Malaysia 50-50 by 2030: How do we get there?

Mar 9, 2016

By Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, UN Resident Coordinator for Malaysia and UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam

This year’s International Women’s Day marks the first after UN member states ushered in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. The new agenda is based on 17 goals, including a stand-alone goal to empower women and girls and achieve gender equality (SDG 5) by 2030.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate advances in the gender landscape in Malaysia and chart a path for further progress as we look to 2030, building on current achievements.  Malaysia performed well against Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, achieving gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education by the 2015 deadline. Literacy rates, based on school attendance, for males and females are also close to 100%.

Having assumed now more ambitious gender equality targets under the SDGs and Vision 2020, it is time to step up the effort for a Malaysia 50-50, where women and girls are empowered and we put an end to all forms of discrimination against women and girls.

The Malaysia Millennium Development Goals Report 2015, a joint publication of the Government of Malaysia and the United Nations that documents Malaysia’s experience with the MDGs, outlines nine areas that must be addressed in order for Malaysia to achieve the gender equality goal:

1.    Breaking the social perceptions and presumptions of gender relations and social expectations. Societal expectations and perceptions continue to influence the behaviour of women and men, which can, in turn, impact development outcomes.  Gender-based segregation such as in education streams and occupations; disparities such as the gender wage gap and in political participation; and violence against women and girls continue to exist in Malaysia despite the progress that has been made. Breaking the perceptions and presumptions leading to such behaviour is a key challenge. Firm action must be taken to mainstream gender in all areas of development, institutions, plans and policies in line with the 11th Malaysia Plan.

2.    Better capturing of data and information. Better gender disaggregated data and information is critical for the formulation and implementation of better policies and plans. For example, gender disaggregated data is useful in planning infrastructural improvements to support women and their families in the formal and informal sectors. By understanding how women and men have different space and travel needs, we can improve mobility, accessibility to services, work and home, which in turn can have a profound impact on how people share responsibilities.

3.    Increasing female labour force participation.  The once stagnant female labour force participation rate has risen steadily within the last few years to 53.6%. As more women join the labour force, the empowerment of men to share the responsibilities of the family is important. Strategies must be adopted to challenge the prevailing assumption that women alone should shoulder the greater burden at home. Improvements such as establishing accessible, affordable and quality care services, improved transportation and mobility are necessary to provide options for both men and women to be in the workforce if they so choose.  It is time to share the care.

4.    Eliminating gender wage discrimination. Equal pay for equal work must become the norm in all areas of work and jobs.  Government has a key role in rolling  back the existing wage discriminatory practices.

5.    Increasing women in decision-making levels and social participation. Women remain hugely under-represented in the political sphere, with 11% of women in Parliament and 27% in the Senate. In the private sector, only 29.5% of board of directors in all registered companies were women; while the public sector saw 32.6% of women in top management positions. Improvement in these aspects of women’s empowerment will drive progress towards better gender balance and diversity at decision-making levels.

6.    Addressing gender-based violence. There is still an average of 3,000 rape cases and almost 4,000 domestic violence cases reported each year. And we all agree one is too many.  While Malaysia has increased the legal provisions and infrastructure to handle gender-based violence, prosecution and reporting rates are still low and must be improved. Institutions and front liners also must improve their handling of survivors.  Public education is a must, and the increasingly frequent negative portrayal of women in the media, including public shaming, especially on social media, must cease.

7.    Expanding access to legal support and justice. Rights, entitlements, assets and guardianship and other human rights are often denied to women. Women’s awareness of their legal rights and the legal support infrastructure are important factors for justice. Frameworks that enable women to access justice and exercise their rights must be expanded.

8.    Underage marriages and pregnancies have increased. The total number of married adolescent girls has increased from 1.2% of all married women to 1.4% (82, 382 adolescent girls) between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. This has multiple implications in terms of health, education, and family wellbeing. Existing reproductive health information in the school curriculum must also be enhanced.

9.    Including men and boys in gender equality. Gender equality is about men and boys as much as it is about women and girls because the dynamics between males and females inevitably affect one another. For example, the underperformance of boys in higher levels of education and its implications on society must be understood as a gender equality issue, and addressed as such.

Malaysia’s achievements under the MDGs have built a foundation for progress.  Having accepted that gender equality is necessary for sustainable development, we must keep our eyes on the prize and steadfastly remove the remaining obstacles to ensure that Malaysia is on a fast-tracked path towards gender equality.

The vision of the Sustainable Development Goals is that no one is left behind. We have 5478 days to go to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls by 2030.

The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The United Nations observance on 8 March will reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals. It will equally focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 can be found at http://mdgr2015.com.my/