Seminar on “Breaking Barriers: Towards Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia”

In this seminar, Ms Amanina Abdur Rahman and Mr Achim Schmillen talks about the promotion of economic opportunities for women in Malaysia, and the required measures in areas such as child and elder care, social protection and labour and human capital policies.


Friday, 17 January 2020 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a seminar on “Breaking Barriers: Towards Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia”, delivered by two economists from the World Bank, Ms Amanina Abdur Rahman and Mr Achim Schmillen. The seminar was chaired by Dr Cassey Lee.

Ms Amanina and Mr Achim began their presentation by sharing a video on the views of women in Malaysia on their economic opportunities. Their presentation highlighted the potential rise in Malaysia’s income per capita if women were given equal economic opportunities. They then discussed the key objectives of the report they sought to share. The objectives of the report are to investigate barriers to women’s economic opportunities and to develop actionable policy recommendations.

From left to right: Ms Amanina Abdur Rahman, Research Associate in the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank;  Dr Cassey Lee, moderator of the session; and Mr Achim Schmillen, Senior Economist with the World Bank’s Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

First, Ms Amanina and Mr Achim pointed out that their research methodology comprises of three components – quantitative, qualitative and legal analysis. Despite the progress in Malaysia’s gender equality, significant gender gaps remain especially in areas such as home and market work, and sectoral and occupational segmentation. Furthermore, they shared that Malaysia’s women labour force participation has increased. However, they warned that this figure remains one of the lowest in the ASEAN region. With the country’s current income level, it is estimated that approximately 500,000 more women could be working.

Next, they discussed the various reasons for women not participating in the labour force. One reason is housework which includes child and elder care. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of child care facilities in poor urban areas. Another reason is women, in particular single mothers, struggle to reconcile work and family life.

Second, they believed that there remains significant room for Malaysia’s legal environment to improve. As such, they recommended several policies. These include expanding the availability, quality and affordability of child and elder care; strengthening the protection of informal workers and the productivity of workers and business workers; pursuing planned legal reforms and strengthening  implementation, monitoring and enforcement; improving support for parents, in line with international legal norms; and addressing gender norms and attitudes in education and among the wider population.   

At the Q&A, the audience engaged the speakers on an array of topics. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The seminar concluded with Ms Amanina and Mr Achim engaging in a question and answer session, where they shared their views on issues such as the differences between public and private sector in terms of female labour force participation, how the gig economy affects the female labour force participation, the controversial law on maternity leave and women working at night.