recommendations, IWB proposed that cash be distributed specifically and in a targeted manner to marginalised groups such as single mothers and those with big households.
Pointing out that women are not a homogeneous group and poverty comes in different forms across a wide range of spectrum, IWB said there was a need to identify the most-affected groups and provide specific aid, in order to avoid women with different needs from falling into poverty.
“For example, working women in the M40 income group and with a high number of household members (some have disabled family members) may have experienced job loss or business closure due to Covid-19 and now they are among susceptible groups,” the think tank said.
Optimistic of bouncing back after MCO, worried about money now
IWB said the survey results showed the majority of women polled were generally optimistic of recovering financially after the MCO period, but noted that many were worried about their financial readiness if the MCO period was extended.
When asked to rate their optimism levels in a range of zero to 10, half of the women polled gave a score of eight or more, including 29 per cent that reported being very optimistic about being able to handle the MCO or with a maximum score of 10.
But IWB said more than half or 55 per cent of those polled did not feel confident that they were prepared financially if the MCO was extended, with 33 per cent feeling neutral, while only 12 per cent felt confident. Single mothers and those who partly rely on daily wages felt less confident, while women in higher income households felt more financially ready.
(At the time of the March survey, it was the second week of the MCO. The government has since announced three further extensions to the MCO, with the latest extension to end May 12.)
As for the level of savings if the MCO was extended, 62 per cent of the women who responded to the survey in March said they only had enough to last for a maximum of four weeks, while 9 per cent said their savings could last more than six months.
Most of the women respondents in the M40 group said their savings can last for one to three months, IWB said in its findings.
The survey also found that 25 per cent of women polled used credit cards, 20 per cent could apply for personal loans, 9 per cent could apply for loans with their assets as collateral, while three out of five women had no access to any of these three types of financial services.
The survey also found that 14 of the women respondents said either they or the head of the household had previously borrowed money from loan sharks, with IWB saying that this was worrying despite them forming a small percentage of those polled as it carries risks to women’s financial capability in the long term.
Majority want training for e-commerce, but internet access lacking
When asked what form of training they wanted to reduce the economic impact of the MCO, 41 per cent of the women in the survey said they wanted training for digital business opportunities, while 24 per cent said they did not need training, with the rest seeking training for basic skills (16 per cent), training to obtain job opportunities (12 per cent), counselling (5 per cent) and others (2 per cent).
The majority or 53 per cent of the women polled said they did not have a Wi-Fi connection at home, with 93 per cent of those lacking such internet access from B40 households while 6.4 per cent were from M40 households.
IWB noted that the lack of Wi-Fi access could hamper women’s ability to increase their network and promote their businesses through popular social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook.
How Selangor women can also be assisted
Other than advocating direct cash aid to women, IWB recommended measures for economic security for women, including incentives for women in the B40 group to have stable internet access in order to venture into online businesses, while also providing recovery measures to support small and medium businesses owned by women affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
IWB also suggested that efforts be made to increase women’s access to financial services that go beyond having a bank account, including by giving access to credit for female entrepreneurs such as tools to manage cash flow and credit card for online purchases.
Suggesting for enhanced financial literacy among women, IWB also said banks should provide more comprehensive offers to all forms of businesses — including small and micro businesses that are more often operated by women.