APRIL 29 — In the past week, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) once again raised the issue of how wives joining the workforce would neglect families.
For those who may not know, our labour figures show that 52 per cent of Malaysian women are participating in our workforce these days, with further encouragement by government agencies to increase that number further.
That being said, Isma’s argument is from the rationale that there needs to be someone to care for the family, particularly children require a mother to raise them.
This isn’t the first time they have raised this point and so, we could say their stance has been secure — as is my personal stance. And since the head of Isma’s women’s wing is in fact the daughter of economists, I am certain she understands the argument against women taking a passive role in economics.
It is a valid point to say that someone has to care for the kids, but to say that families need to single out moms as homemaker is wrong, particularly in current day realities where we have single parent families and are stuck in what Massachusetts junior senator Elizabeth Warren has explained as the “two-income trap”.
For the unfamiliar, Warren’s book details how the market was affected with women joining the workforce, thus the prices of assets increased to the point of normalising the need for two breadwinners for each family.
And in Malaysia, the economics of this argument rings true when you have official household incomes averaging more than RM6,000 and yet official wage figures averaging a lot less than that.
In simpler terms, our current economy — household income versus the cost of living — does not make it viable for a single income family to live a prosperous, less challenging life.
Of course, it is a worthy goal to aim for, no less, to have someone as a full-time homemaker, but it also raises multiple questions. For one, I would contend why the government would have to issue out scholarships and student loans to women who refuse to join the workforce since it would be counterproductive.
Unless, of course, Isma advocates wives to then start up cottage industries or micro-businesses for a secondary income stream instead of just depending on husbands to become sole breadwinners.
For myself personally, I believe both genders should be given the same consideration when it comes to parenting responsibilities. If the moms so chooses to join the workforce on flexible hours, then the fathers should receive the same.
Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with giving both parents paternity leave to learn how to care for a newborn.
This is the evolution of society itself these days in which there is no gender stereotyping of who can raise a child and take on the role of homemaker better. We have moved on from the concept of women knowing how to cook and clean while men go out and know how to earn money.
In fact I would contend that even in the history of the state of Kelantan and perhaps Negri Sembilan, for ages those roles were reversed.
But at the same time, if there are those with the belief that they should become dedicated homemakers, that is alright for them to do so as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else. That is basically liberalism — allowing such a choice.
Having been raised in a family where at times there was only a single income stream in the 1990s, even then it was not as easy as it sounds and sacrifices had to be made. And honestly I believe it will be tougher for this current new generation of families who have seen wages not tying up with the cost of living.
That being said, I wouldn’t advocate it in our country for a simple reason — women tend to be more level headed in Malaysia compared to men. We have a higher number of women entering and graduating from tertiary education, proving they’ve outperformed men from an intellectual standpoint.
I would like to see them fight for equal wages, breaking glass ceilings in the corporate world and still having the ability to multitask raising a family while still earning an income worthy of their contributions.
I have seen such women in action with awe, thriving in whatever they choose to do. And it is my personal belief that we need these individuals to lead us into the future back into prosperity.
And while Isma believes that there is no greater calling for married women than to become homemakers, I humbly disagree by believing women and men should have equal opportunities to prove they can be more than their gender stereotypes.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.