An aging Nation
According to the World Bank, Malaysia will experience rapid aging in the coming decades, transitioning from an aging to aged society in just 24 years, similar to Japan and other high-income economies.
Malaysia’s aging population is a big demographic shift that is expected to have an impact on the country’s socioeconomic development and fiscal position. In two decades, Malaysians aged 65 and above are expected to account for 14% of the population.
Anwar Ibrahim has warned that this shift could lead to a decline in the working population and productivity, as well as an increase in the government’s financial commitments to providing care services for senior citizens.
The government is in fact, in the midst of developing a National Action Plan for Aging to address these challenges. Proactive steps include establishing a geriatric center and enhancing the implementation of the Private Aged Healthcare Facilities and Service Act 2018. This Act, which is expected to come into force in 2025, will help to regulate and improve the quality of aged care services.
In aging societies, women face greater risk financially in the long run due to the gender wage gap throughout their lives and longer life expectancy.
Women in the workforce
Despite the long-term financial insecurity, many Malaysian women have no choice but to leave formal employment due to lack of support in care work. In an effort to increase Malaysia’s female labor force participation to 60% within a decade, the government announced that they will heighten efforts to encourage women to stay in the workforce or return to it.
According to The Star, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim stated that this will be accomplished through relevant facilities and support, such as childcare, financial incentives, and flexible working hours. The Malaysian government has allocated RM 393.8 billion for its 2024 budget, including tax breaks for women who return to the workforce and RM 1 billion to provide elderly care.
“The Malaysian government is launching a series of plans to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 56.2% to 60%,” as announced by Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, the Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development. A three-point strategy was outlined:
- Improve policies and laws that directly affect women in the workforce. This includes strengthening the National Women Policy and ensuring the full implementation of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 2022.
- Create an ecosystem that supports women, including subsidized daycare centers and financial assistance for women entrepreneurs, such as MyKasih Kapital and the two-year Exit Programme (2YEP).
- Provide women with more opportunities to access training and capacity-building programs, such as the Wanita Bangkit, WeJana, and WeBridge programs, which aim to upskill and reskill women, enhancing their capabilities and prospects in the workforce.
In 2023, EPF Malaysia launched the i-Sayang initiative to support fulltime homemakers to save up for retirement and reduce the gender wage gap via financial security. i-Sayang allows husbands to transfer 2% of their pension contributions to their wives’ EPF accounts. Women also receive a higher contribution rate from employers and a longer maternity leave through this initiative.
Women in the aging population
If gender- and age-responsive reforms do not address the multifaceted nature of gender inequality in aging societies, women are at risk of being disproportionately disadvantaged. They may encounter double and triple shifts of paid, domestic and care work, which may result in a negative impact on their health, earnings, and savings, as well as heightened risks of poverty, social isolation, and care gaps among older needs. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), advancing gender equality in aging societies requires:
- Preventing the accumulation of gendered disadvantages over the life course by tackling inequalities at all levels to close gender gaps in education, employment, care, earnings and pensions;
- Mitigating the risks resulting from gender inequality among older persons through redistribution and support;
- Anticipating the impacts of current reforms on future generations of women and men by mainstreaming age and gender in societal adaptations to demographic change.
To ensure the sustainability of social security and protection systems in aging societies, increasing the labor market participation of women and older people is crucial (UNECE, 2020). This will require changes to regulatory frameworks, financial provisions, and services to support the equal sharing of paid and unpaid work between women and men in families, households, and communities.
What Leadwomen is doing
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- Harasty, C. (n.d.). POPULATION AGEING: Alternative measures of dependency and implications for the future of work. Population ageing, alternative measures of dependency, and implications for the future of work. https://www.ilo.org/static/english/intserv/working-papers/wp005/index.html
- KWSP – i-sayang: Contribution for your wife. Employee Provident Fund Malaysia (EPF Malaysia). (2023, September 19). https://www.kwsp.gov.my/member/i-sayang
- Online, T. S. (2023, September 12). Getting women back to work. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2023/09/12/getting-women-back-to-work
- Policy Brief: Gender Equality in Ageing Societies. (2020, March). https://unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/pau/age/Policy_briefs/ECE_WG-1_34.pdf
- Sulaiman, N., Muhamad Bustaman, N. F., & Tang, C. F. (2023). Economic growth and female labour force participation in an ageing society: Evidence from Southeast Asia. Applied Economics, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/00036846.2023.2212964
- Tan, J. (2023, August 31). Malaysia outlines efforts to boost female labour participation. HRM Asia. https://hrmasia.com/malaysia-outlines-efforts-to-boost-female-labour-participation/
- World Bank Group. (2020, November 23). A silver lining: Productive and inclusive aging for Malaysia. World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/malaysia/publication/a-silver-lining-productive-and-inclusive-aging-for-malaysia