In many cultures around the world, the birth of a girl is often considered a bad omen. However, the birth of a boy is a celebratory occasion. If you’re born into poverty, gender plays a significant role in determining the future of the child. A woman’s experience of poverty from birth to adulthood can be harsher, greater and more prolonged. The United Nations indicate that women in poverty have lesser resources to cope if they fall sick and are least likely to access healthcare facilities.
The life expectancy of females in Malaysia is 75.6 years in 2021 while a newborn male in the same year is only expected to live until 73.2 years old according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. Despite the additional years compared to men, women in poverty may not be able to live to their fullest potential or enjoy a comfortable life because of the existing setbacks and challenges.
We put together 10 facts on how poverty affects women:
#1: Girls from low-income households who enter the workforce at a young age may not have basic literacy skills to help them advance in life.
This is especially true for marginalised communities such as the stateless. Sometimes, girls are forced into wedlock to ease their families’ financial burden.
#2: Women may have to think twice before committing to motherhood especially with the high maternity and labour expenses.
Not just that, women are often penalised or perceived as being less dedicated to their jobs and careers when they have to think about their families. Sometimes, women are asked intrusive personal questions during job interviews such as their marital status, whether they would want to have children and if they would require long maternity leave. Based on the answers to the said questions, some women are denied jobs.
#3: At least 57% of Malaysian women who quit their jobs hesitate to re-enter the job market due to various circumstances.
This issue is exacerbated in single mothers as the current labour market is inflexible, leading many to work in multiple informal jobs to sustain their families. In recent years, there are several government and NGO initiatives set up to increase female participation in the labour force.
#4: Sex works and prostitution became a means to an end for single mothers and young girls.
They are often susceptible due to their low level of education, health problems and the dire need for money to help their families or feed their children.
The United Nations indicated that women eat last during meal times. When households suffer from cutbacks in food quantity, women are likely to eat less. Womenfolk ensure the rest of their family members are eating well, leading them to eat less nutritious food. Some, with the increased consumption of less nutritious food, led them to be more likely to have higher cholesterol levels, being overweight or obese compared to their male counterparts .
#6: 9,015 domestic violence cases were recorded from March 2020 to August 2021.
Being seen as the weaker gender, women are easy targets for abuse and domestic violence. Poverty-related pressures are identified as aggravators, including the added economic stress of the breadwinner being released onto vulnerable family members .
#7: In 2019, the national prevalence of depression indicated that 500,000 Malaysians exhibited symptoms of depression. The prevalence is however higher among women (2.6%) as compared to males (2.0%).
Data also shows that the rural population have a higher likelihood of falling into depression (3.6%) compared to the urban population (1.9%). Based on social demographics, the B40 group ranked the highest (2.7%) followed by M40 (1.7%) and T20 (0.5%). Women are more prone to mental disorders, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicides and instances of self-harm. This is due to their tendency of having a low self-image and mindsets that they are “never good enough”.
#8: The hassle and pain of a women’s monthly menstrual cycle are amplified among women in poverty as they are unable to afford menstrual products such as sanitary pads, tampons and medication.
In certain circumstances, school-going girls had to skip school because of their period and women had to take leave because they are unable to pay for sanitary items. The severity of the issue is unknown due to the lack of data on the ground. A coalition of changemakers such as @bulansisters and Athena Empowers are actively shedding light and aiding women suffering from period poverty.
#9: There are 161,227 single mothers registered with the Women Development Department in 2020, however, the actual number may be higher.
In the light of the pandemic, women-led households were more pessimistic about the future with 3 out of 5 being worried that they might not be able to provide for their families. The toll of the pandemic is worse on this particular demographic as 42% have lost their livelihoods.
#10: The average woman has a balance of RM177,000 compared to RM233,000 for men at the age of 54 years old in their Employee Provident Fund (EPF).
This may be due to lower monthly contributions, likely due to lower wages or being part of non-contractual or part-time work arrangements. With the alarming differences, women may have to seek ways to sustain themselves post-retirement age.
Explore our sources:
- UN Women. (2020). Women And Poverty. Link.
- Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). ABRIDGED LIFE TABLES, MALAYSIA, 2019-2021. Link
- Randstad. (2020). What women (and) men can do to close the gender pay gap. Link
- S. Menon. (2021). INTERACTIVE: More policies needed to overcome unemployment among young M’sian women. The Star. Link
- Mayan, S. N. A., & Nor, R. M. (2020). The Resistance of the Urban Poor in Selangor, Malaysia to Get Out of the Shackles of Poverty. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences. Link.
- National Institute of Health. (2019). National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019: Non-communicable diseases, healthcare demand, and health literacy. Ministry of Health Malaysia. Link.
- R.Rahim, T.Tan, M.Carvalho and F.Zainal. (2021). Over 9,000 domestic violence cases recorded since MCO began, Rina Harun tells Parliament. The Star. Link
- Women Aid Organisation. (2019). Domestic Violence and Poverty. Link.
- Armitage, C.J. et al. (2015). Completed Suicides and Self-Harm in Malaysia: A Systematic Review. Link.
- Kwan, F. (2020). The Painful Reality of Period Poverty in Malaysia. Free Malaysia Today. Link.
- N.H.Abdul Rahman. (2021). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and policy response on single-parent families in Malaysia. Fulbright Review of Economics And Policy. Link
- UNICEF. (2021). Families on the Edge. Issue #3. Link.
- I. Lim. (2020). Survey: Single mothers among hardest hit by MCO, bear double burden of work and family. The Malay Mail. Link.
- A. Jalil. (2020).Malaysia needs policies that foster productive employment. The Malaysian Reserve. Link.