“Women play a very important role in the wellbeing of family and national development. Therefore, in recognising women’s contribution, the Government is pleased to announce 2018 as the Women Empowerment Year.”
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared this instrumental move in the 2018 Budget speech.
He also announced that GLCs, GLICs and statutory bodies should have at least 30 per cent participation of women a board of directors; urge the private sector to increase maternity leave from 60 to 90 days; a RM 20 million allocation that covers women entrepreneurship programmes; and a personal income tax exemption for women who return to the workforce after a career break.
Last Wednesday (17th January) after our weekly Cabinet Meeting, a ceremony was held to launch the logo for the Women’s Empowerment Year 2018. Three women were featured as icons – business woman Noor Neelofa, e-commerce entrepreneur Vivy Yusof an Selangor Princess Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah who is known for her social work.
But why the focus on women and why now?
In Malaysia, women are estimated to comprise almost half the population – 14.2 million out of 32 million. Firstly to achieve the progress we have set for the country, every contribution counts, including from this half of the population – the women. The Prime Minister himself has said that women will play an ever prominent role in the country’s development, therefore they must be empowered with every opportunity to participate in the economy.
According to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the public sector has achieved 35.8 per cent of women’s participation at the decision-making level, whereas the corporate sector lags at 29.9 per cent. Overall the labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women is currently only at 54.3 per cent, while for men it is at 80.2 per cent. LFPR is defined as the ratio of the labour force to the working age population (15 to 64 years), expressed as percentage.
While there various initiatives by the government to empower women, categorised into health, safety, economy, culture and education, MOSTI has several on-going efforts that encourage women’s participation in technology and entrepreneurship.
In fact it is stated in our National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation that as one of eight measures in talent development in this area, we must “promote and enhance meaningful, effective and equitable female participation in STI at all levels and in all sectors”.
One commendable women-focused programme is “Cyberpreneur” by CyberSecurity Malaysia. 120 online women entrepreneurs from Sabah, Terengganu, Perlis and Sarawak have benefited from this training held in partnership with the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Malaysia. They were guided in providing accurate and convenient information to customers, how to feature online business policies and the code of ethics.
Another seminar was held with the National Council of Women’s Organisations last October to educate 1000 participants including women and children to be “CyberSAFE”. In the digital economy entrepreneurs not only have to be equipped with the usual business skills, but also in managing challenges and threats in the cyberspace.
The International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation (ISTIC) is also a constant advocate for women in science. In last September for example, 32 women delegates from 15 countries participated in their technopreneurship workshop, which focuses on technology-based entrepreneurship.
In conjunction with the Year of Women Empowerment, I have initiated a specialised focal point in MOSTI to facilitate women innovators, women technologists and women entrepreneurs, especially in commercialisation. MOSTI has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with MyIPO last year to identify intellectual properties which have commercialisation and patenting potentials.
My first women-focused engagement of the year will be held on the 3rd of February, Saturday, at Dewan Masyarakat Ranau. It will be a day-long programme in partnership with Majlis Penasihat Wanita Sabah, and inviting entities such as Yayasan Inovasi Malaysia (YIM), Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and MARA to brief participants of the opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship. All are welcome.
To promote women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Yayasan Penyelidikan Antartika Sultan Mizan (YPASM) has a particular successful campaign called “Malaysia’s Journey to the Ice: Women in Antartica”. Malaysian women polar researchers would share their personal stories and Antarctic expeditions to school students. To date, 19 secondary schools have benefited from these motivational talks in STEM.
YPASM would gather feedback from the students after each talk. More than two-third of the respondents (70.1 per cent) informed about having a “strong or very strong interest” in science disciplines especially in polar science after the programme. Yet this is only the beginning; we certainly need more women icon in various STEM fields to motivate the young ones.
In women’s professional development, the Malaysian Board of Technologists (MBOT) that was launched in late 2016, has also aimed for 30 per cent women participation on its board. Eligible technologists and technicians who register with MBOT will be recognised as a Professional Technologist or Certified Technician. As of now, only 15 per cent of the registered members are women.
As MBOT eventually aims to expand to 250,000 members, why not achieve a 50-50 membership for men and women?
Quoting a well-known saying by a scholar from Ghana, Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey,
“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).”
It is most timely to step up our efforts in empowering women, one of the distinct features of forward-thinking societies. The advancement of a nation should be inclusive both ways: Women should be equally involved in nation-building, and reaping the fruits of prosperity equally.
This is an era of women, yet only made possible with both men and women on board.