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Startling Gender Pay Gap And Citizenship Discrimination Hinder Women And Girls — MWGF Secretariat

Malaysian women must be assured of their rights as equal citizens and human beings, with equal rights to opportunity, wellbeing, and dignity. 

A woman office worker. Picture by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay.

On December 16, 2023, MWGF: The Review aired for the very first time on Astro Awani.

Featuring exclusive interviews with Nancy Shukri, Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Ramkarpal Singh, former Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), academicians and civil society representatives, it set out to assess Malaysia’s progress since the pandemic in advancing the rights of its women and girls. 

The show was divided into a series of boardroom-style interviews with guest panellists covering three main areas of discussion, namely the Economic Empowerment of Women, Legislating Gender Equality, and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), Gender Norms, and Awareness.

Its main objective was to examine progressive policy actions taken since the first annual Malaysia Women and Girls Forum was launched in 2020, while also highlighting existing economic, social, and legal gaps that continue to keep Malaysian women and girls from achieving their full potential. 

As highlighted by the guest speakers, over the last three years, Malaysia has indeed taken several positive steps towards the empowerment of women, including the introduction of landmark legislation such as the Anti Sexual Harassment Law and the Anti-Stalking Bill, the long-awaited introduction of seven-day paternity leave in Peninsular Malaysia, and the steady efforts of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development across the past year via anti sexual harassment roadshows in multiple states around Malaysia.  

DOSM 2023: Alarming 33 Per Cent Increase in Gender Pay Gap 

However, on December 13, 2023, just days after the production of MWGF: The Review concluded, the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) released shocking statistics that require a full re-evaluation of our understanding of the economic equity of women in Malaysia.   

DOSM reported that in 2022, women on average made a total income of only RM42,080, compared to men at RM63,117.

In other words, for every RM100 in salaries and wages received by men, women only received RM66.67.

This means in 2022, women on average made 33.33 per cent less than men per year. This is a whole third less than men — an appallingly large Gender Pay Gap (GPG) 

This is also a significant leap in figures from the year before. 

In 2021, DOSM recorded that for every RM100 of salaries and wages received by men, women received RM96.21 – about 3.79 per cent less than men, close to parity. Pre-pandemic, for every RM100 a man made in 2019, a woman would make RM94.07, or roughly 5.93 per cent less.

Why is there such a large jump in the GPG in 2022? Has there been a methodological change in the calculation of wages?

And if so, does this mean that all this time, Malaysia’s GPG has been far more severe than originally thought?

Our data forms the very basis for informed policy action. How can we make meaningful progress in addressing economic equity, and by extension, gender equality, if our metrics of measurement fluctuate so drastically? 

The United Nations estimates the GPG to be about 20 per cent globally, and with Malaysia’s latest GPG standing at 33 per cent, this should set off alarm bells.

The government has expressed their commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, but our startlingly high GPG could be a huge setback. 

We must prioritise closing this gap, and urgently. Unequal access to economic power leads to unequal access to resources and opportunities for women, thus limiting their agency and potential.

Wage inequality also contributes to lower savings and EPF contributions for women, exacerbating female poverty in old age. Without equal economic opportunity, there can be no gender equality. 

Immediate Solutions Towards Bridging The Gender Pay Gap Towards Achieving Gender Equality

What can we do to address this? We can look at New Zealand, for example, currently in the process of introducing a mandatory pay gap reporting system to reduce wage gaps affecting women and indigenous groups in particular.

In the United States, the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 60 years ago led to a 40 per cent improvement in closing the wage gap. 

Additionally, we can address income inequality by ensuring the burden of Unpaid Care Work (UCW) is shared more equitably between men and women through the introduction of equal parental leave.

This can help keep women in the workforce and reduce career gaps, a major factor driving unequal pay.

As it stands, the Malaysian female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) is still only 55.8 per cent, in contrast with men at 81.9 per cent.

Targeted government support of female entrepreneurs can also help increase their incomes, and therefore, their economic agency, leading to knock on positive effects on the Malaysian economy as a whole. 

The government has set a target of increasing FLFPR to 60 per cent, and in order to achieve this, it is vital to bring together every relevant agency and ministry, guided by an economic road map and gender mainstreaming which addresses all gaps, requirements and investments essential for unlocking the economic potential of women.

This monumental undertaking for ensuring women’s economic equity cannot only be steered by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development alone. It requires equal stewardship by the Ministry of Economy.

Prioritising Equal Citizenship Rights Constitutional Amendment For Malaysia’s Women

From a legal perspective, more can be done to safeguard the rights of Malaysian women. Our nation can never truly achieve gender equality if women have to fight for rights that have already been enshrined for decades within the Constitution for Malaysian men. 

As also highlighted in MWGF: The Review, Malaysian mothers with non-Malaysian spouses should have the right to automatically confer citizenship to their Overseas Born Children (OBC), just as Malaysian men with non-Malaysian spouses have always been able to. 

It is not simply a banal legal issue, as it also puts to question whether the government of the day wants to maintain the status quo of women as second-class citizens in their own country, thus making it impossible to achieve the 2030 SDGs, not to mention negatively impacting Malaysia’s standing on the international stage when it comes to being able to comment and speak about human rights issues occurring in other countries.  

Lumping together the issue of equal citizenship for OBC of Malaysian mothers, with other law amendments that negatively affect the status of stateless children in Malaysia is bewildering. 

The way forward is clear — the government must decouple the law on equal citizenship from other amendments relating to the protection of the rights of stateless individuals, ensuring the former to pass on its own.

As for the latter, the government should take the time to properly study and assess costs and benefits on its own terms — acknowledging them as completely separate from the conversation on fundamental rights of Malaysian women. 

With the dawn of 2024, we are now just six years away from 2030 – the target year for the attainment of the SDGs.

Although significant gaps still remain, the Malaysian government has indeed demonstrated political will over the last three years in passing key laws that affect the wellbeing of women and girls.

Six years is not very long, which is why we need even more targeted and sincere investment by not only the government, but also society as a whole, in ensuring Malaysian women are equal citizens and human beings with equal rights to opportunity, wellbeing, and dignity. 

Malaysia Women and Girls Forum (MWGF) is an annual event that brings together multiple stakeholders involved in the social and economic advancement of women and girls in Malaysia. The forum identifies, engages and tracks key social, economic and legislative changes that are needed to accelerate the rights and wellbeing of Malaysian women and girls.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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