MALAYSIA’s commitment and dedication to the advancement of women is evident in many of its programmes and policies in the last three decades.
But, while there is progress, it is not fast enough. Many women have broken the glass ceiling, but in some cases, it is only a temporary effect.
Up to June last year, women accounted for just 17.9 per cent of the boards of directors in the top 100 listed companies on Bursa Malaysia.
What is it that holds women back from contributing their full selves?
A study by the World Bank on Malaysian women participation in the workforce found a pattern that suggested Malaysian women older than 26 were more sensitive to life-cycle transitions as compared with other countries.
Married women, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas, participate the least in the workforce.
Malaysian women retire earlier than their male counterparts, which the World Bank attributes to women being caught in a double burden syndrome of managing the home and caring for their children, or the elderly, even if they hold full-time jobs.
Another contributing factor is that women who leave the workforce after the age of 26 will never return.
Sadly, not only is 26 the prime age to have children, it is also the prime age to build a career.
With a great number of women leaving the workforce to focus on family, the pool of women talent to fill top management jobs also shrinks.
It is also relevant to take into account that mothers, by default, are seen to be the primary, and sometimes only, caregiver, as per entrenched in our labour laws.
Women are entitled to 60 days of maternity leave under the law, but there is no provision for paternity leave.
Although certain private companies offer three to five days of paternity leave at their discretion, and government offices mostly offer seven to 14 days, this is insufficient for husbands to be a partner to their wives in raising their children.
There are, however, companies that offer one-month paternity leave.
The recommendations by the government to increase maternity leave to 90 days during the tabling of the 2018 Budget is laudable.
The Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (Serata) supports the recommendation by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and Malaysian Trades Union Congress to extend paternity leave to one month.
Studies done by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have shown that gender inequality in unpaid care work is the missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes, such as labour force participation, wages and job quality.
Serata believes that to achieve gender parity at work, we must first tackle the inequality in the labour law and workplace policies by including paternity leave.
It will reduce gender inequality in the home by encouraging men to be more active in childcare, as per a study of four OECD countries.
In the United States, Australia, Britain and Denmark, fathers who had taken paternity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their children long after the leave had ended.
Most importantly, the World Economic Forum has found that countries that offer paternity leave are the most successful in closing the wage gap between men and women.
Co-founder, Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (Serata)