Women workforce to grow 56% this year

The target could be achieved with the proposed Sexual Harassment Bill, which is on track for tabling in the March parliamentary sitting

by DASHVEENJIT KAUR/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE government is targeting a minuscule increase in women’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) this year to 56% from the current 55.8%, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (picture) said.

The target could be achieved with the proposed Sexual Harassment Bill, which is on track for tabling in the March parliamentary sitting that is pivotal to entice women to be confident enough to join and remain in the labour force.

“The proposed law, which aims to protect women’s right and dignity, will have a comprehensive definition of sexual harassment, more effective complaint and solutions mechanisms, remedial elements and penalties.

“All this will fill in the gaps in the current provisions and provide a better template in addressing procedures and protections, and most of all, ensuring that women feel safe at work,” Dr Wan Azizah said.

“Of course, we would like to have the LFPR increase as much, but we need a reality check,” she told reporters during a media briefing on International Women’s Day 2020 in Putrajaya yesterday.

She added that the LFPR is unlikely to gain traction due to the Covid-19 outbreak that has dampened the employment market.

Dr Wan Azizah, however, remains optimistic of a slight increase in the women’s LFPR.

In the 2020 budget, the government announced initiatives to promote women’s participation in the workforce.

The initiatives include the [email protected] incentives for women returning to the workforce, RM30 million for childcare facilities and a 90-day maternity leave.

These initiatives are timely and are welcomed by many, as women’s LFPR in Malaysia — at 55.8%, compared to 80.9% for men — is one of the lowest in South-East Asia.

Another key aspect of the Sexual Harassment Bill is that it add- resses sexual harassment outside the workplace, which does not fall under the category of sexual assault.

Dr Wan Azizah highlighted that the government’s ultimate target is to have 60% of women in the labour force.

According to a recent World Bank Group’s report titled “Breaking Barriers: Toward Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia”, the country’s per capita income could grow by 26.2% if all barriers to women workers were removed.

The report stated that Malaysian girls perform better than boys in school, making up 55% of graduates in higher education institutions.

“Enrolment has also increased for girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

“Girls account for 67% of students studying science and mathematics, and 40% and 34% in information and communications technology and engineering respectively,” it added.

Enabling participation of women in higher paying jobs in the labour market, World Bank said, could accelerate the country’s development goals, but challenges remain in providing women equal access to economic opportunities.

The International Women’s Day celebration will kick-start on March 1 for a period of 12 days. It would be launched by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on March 6, 2020.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry as the national leader of the National Women’s Day Celebration has organised various programmes and activities throughout this celebration date with four main focus covering 17 programmes to be held at the national, state and community levels by the agencies under the ministry.

The four focus areas, according to Dr Wan Azizah, include six seminar programmes, Women’s Non-governmental Organisations Convention 2020, RTM’s women special slot, Young Women Bootcamp, Women’s Day Special Islamic Affairs Forum 2020 and Women’s Day Special Preamble 2020.