Role of Women in Malaysian Economy Making a Difference

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Malaysian women are making a difference in their economy by their active role. This statement basically realizes the importance of this subject and pursues the state departments to admire the real facts and recognize their active role beside man by increasing their wages and opportunities in terms of education, health and social security.

Role of women in Malaysian economy is an issue that needs more consideration from developing Islamic countries where after long legislation women are still not performing their complete role in the national economy.

Today women are making and important part in multinational corporations (MNCs), small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and especially exports related industries where the focus is more on achieving the target and ensuring more profit by reducing labor and operational costs.

This article not only focuses the role of women in the national economy, it also describes the convolution that women are facing at their workplace. Women are working in private and public sector facing so many difficulties than man.  

Women Education is another important factor to see the human development index in context of national growth and economical sustainability of the country. This study also point out the importance of women education and highlight the statistics of their education in the country showing the growing number of female students in higher education classes.  

Different surveys conducted in this regard to study the managerial role of women in Malaysia and how the strong cultural and traditional norms valuing the role of women in this modern era. After reading this article the readers will understand the role of women in national economy and their contribution in Malaysian economical development process.


In 80s Malaysia was a country being granted and supported by the countries of subcontinent like Pakistan and India, but after wards Malaysian economy grown up very quickly and now it has position to donate loans to under develop countries. Malaysia is located in Asia pacific region. It's a tropical country that welcomes every year thousands of tourists from various places of the world.

It has the land area of 336 745 km2, consists of Peninsular Malaysia and of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo. Malaysia's total population is around 24 million and projected to reach 31 million by 2020, although the rate of population growth is declining from 2.44 percent in 1995 to a projected 1.66 in 2005.

Women are 49 percent of the population. Malaysia's population is young; 32 percent is under 15 years of age, 64 percent is of working age (15-64 years) and 4 percent is 65 years or older. Life expectancy for women is 77 years and for men, 72 years (UNESA). [Source: Sheet Malaysia Rural Women in the Malaysian Economy.htm]

"Role of women in Malaysian economy is an issue that needs more consideration from developing Islamic countries where after long legislations women are still not performing their complete role in the national economy."

The purpose of this article was to evaluate and study the active role of women in Malaysian economy but after opening this question, one can realize that how important this subject is and how long this debate can go.

If you are finding a palace to eat Indian or Pakistani food on affordable prices, so you can movie to Masjid India to find a better place to have such stuff. Most of the shops are being run by women serving Malay, Indian, Pakistani food.

In this street most of the shops are being run by the women majority of them are young age between 15 to 30. I started my jouny rwith one of my friend from Masjid India and reached to Sungai Besi Toll Serumban Highway, suddenly I saw a lady in toll plaza cabin; she was working as tool collector.

I said to my friend what she is doing here, it's too far away from the city. How she will go back to her home? Do the women are allowed to work in such places? He said yes they can. He added that you can find women more responsible, hard working and committed with her job then a man. Women mostly work for long hours on low wages "he added".

Now the only thing left in my soul after this journey to write something on Malaysian women their importance in the economy and their active role beside the men. The statistics shows that women have started taking active part in the national economy in Dr. Mahathir Mohammad's (Ex. Prime Minister - Malaysia) government in 1982. During his period the average rate of female labor was 44.5 percent of total labor force.

This article is more based on interviews, public views and statistics from the governmental departments. Case studies incorporated in this article are taken from different places to justify the cultivations women facing at their workplace.    

Socio-economic Structure:

Women are working as highway toll collector, banker, teacher, doctor, nurse, hawker, lawyer, sales woman, clerk, operator, farmer, working in bars, restaurants, and hotels. The total income of each woman depending on position she is holding is around RM 1000 to RM 3000 (no minimum wage fixed by government for government and private employees).

Women are working on executive positions earning more than the labor class in Malaysia. According to a survey by Manjulika Koshal Professor of Management Systems and International Business, Ohio University, Athens, USA, women working in Tappers in rubber estates getting MR 8.04 per day, though men getting MR 13.08 per day shows a huge discrimination in daily wage.

Women Education:

Beside the job there are no restrictions on girl's participation in the educational system. Girls' participation rate is slightly higher than boys at the primary level and the difference extend at the secondary level where 95.6 percent of girls attend schools compared to 83.3 percent of boys. Less girls drop out compared to boys at both the primary and secondary levels.

Women's participation in higher education classes varies from 30 percent of enrolment at polytechnics, to 66 percent at teacher training colleges and 54 percent at public institutions of higher learning. In the public institutions of higher learning, women dominate in arts (61 percent), science (58 percent) and law (65 percent). In engineering, however, women are 24 percent of enrolment, and they are 26 percent in the technical stream (Malaysia: EFA, 2001).

As a consequence of women's increased participation in education, the adult literacy rate for women rose from 74 percent in 1990 to 83 in 2000 (UNICEF). Government programs to incorporate functional literacy curricula into socio-economic programs for rural populations address some of the educational needs of rural women.

Women at work:

Forty-eight percent of women are in the working-age population (15-64 years). Although women's labor participation rate rose from 43.5 percent in 1995 to 45.8 percent in 1997, by 2000 it had fallen to 44.5 as a consequence of the economic downturn in 1998 (Eighth Malaysia Plan). According to UNDP survey the female labor force was 46.4% in 2007.

Women are about one third of the labor force, yet, by sector, they represent 41 percent of all manufacturing employees, 40 percent of all finance, insurance, real estate and business services employees, 39 percent of wholesale and retail trade, hotel and restaurant employees, and 26 percent of agriculture, forestry, livestock and fishing employees (Eighth Malaysia Plan).

