Monday, March 21, 2011

Women Participation In The Economy of Malaysia

 In Malaysia, among all sectors of the economy, the manufacturing sector has recorded the highest growth rate during the last two decades. The financial services and the government are major employers of women and women account for about 60 percent of the total labour force in these sectors. At that time, the manufacturing sector is the single largest employer of women followed by community, public, social services, trade and agriculture. Today Malaysian women have been able to move into relatively better paying opportunities in other sectors.

p/s : Sorry I didn’t manage to find the latest statistics of employment of women in various sectors. I strongly believe the percentage is increasing rapidly in community, public and social services.

Causes and Effects of the Increase of Women in the Workforce

The increase in the labour force participation rate of women in Malaysia could to a certain extent be explained by the decline in fertility rate. The decline in fertility rate could in turn be traced to the rise in the average age at marriage thus reducing the span of active reproductive life. Malaysians as a whole have been opting to marry later in life. Young male adults' age at marriage increased from 28.2 years in 1991 to 28.6 years in 2000, while for females the increase was from 24.7 years to 25.1 years over the same period. Furthermore, the proportion of never-married people aged twenty to thirty-four increased from 43.2 percent in 1991 to 48.1 percent in 2000. Among females between the ages of twenty and twenty-four, 68.5 percent were single in 2000, compared to only 60.2 percent in 1991. Similar patterns were observed for both men and women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four (Department of Statistics 2001; Tan and Jones 1990). This tendency to postpone marriage until later in life is most evident among men and women who are urban dwellers and have relatively high levels of education. This phenomenon of marrying later in life corresponds to the decline in the average number of children in Malaysian families as well. In 1974, for example, the average number of children born to a Malay and Chinese Malaysian household, respectively, was 4.2, while Indian households averaged 4.6 children. By 1988 the average had declined to 3.6 for Malays, 3 for Chinese Malaysian and 3.3 for Indian Malaysian.

The highest female labour force participation is within the age group of 20 to 24, coinciding with the end of schooling age and before the age of marriage. Hence the age of marriage together with fertility bears a relationship with female labor force participation. The increase in the female labor force participation may be attributable to improving economic incentives in employment and policies favoring the employment of women. In addition, the combined effects of improved maternal and child health care, access to family planning services, increased years of schooling, leading to a rise in the average age at marriage, have allowed women to take advantage of the increased employment opportunities. Postponement of marriage and longer intervals between children, has enabled more women of all ages to enter and remain in the workforce.

While the participation rate for the age group 15-19 years declined between 1982 and 1993, due to increased enrollments in secondary school, the other age groups of 20-24 years increased their participation. The decline in the participation rate after the age of 24 is related to marriage and the start of an active reproductive life. There are no significant additional incentives for women to re-enter the labor force at a later age, which is why there is no rise in participation among women over 40 years. However, despite the decline in the participation rate from over 60 percent of women in their early 20s, to about 30 percent for women over the age of 50, over 40 percent of women in Peninsular Malaysia remain in the workforce over the course of their reproductive lives.

Female labour force participation also seems to be related to the attitude of the family towards women.  A study of selected successful career women in Malaysia, for example, revealed that changing attitudes of parents and husbands towards a more positive trend were perceived to be related to higher educational attainment of women which in turn could influence women's participation in the labor force. The importance of the attitudinal factor is further substantiated by a study of rural women's economic participation, which found that women whose husbands have less traditional orientation towards gender roles were less burdened with domestic work. With the decrease in domestic responsibilities of women resulting from an increase in spouses sharing domestic work, women could spare more time for economic activities.

While Malaysian women have benefited from increased employment opportunities in the private sector, these have been concentrated in low skill, labour-intensive jobs requiring little job training or previous experience and, consequently, they are the most vulnerable to fluctuations in demand. As a result, they have the least bargaining power which results in wage discrimination in the private sector. In fact, America is also facing the same problem of gender discrimination in terms of position and wage. Other reasons associated with gender discrimination in employment are the nature of women which can be barriers in profession (temporary withdrawal for giving birth, emotional, etc) and underestimation to their capability.

In order to protect women against gender based on disadvantage in the context of the economic crisis, it is important to provide support for skills development for retrenched women workers, skills improvement for low level women workers, entrepreneurship development and access to labour market information. To maintain Malaysia's competitive edge, there is a need to reduce its dependence on foreign labor and promote gender equity policies in order to: 
•  assist re-entry of women who have taken time off for childcare (e.g., skills upgrading or retraining programs, access to child care, and flexible work hours); 
•  ensure equal pay for equal work;  
•  encourage young women to select studies leading to higher-skilled and better-waged
jobs through vocational counseling; and provide management training for women at
supervisory levels.

Personal Point of View

Now that I have been sharing this article edited from a few sources, I come to think that women participation in economy, in general, has its own pros and cons. From Islamic perspective, creating an ideal worklife is to have the husband and wife to work together (can’t find solid quotation from any figures but the theory do exist). However, obviously the reality is not going as easy as we think. Women involvement in labour force is often associated with moral issues. The failure to balance their career and personal life and to obey the decent work ethics cause instability in marriage, consequently may explain the rising divorce rate, although it can be the same mistakes for husbands. The collapse of family structure is certainly a major issue in the future, as it affects the development of human capital. In conclusion, women cannot run away from their original roles of managing the family life.

However, if women work for self satisfaction from their achievement through promotion and increase in wage (the feeling of rewarded), there is no doubt that they should be allowed to participate in labour force actively. Every individual should be treated fairly equal regardless  of what gender they belong to. They stay at home,and  they might get nothing from the husbands, even a small compliment for keeping the house clean and manicured. Lack of confidence, the feeling of not contributing and dependancy are some explaination for them to seek for jobs.

However, the most important thing here is women do actually contribute to the economy growth. So we should encourage women not only to earn their own incomes, but to think independently and free themselves from lame perception. They can actually contribute in many wider aspects beside offering their labour skills, for example in academical and management sector. 

Hasanah Mahmud
Cambridge A-Level
Kolej Yayasan UEM

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