ADUN SPEAKS | 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 percent of women in Malaysia enrolled in tertiary education institutions, compared to 21 percent of men.
We have now more women in universities and colleges with a female to male student ratio of 1.5 to 1.
Despite women getting better educated, however, Malaysia’s female labour force participation rate is only 54 percent, one of the lowest in the Southeast Asian 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 UNDP calculates that increasing the female labour participation rate in Malaysia to 70 percent would boost the country’s GDP by 2.9 percent.
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 counterintuitive, but good for businesses and the 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 is affordable, either at the workplace or near home.
Besides that, the government should incentivise companies to offer flexible working hours, effective programmes for women to return to the workforce, as well as working environments, that are friendly to pregnant women and breastfeeding 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 fulfil 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 development of Malaysia. But there are cultural and structural barriers are preventing many talented women from realising their potential.
As a society, we need to help women to thrive because when women thrive, the whole of society benefits.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, let us advocate for freedom to work for all Malaysian women.
In the words of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the world will never realise 100 percent of its goals if 50 percent of its people cannot realise their full potential.
YEO BEE YIN is the state assemblyperson for Damansara Utama, DAP national assistant publicity secretary, and DAP Wanita Selangor political education director.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.