Gender Equality is an issue which is becoming more prominent in light of changes to the workforce and developments in our way of living. As part of the Work different series, gender consultant On 12th November 2021, Dr. Jashpal Kaur Bhatt was invited to speak on the topic of Achieving Gender Equality in Malaysia: Current Challenges.
Dr. Jashpal kicked off her talk with a definition of the term “gender equality”, specifying how equality in this case, should be defined as substantive equality, which ensures that men and women enjoy the same opportunities, rights, and obligations in all spheres of life. Gender equality itself was not based off the idea that men and women are the same- recognising that there are differences between men and women, but rather that all people deserve the same access to opportunity, regardless of gender.
She proceeded to highlight why there was focus on Gender Equality today, listing the following points:
- Women account for half the global population- recent developments in the global economy, and in our way of life have many women questioning where they stand in terms of economic participation, political power, cultural and social recognition
- Gender inclusion and diversity is needed:
- To widen the talent pool of people in an organisation/ institution/body
- To increase productivity & fiscal return
- For increased social cohesion
A quick look at Malaysian policies when it came to gender equality outlined how policies were first put in place as of 1989, moving forward to the present to highlight Malaysia’s commitment to achieving gender equality. In measuring this, Dr. Jashpal explained that a gender gap index (prepared by the UN) is used to determine how equally genders are treated per country. The index is measured against data from 4 areas- namely educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment and economic participation and opportunity. The higher a country falls on the index, the closer a country is to achieving gender equality- with the perfect score being 1 (Malaysia’s gender gap index as of 2021 currently stands at 0.676).
Dr. Jashpal also took some time to explore the 4 areas of the gender gap index, highlighting concerns and issues within each sector:
- Educational Attainment (indexed at 0.950): While on par for primary school education, there is a drop from 98.9% to 75% in the number of female children attending secondary school- a concern in light of the issues of teenage marriages. At tertiary level, while women previously outnumbered men consistently, there is now, she noted a steady slide down, dropping to 49.9%
- Economic Participation & Opportunity (indexed at 0.638): The labour force participation rate of women stood at 55.5% to the men’s 80.9%, a gap of nearly 30%- with men earning 32.9 per $1000, while women earned 20.4 for the same. Similarly, men account for 76.7% of legislators, senior officials and management and 58.5% of professional and technical workers ,while women made up 23.3% and 41.5% respectively.
- Political Empowerment (indexed at 0.102): Only 14.9% of parliamentary seats were won by women, and only 16.1% of the ministerial positions were filled by women as opposed to 83.9% for men.
- Health & Survival (indexed at 0.972): Women have a higher life expectancy than men-66.9 years vs. 64.5, with 934 baby girls born for every 1000 boys as of 2019.
Within ASEAN, Malaysia ranked at the bottom of the list in effectively ensuring gender equality, with the top spots going to Philippines, Laos and Singapore respectively, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021.
With awareness raised to the fact that there IS a concern, how then can we work to achieving gender equality? One such strategy to be applied, according to Dr. Jashpal, was the dual strategy of gender main streaming, by:
- Integrating gender concerns into policy/ programme development
- Focusing on women empowerment and eliminating discrimination against women.
In integrating gender concerns into policy/ programme development, some suggestions made by Dr. Jashpal included:
Dr. Jashpal also explored the concepts of sex and gender and how these play a role in gender stereotyping- as well as the negative impacts of gender stereotyping, and how these further complicated the struggle to achieve gender equality.
The talk ended with some recommendation on how to overcome these issues, following which Dr. Jashpal answered questions from the audience.