In Malaysia, girls and women have made significant strides in achieving basic rights and freedoms, including access to education, healthcare, employment, and legal protection.
However, despite these gains, there are still many battles that Malaysia’s women face today.
Women around the world continue to face significant gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence in both public and private spaces. These issues are not unique to Malaysia but are part of a broader global struggle that millions of girls and women face daily.
This International Women’s Day, it’s important to reflect on what women’s rights mean in today’s contexts, and to recognise the communities where being a woman is still the hardest.
While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to address gender inequality and advance women’s rights in Malaysia and around the world.
It’s essential to continue raising awareness and advocating for change to ensure that girls and women can live free from discrimination, persecution, and oppression and have equal access to opportunities and resources.
Which country is the hardest for women to live in?
It’s difficult to identify a single country as the hardest for women to live in, as the challenges faced by women vary depending on various factors such as culture, geography, politics, and socio-economic status.
However, there are some countries where women face significant gender-based discrimination, violence, and limited access to opportunities and resources, making it challenging for them to live fulfilling lives.
According to the Women, Peace and Security Index 2021/22 (WPS) by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, the Middle East and African nations, especially those with histories of conflict, continue to be precarious environments for girls and women.
The 10 countries with the lowest rankings are:
- South Sudan
- DR Congo
- Sierra Leone
Afghanistan topped the list as women’s rights continue to deteriorate after the Taliban seized power in 2021. According to a UN report, women and girls are now “systematically being excluded from public life2.”
Girls are barred from education after the sixth grade, and women are not allowed to work most jobs outside the home. There are also no women voices in the cabinet of the de facto administration.
Women are also required to have a male chaperone when travelling long distances and are told to avoid leaving their homes unless necessary.
On a regional level, South Asia scored the lowest, with the WPS report noting “high levels of legal discrimination, intimate partner violence, and discriminatory norms that disenfranchise women, often coupled with low levels of inclusion.”
The report also noted that in South Asia, only one in four women are engaged in paid work, less than half of the global average.
What about women’s rights in Malaysia?
Malaysia ranked 103 out of 170 on the WPS Index, in the fourth quintile out of five.
A recent issue highlighting the struggles of women’s rights is the ongoing case for equal citizenship to overseas-born children of Malaysian mothers.
In August 2022, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s decision to grant automatic citizenship, a massive step back for women’s rights in the country.
However, a three-man Federal Court panel in December 2022 granted Family Frontiers and six Malaysian mothers leave to proceed with their appeal against the decision4.
Another long-standing issue in Malaysia is domestic violence, which has been and continues to be a challenge in the country.
In 2021, a total of 7,468 cases related to domestic violence incidents were opened to the police. The figure represented a 42% spike compared to the previous year (5,260 cases).
The spike was attributed to the impact of Covid-19 as families found themselves stuck at home with mental and financial pressures mounting.
In the same year, Talian Kasih (a hotline managed by the Women, Family and Community Development) received 3,028 calls on domestic violence. Of the number, 974 led to reports or investigations.
There are a number of government-led initiatives to curb domestic violence, including the hotline Talian Kasih 15999, advocacy and counselling support for victims. There are also shelters for victims in need of protection or temporary shelter.
In 1994, the Malaysian government introduced the Domestic Violence Act, which aims to protect immediate family members, adults with physical or mental disabilities or others considered part of a family nucleus. The DVA is read together with the Penal Code in court.
There are also several cultural and social norms practised by Malaysian communities which have raised debate over its perceived infringement of girls’ and women’s rights. However, there is also good news.
In 2023, Malaysia ranks above the global average for gender equality in the corporate sector
According to findings from the Bloomberg Ltd Partnership’s 2023 Gender-Equality Index (GEI), more than 50% of Malaysian companies had women in revenue-producing roles5. The global average is 41%.
This is based on four local firms that submitted gender data to Bloomberg: Bursa Malaysia Bhd, Digi.com Bhd, Malayan Banking Bhd and Top Glove Corp Bhd.
The Malaysian GEI members also recorded 38% of women on boards, higher than the global average of 32% based on this index. Overall, they scored an average of 75% on the GEI, again higher than the global average of 73%.
To be eligible for the GEI, publicly listed companies must have a market capitalisation value of USD1 billion. Its average trading volume over the past three months must exceed USD50,000 and score a daily average trading volume of USD5,000 in the past three months.
The GEI assesses companies using five pillars: leadership and talent pipeline, equal pay and gender pay parity, inclusive culture, anti-sexual harassment policies, and pro-women brand.
In layman’s terms, this shows an uptrend in women holding significant roles within the corporate sector, a good indication of progress towards gender equality.
Here’s how you can empower girls and women this International Women’s Day
Malaysia still has some way to go in equalising the playing field and creating equitable opportunities for girls and women.
However, awareness is growing and as long as we play our part, we can be hopeful of a future where girls and women are treated with dignity and given every chance to achieve their fullest potential.
On the international front, millions of girls and women are still struggling to have their voices heard. Advocacy and prayer are key if we hope to see a paradigm shift on a global scale.
Here are three simple action steps we can all take in support of girls and women:
- Speak up. If the society and community you live in discriminate against the rights of girls and women, challenge the norm.
- Hold policy-makers and authorities accountable. In Malaysia, we are blessed with freedoms others don’t always have. We can hold our elected representatives and government accountable, to ensure the rights and dignity of every woman.
- Pray. As Christians, we serve a God who created girls and women. Let us pray for girls and women in Malaysia and around the world who have been oppressed, marginalised and even persecuted for their gender.
In Malaysia, if you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, here are channels where you can get help:
- Talian Kasih (hotline): You can call the 24-hour hotline 15999, Whatsapp +6019 261 5999 or head to the nearest Social Welfare Department (JKM) office. Please bring your IC and if applicable, your child’s birth certificate with you. You can apply for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) without a police report that will be valid for seven days.
- One Stop Crisis Centres (OSCC): available at the Emergency Department of government hospitals. You can get medical aid and obtain assistance to lodge a police report if you wish. Medical services are free for victims of domestic violence/abuse; do bring your IC with you.
- Make a police report: head to the nearest police station, where you can submit a report in Bahasa Malaysia or English. You can also opt to apply for an Interim Protection Order (IPO), a court protection order that will be valid throughout the investigation. IPOs are applicable for spouses, ex-spouses or family members of perpetrators.
- Women’s Aid Organisation (hotline): +603 3000 8858 (8am–10pm) or 24-hrs SMS/Whatsapp: +6018 988 8058
- All Women Action Society (Telenita helpline): +6016 237 4221 or +6016 228 4221. You may call, text, Whatsapp or Telegram.
- Women’s Centre for Change (hotline): +6011 3108 4001 (9am-5pm) or +6016 439 0698 (9am-5pm)
- The Women, Peace and Security Index 2021/22, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
- In focus: Women in Afghanistan one year after the Taliban takeover, August 2022, United Nations (UN) Women
- 42pc spike in domestic violence cases last year, March 2022, New Straits Times
- Apex court grants leave to appeal in equal citizenship case, December 2022, Malaysia Now
- Malaysia surpasses global average of gender equality, Feb 2023, The Star