Equality for women is progress for all

by Teo Nie Ching

The official United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2014 is “Equality for women is progress for all.”

Gender equality is not solely a women’s issues and gender inequality will lead to social inequality. Gender equality matters for Malaysia’s development because the “absent women” represent a skills and brain “drain” from the Malaysian workforce.

Currenly, women’s gross enrollment ratio in tertiary education is 45.4% while the gross enrollment ratio for men is only 35.2%. Not only are Malaysian women more likely to get a post-secondary education than men, they also tend to go further in their studies. Over 50% of all women received a university degree or higher. On the other hand, half of all males graducate with a certificate or diploma level.

However, such situation has been reversed at the workplace where the labour force participation rate for men and women are 79% and 46% respectively.

In other words, a large number of highly educated women are absent in the labour market. This is undoubtedly a waste of resources. If the participation rate of women in the labour market could be increased from the existing 46% to 53.2% (same level as Indonesia), Malaysia would be expected to have an additional 576,419 women in the labour force. If the participation reate could be increased to 62.9% (same level as Singapore) or even 74.2% (same level as Canada), then there will be addinational 1,386,748 to 2,330,738 women in the labour market.

Our female labour force has been less than 50% for many years, resulting in 500,000 to 2,300,000 potential employees being absent in the labour market. The econimic loss and impact of it is identical to the outflow of 1,000,000 Malaysians to overseas.

Between 2000 and 2010, Malaysia’s average GDP growth rate was 4.6%. According to the World Bank, if we had increased the female labour from the existing 46% to 57%, then the GDP growth rate could be increased to 5%. Meanwhile, if the women’s involvement in the decision-making management and workplace are equal as men, hence the income per capita will increase by 23%.

Barisan Nasional government under the 10th Malaysian Plan houses the aspiration to increase the female employment rate to 55% by 2015. It seems like a mission impossible to achieve such goal in ten months by next year’s deadline.

The celebration of International Women’s Day recommits ourselves to embrace the empowerment of women’s rights in order to develop their potential and to eliminate poverty – equality for women is progress for all. Let us call for change and work together in the course to eradicate poverty and gender discrimination for promoting women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality.

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