MARCH 7 — The world will never realise 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realise their full potential. — Ban Ki Moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations
Women account for half the available talent pool of a country hence how a government empowers women to achieve their full potential will directly impact the development of the country.
This is especially true for Malaysian women as we are increasingly well educated and even better educated than men in recent years. As of 2015, 31 per cent of women in Malaysia enroll to tertiary education institutions but only 21 per cent of men did. We have now more women in the universities and colleges with a female to male student ratio of 1.5 to 1.
Despite women getting better educated, Malaysia’s female labour force participation rate is only 54 per cent and it is one of the lowest in South-east Asia region. In fact, the World Bank estimates that the number of Malaysian “absent” women — women who could be part of the labour market but aren’t — ranges between 500,000 and 2.3 million.
The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) calculates that increasing the female labour participation rate in Malaysia to 70 per cent would boost the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.9 per cent.
In addition, a study of US Fortune 500 companies by Catalyst has also shown that having three or more women as members of the board of directors correlates strongly with above-average returns on shareholder equity, sales and invested capital.
All in all, increasing women participation in the workforce is not counter-intuitive but good for businesses and economy. Hence we need to enable and empower more women in Malaysia to join the workforce. Having said that, I am not suggesting that working-age women cannot choose to be housewives. However, the freedom to work must be made available to women in Malaysia.
We need more good quality childcare, which are affordable, either at the workplace or near home. Beside that, the government should incentivise companies to offer flexible working hours, effective women returning program as well as working environment that are friendly to pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers.
On top of that, women employees should also be protected by non-discriminatory and sexual harassment laws.
With a more supportive system, more women will be able to choose to fulfill their potential in the workplace. This is the freedom to work that every Malaysian woman deserves.
I believe that we women have so much to offer to the economic development of Malaysia. But there are cultural and structural barriers are preventing many talented women from realizing their potential. As a society, we need to help women to thrive because when women thrive, the whole society benefits.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, let us advocate for freedom to work for all Malaysian women. Remember, the world will never realise 100 percent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realise their full potential.
* Yeo Bee Yin is DAP national assistant publicity secretary and political education director of DAP Wanita Selangor.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.