Women in Numbers

Women in Parliament and Administration

AS A SIGNATORY of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Malaysia has pledged to raise women’s representation in its politics. However, as of 2019, women᾽s participation in parliament and administration stood between 14.8% and 18%, far below the 30% benchmark (Figure 1).

Although these figures are one of the lowest in the Southeast Asian region, it should be noted that significant improvements had been made in 2018 towards greater women᾽s participation in parliament and administration, especially among Cabinet Ministers, whose numbers rose from 8.6% to 17.9% that year.

Women in Judiciary

The Malaysian judiciary system has been led by women since 2019 after The Right Honourable Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat and The Right Honourable Tan Sri Rohana binti Yusuf were appointed Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal of Malaysia, respectively.

Women are more or less equally represented among the Judges of the Court of Appeal of Malaysia and Federal Court of Malaysia, but gender diversity decreases significantly in the High Courts. As of 2019, only 17 out of 59 judges, and eight out of 33 Judicial Commissioners of the High Courts are women (28.8% and 24.2% respectively).

Women in the Workforce

The skills gap between both genders has narrowed in recent years. Figure 2 shows that in 2010 only 29% of employed women held skilled jobs, e.g. managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals, compared to 34.7% of employed men. A decade later, the proportion of skilled jobs among men fell slightly by 0.5 percentage points, but this percentage had increased among women. In 2019, 32.2% of employed women held skilled roles, registering an increase of 3.2 percentage points.

Although the proportion of skilled roles held by women have increased as a whole, this is entirely due to an increase in the share of professionals. Figure 3 shows that the share of women holding managerial positions declined between 2010 and 2019, a pattern seen among male workers as well. In this period, the share of managers dropped by 3.2 percentage points for women, and by 4.0 percentage points for men. The decline is due to an absolute decrease in the number of managerial roles.

The pandemic is expected to exert a negative impact on these numbers. Figures in 2020 for Penang indicate that 8.9% of job losses can be attributed to managerial roles, but openings for managers are only 1.1% of total vacancies1, suggesting that the state will see further declines in the number of managerial jobs.

Women’s participation in the workforce may be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as they generally hold more domestic responsibilities and care duties compared to men. The temporary halts in childcare services during the lockdown would have made it immensely challenging for women to meet work obligations while caring for household members. These duties also make it harder for women to seek new or extra employment following pay cuts or layoffs.2 

Women in Science Education

Figure 4 shows the percentage of Penang-born female and male students enrolled in science courses offered by Malaysia’s public universities. Penang’s female students are significantly less likely to select science courses at national public universities compared to their male counterparts. As of 2018, only 43.4% of female students selected science courses, compared to 60.5% of males.

The gap (measured by the difference of each gender’s likelihood to enrol in science) decreased in the two years following 2015, but increased in 2018. This has implications for the growth of STEM sectors, given that gender diversity, especially in research and development functions, is linked to greater possibilities for innovation.  

1 MYFutureJobs and Social Security Organization (SOCSO) Malaysia, 31 December 2020.
2 International Labour Organization, “The Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 in Malaysia: Policy Review and Guidance for Protecting the Most Vulnerable and Supporting Enterprises”, 2020.

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