By occupation, women are spread across the choices except with noticeably few in administration and management, and a higher number in production as the following table shows.

Table 1. Women participation in the labor force with percentages 1995-2000

Women as percent of laborers in each occupation
















Professional and Technical






Administrative and Managerial



        Source: Eighth Malaysia Plan


The proportion of GDP accounted for by agriculture has fallen by 50 percent since 1990. Agriculture was 18.7 percent of the GDP in 1990 and was 10.5 percent in 2000. By 2002, however, agriculture was 9 percent of GDP (ESSA).

More than half of women agricultural laborers work in fruit and vegetable crops where they tend to do unskilled and lower level technological occupations. More than a third of women in agriculture are in field crops such as rubber, cocoa, coconut, coffee, tea and other diversified short-term cash crops. Few women work in oil palms except for weeding.


Export of fish products, though increasing in volume, represents a stable 18.7 percent of total exports. Volume increased from RM 824.6 million in 1995 to RM 1 236.1 million in 2000. The projected export of fish by 2005 is RM 1 711 million (Eighth Malaysia Plan).

Women participate in family fishing operations by unloading, sorting, gutting, net mending, processing, distributing and marketing that generally is classified as unpaid family labor. Women also are involved increasingly in aquaculture where they participate in every aspect of fish farming.

Women in Industries:

The failure of the economy in Malaysia in the early 1960s provided substantial employment opportunities to women in industries. Manufacturing became an important economic activity after the 1970s.

Findings indicate that the shift of the government policy has resulted in the increase of female participation in the formal sector of the economy compared with the previous years. Multinational corporations prefer female to male workers and most importantly why female workers are relegated to the lower job hierarchy because they cheep prices for long hours.

Today women are making and important part in multinational industries especially exports related industries where the focus is more on targets. A female worker from Shah Alam Subang Jaya said that in her factory only unmarried women can get a job because for ladies who are married needs 3 months leave during the pregnancy period. She said that company will not allow her to go for 3 months leave with salary so that they prefer unmarried women for employment.

The working hours are fixed but sometimes we have to work for overtime a lady from hotel industry said. She is working as kitchen crow in a five star hotel and work for 8 hours per day for RM 4.50 per hour.

In terms of ethnic dimension, the shift to the labour-intensive industry and the launch of the New Economic Policy not only resulted in the increase of Malay women employment but also the relative decrease of Chinese women employment in this sector.

Women in Government Service:

Trends in women's participation in the government sector are important in so far as government is still the single largest employer, although the share of the private sector is increasing rapidly. Government policies therefore directly and indirectly impact on policies and approaches of employers in the private sector.

Government officers also develop policy advice for government and implement the same. The advancement of women, with gender sensitive policy making and program/project design and implementation, is dependent upon their access to higher levels of policy agenda setting, and decision making, in

Women's participation in government service has increased rapidly between 1980 and 1991, from 27 percent to 33.6 percent. Several factors are important in this regard, the most significant being women's increasing participation in education.

It was also in part due to the expansion of the health and education sectors, and the increased opportunities in government service for teachers and health workers. There is a positive correlation between the educational attainments of women, and their labor force participation rates. Women have increasingly opted to join the government services.

This has to do with the expansion of government employment from the 1960s until the 1980s, during which period, government extended its scope to include support services to provide for the rapid social and economic development of the nation.

Women's entry into government service also helps illustrate attitudinal changes among parents, who recognize that girls have educational and professional potential, which provides options for them outside of marriage. (Asian Development Bank - Country Briefing papers

Convolutions at Workplace:

The traditional household structure reinforces the double burden of labor on women. One study found that women and men work equally in performing the farm work. Women worked an average of 4.8 hours per day while men worked 4.6 hours per day. However, women also worked an average of 8.9 hours per day doing housework, work that men did not do.

After all above facts women are still facing so many difficulties at their workplaces. From their way to the office and getting back from the office to home they face various problems from the state departments and other stakeholders.

It is very difficult for a woman to get a bus, train on right time and have seat to comfortably reach to her destination.  You can see most of the women standing on KTM queue for the train, when the train comes, the men holding culture dominates women and crash the line to get on first.

A female worker  of an hotel industry said that, she feel insecure at the time of getting back to her home late night after  when she complete overnight duty and fails to get hotel bus for the drop.

A migrant worker from Indonesia said that the law does not cover facilities for women out of Malaysia although she works as same as Malay women do, but after asking the same question to Malay women she said that she is still not satisfied with the basic facilities of the government in respect of women employment. She said that government should revise wage policy and increase the wages of women workers and announce more facilities for women.

In Malaysia there is still no wage policy exist. The payment of wages is creating inequality among man and women. Women are working for 4.8 hours per day and getting low wages than man while men work only for 4.6 per day average and get more salary than a woman.

Although women are serving 46.4% of labor force but they are not getting equal rights.


Manjulika Kosha, Ashok K. Gupta and Rajindar Koshal, Women in Management Review Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · pp. 11-18 © M Women in management a Malaysian perspective

Arpita Chattopadyay Summer 1997 Family migration and the economic status of women in Malaysia ProQuest Education Journals

Chalungsooth, Porthip, Ed.D. August 1989 Career Decision Making Of Southeast Asian Women, Northern Illinois University

FACT Sheet Malaysia: Rural Women in the Malaysian Economy, FAO Corporate Document Repository (

Eighth Malaysia Plan. 2001. Chapter 8. Agricultural development. Chapter 20. Women and development. (

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