Imperative to narrow the gender gap in Malaysia.
Nurul Izzah Anwar (Co-Head, Secretariat for the Advisory Committee to the Finance Minister) shared a fireside chat on the ‘Madani Economy’ with YB Senator Tengku Datuk Seri Utama Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz (Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry) and Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi (Economist and Committee Member of the Advisory Committee to the Finance Ministry) at the Khazanah Megatrends Forum this week.
The ‘Madani Economy’ is a concept coined by the Unity Government aimed at ensuring a comprehensive restructuring of the Malaysian economy to make Malaysia a leading economic powerhouse in Asia, through several important transformations, such as having a revitalised industrial sector through the National Industrial Master Plan 2030. The Framework also seeks to elevate the dignity and status of the rakyat equitably by ‘raising the ceiling’ whilst ensuring a strong foundation and ‘reinforcing the floor’ through a comprehensive social safety net.
During the panel, Nurul Izzah reiterated that for Malaysia to achieve these aspirations, it is imperative to narrow the gender gap in the country. She highlighted that the journey towards bridging the gender divide is still a long one in Malaysia. Despite the high number of female enrolments in universities, female graduates make up more than half of the unemployed (54.2%) compared to their male counterparts (45.8%).
She noted, however, that the current administration is sparing no effort to reduce this gap. For example, under the Ekonomi MADANI framework launched by the Prime Minister, the Government plans to increase the female labour force participation rate to 60%, making it more comparable with regional countries.
A key aspect of gender equality is facilitating the return of women to work after childbirth. In Budget 2023, the government allocated RM290 million in grants, equal to 80% of SOCSO contributors’ salaries. This is estimated to benefit over 130,000 women returning to work after childbirth.
The provision of childcare facilities at the workplace is also an important initiative to enable women to return to the workforce. Nurul Izzah commended the Selangor and Penang state governments for initiating childcare facility programmes and also highlighted that the government has provided a grant scheme for the private sector to set up childcare centres at work premises to support women returning to work.
The Government has also announced plans to streamline the registration process and expand the childcare centre and nursery whitelisting programme nationwide with an allocation of RM10 million.
In terms of the informal sector, Nurul Izzah acknowledged that there is insufficient data on gender labour participation. However, studies have shown that women form the majority of workers in the informal sector both locally and globally. The government is working hard to ensure more accurate and comprehensive data collection as even current databases, whilst robust and form a good start – such as recipients of the Sumbangan Tunai Rahmah programme, do not accurately portray the true picture of the informal sector, despite drawing data from over 30 Ministries and agencies.
On that note, Nurul Izzah welcomed the recently launched Malaysian Official Open Data Portal (https://data.gov.my/) which has made great strides in making available key data to Malaysians. Whilst a good start, more needs to be done to collect inclusive data covering the informal sector.
Nurul Izzah also encouraged the private sector and the community at large to take advantage of the various government schemes and programmes and follow suit in the joint effort to narrow the gender gap in the workplace. Equality of gender at the workplace – and beyond – is essential to building a more productive and developed nation based on the principles of ‘Madani’.