The Silent Scream of Malaysian Working Women Encountering COVID-19 Lockdown

24/09/2021 09:01 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.

By Nur Lalua Rashidah Mohd Rahsiad

With the recent upshot, it is about time for the concern of working women to be discussed out loud. Enough of falling silent and being ignorant, women, especially in Malaysia, need to get their voice heard. The epidemic for the last 18 months has witnessed huge transformation in everyone’s life around the world. This new norm has affected all the people significantly regardless of young or elderly, rich or poor, single or married and man or woman.

Little attention has been paid to working women, let alone Malaysian working women. The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum narrated on mass disparity in the workplace which contributes to distress for Asia’s driving economies. The comparative gaps between Asian women and men on measures of economy, education and politics have not been restored fairly. The global labour force participation rate for women is close to 49 per cent compared to 75 per cent for men. In Malaysia, the gender gap in labour force participation rates is 27 points with the country placed at position 104 out of the 153 nations screened in 2020.

Oxfam International reported that 64 million jobs were lost by women globally in 2020, contributing to a five per cent loss compared to a 3.9 per cent loss for men. This cost women at least US$800 billion lost in income and the quantity of employed women dropped by 2.5 per cent, which is five times greater than the decline in employed men in Malaysia. Women accounted for 39 per cent of all employed workers in Malaysia. However, the down drift made up nearly two thirds of the total employment declines and the rate continued even as men's employment began to recover during the third quarter in 2020.

The silent killer

The main obstacles for this informal economy shrinks was identified as the absence of affordable care for children. Based on a World Bank report in 2018, sixty per cent of Malaysian women who did not partake in the workforce cited housewifery as the main reason. The epidemic only worsened the situation. As schools stayed sealed since the movement control order, many women had to bear additional domestic work on top of their professional responsibilities. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, the first quarter of 2020 witnessed a noteworthy number of persons leaving the workforce and justified “housework/family” as the primary roots.

As the world forced travel controls to comprehend the spread of COVID-19, some industries with a high proportion of female employees such as retail, hospitality and tourism have put women in a vulnerable position. In Malaysia, women also tended to be paid less and assigned to work in lower skilled positions. They were already performing many hours of unpaid care and domestic work even before the epidemic started. A study by Khazanah Research Institute discovered that women put in an average of 1.4 hours more unpaid homemaking work each day compared to men. This crisis recurrently forces women to give up their job as they wrestle to manage between work and home duties.

Based on the 2020 Women in the Workplace Study, women are feeling more shattered, burned out, and under pressure than men. In Malaysia, the National Health and Morbidity Survey found 16 per cent of informal caregivers reporting elevated stress levels. With secondary healthcare services disrupted by the pandemic, it will be harder for women with additional care burdens to seek psychosocial support.

Reaching out

Considering the degree that COVID-19 affects women and men differently will provide the chance to reflect the realities faced by women in Malaysia and take the next measure to minimise the issue. Organisations and firms should foster a philosophy that supports and values diversity. Policies should be designed in a way that explains for the unpaid care work affects women. Certain actions such as flexible work arrangements and return to work policies can create smoother transactions for women who have been out of the workforce. This can encourage and facilitate the return of caregivers who leave during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A special role should be played by a right authority to initiating mentorship initiatives among the minorities. For example, the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development can assist on proposing training and development programmes for women to feel empowered and more confident in the workforce. Other societies or non-profit organisations also can contribute to support this silent killer issue.

In Malaysia, we have associations such as LeadWomen, National Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Malaysia (NAWEM) and Institute for the Empowerment of Women (NIEW), while a few more were established to provide coaching for women and aim to increase women representation in senior leadership and on the boards of corporate Malaysia. In today’s corporate world, taking a lead in gender diversity is indeed a strategic decision to ensure a tangible competitive edge, especially when Malaysia is targeting to be a high-income economy in 2024.


Nur Lalua Rashidah Mohd Rahsiad is a PhD in Finance candidate at Putra Business School, UPM, Serdang, Selangor. She is the co-founder of LARSFY Social Finance Network designed to focus on Literacy in Finance and Ecosystem (LiFE), Sustainable Finance and Investment Alliances (SFIA) and Halal Economics Research Studies (HERS).

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)