LET’S TALK WOMEN EMPOWERMENT: WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Each year on 8th of March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. In fact, in most parts of the world, the celebration and recognition of women, the progress we’ve made, the achievements of successful women from various fields are applauded, shared and put forth to inspire and empower others. Is one day, or rather, one month enough of our empowerment effort?
NO TIME TO PAUSE
In 2023, gender inequality is still a problem that affects women all over the world, and Malaysia is no exception. At Kiddocare, we understand the unique challenges that women face at every stage of their lives. From infancy to adulthood, societal expectations, gender biases, and discrimination can impact a woman’s access to healthcare, education, and opportunities. As a tech company that aims to help families, we see firsthand the impact of these challenges on families and communities. This article aims to shed light on the different challenges women face throughout their lives, and the importance of creating a supportive and equitable environment for women and their families. By empowering women, we can create a better future for all, where every woman has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY EMPOWERING WOMEN?
Empowering women does not mean weakening the status of men- it simply means giving women the tools, resources, and opportunities they need to achieve their full potential and to make choices that are best for them, even from young. It means breaking down the barriers that prevent women from accessing education, employment, and political participation. It also means challenging cultural norms that perpetuate gender stereotypes and limit women’s aspirations and opportunities.
From young, cultural norms are deeply ingrained and often perpetuate gender inequality. The belief that women belong in the kitchen, and not in a workplace is a prevalent mindset in many societies, including Malaysia, and when girls grow up hearing it too often, they tend to believe it.
Numerous studies have examined the impact of gender stereotypes on women’s career aspirations and opportunities. Being exposed to gender stereotypes can actually limit women’s confidence and aspirations, leading them to believe that certain careers are not suitable for them. In a study conducted by the University of California, it was found that women were less likely to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields due to societal gender stereotypes. Malaysia, like many other countries, faces a skills gap in STEM fields. Hence, by encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers, it can help address this gap, by increasing the pool of qualified workers and overall boosting the economy.
That is why combating harmful gender stereotypes through education, policies, and positive role models is essential to promote gender equality and empower women to reach their full potential.
LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION
Even when girls do manage to push through the barrier of cultural norms and pursue their studies, yet another challenge awaits as the workforce is actually the most prevalent area of gender inequality. Women face multiple barriers to employment, including unconscious bias, gender stereotyping, and discrimination.
According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, in 2022, women make up only 38% per cent of the labor force which is one of the lowest in South East Asia, despite 51.9% of university graduates in Malaysia being female. Why is this so? We would expect that women once graduating from universities would proceed to participate and remain in the labor force but such is not the case.
Women are more often than not, the ones who have to stay at home and take over the role of caring for their children and elderly, of which this situation has only worsened since the Covid-19. Interestingly enough, the reason why child-bearing responsibilities mostly fall on the mother is because of the lack of supportive workplace policies for fathers. Fathers have only a mere 7 days of paternity leave (and that is if they have worked in the same company for 12 months), so mothers have no choice but to bear the majority of the burden to care for their children. One way to empower women is to equally provide the same to fathers, so they can equally share the burden of child caring.
When women have to take more time off work to care for their children, disrupting their career advancement, it shows. In a report by the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development, women held only 14.8% of top management positions in the private sector in 2019. This is a loss to employers, because if women have equal representation in decision-making processes, it can actually lead to more diverse perspectives, more inclusive policies, and better governance.
At the end of it, there will still be the question, why do women not participating in the labor force matters so much? Why should we care? Firstly, Malaysia could potentially be losing a 26% GDP growth if women do not participate in the labor force. And secondly, although not working seems like a luxury that not many can afford and seems like a pretty good life to live, but is staying at home, quitting work, really a choice that women get to decide on their own because they want to, or is it a sacrifice that they had to make, because there is no other option?
While we may wonder why only few females remain in the workforce, perhaps this is the way to begin. By understanding the root cause, and improving the overall ecosystem. Empowering women is crucial in addressing gender inequality in Malaysia and beyond. By promoting improving women’s participation in the workforce, and challenging cultural norms, we can create a society that is more equitable and just for all. We all have a role to play in achieving this vision, whether as individuals, communities, corporations or governments. Let us work together to build a brighter future for women and for all.