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The Heavy Toll On Single Mothers During The Pandemic

Written by: Rachel Tan

If you think raising a child isn’t overwhelming enough, try doing without your spouse’s help and support, keeping up with household chores while working a full-time job all at once. Unfortunately, this harsh reality for single mothers in Malaysia is a common sight to see. 

Source: UNICEF Families on the Edge

Based on Malaysia Home and Population Census in 2010 carried out by the Statistics Department, a total of 831,860 women or 2.9% of the population were either widowed, divorced or permanently separated. [1]

However, it is tough to define marriage statuses as it has a big gray area. 

“The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development redefines single mothers as women who are either unmarried, separated or divorced, widowed or whose husband are unable to work, and have children out of wedlock staying with them. [2]” 

Source: UNICEF: Hungry in the City

Without the presence and support of a spouse to contribute to the joint responsibility of parenting and putting food on the table, several single mothers in Malaysia often raise their children in poverty[3].

And guess what? The coronavirus pandemic is creating even more havoc than before.

Is a Single Mother’s Daily Wage Enough? 

“According to a survey by Selangor Women’s Empowerment Institute, Out of the 442 Selangor women polled, 12% or 55 women are single mothers. The majority of single mothers(84%), have jobs, while the remaining 16 per cent comprise retirees and homemakers. Unfortunately, 16% earned less than RM989 monthly.” [4]

The survey also stated that 49 percent of single mothers rely on daily wages for their income. Their vocations involve in baking, catering business, sewing, washing clothes and transport services for children. 

Source: UNICEF: Hungry in the City

Single mothers who hail from rural areas lack the qualifications and proper education to be employed in a formal job setting. With this, many of these single mothers have no choice but to take up labour-heavy, poorly-paid jobs to make ends meet.

The economy took a toll from the COVID-19 crisis, with single mothers hit the hardest. As reported by Daily Express Sabah on 8th July 2020, 18,700 single mothers applied for financial assistance from the Sabah Department of Women’s Affairs (Jhewa) since the Movement Control Order (MCO) started. [5]

Source: The Straits Times

IWB also stated that the aftermath of the pandemic left 42 percent of working single mothers had suffered income loss due to unpaid leave, termination of the work contract, closed business, while 37 per cent still have an income. [4]

The Weak Support System Behind Single Mothers

Raising a child means more than providing food and shelter. It’s about educating, nurturing and disciplining them to bring about change in society. Sadly enough, single mothers lack a viable support system for them to do this all on their own.

Climbing the corporate ladder is one of the most common ways to go to escape the poverty pit. But it’s also impossible to do while you’re looking after your own. Therefore, single mothers tend to hire nannies or send their children to daycare. This might be an option, but it is indeed costly. The average cost for a nanny could cost from RM300 to RM600 per month depending on the states. [6]

Source: UNICEF: Families on the Edge

Not all single mothers can afford the luxury of childcare, which adds to the extra stress of balancing work and family responsibilities. Single mothers often rely on friends or family members for emotional and practical support. Truth to be told, heavy topics like these are hard to bring about. Plus, single mother’s isolation from friends in their social network does not make it any better.

Everything is just Psychologically Taxing

The burdens and responsibilities have created a pressure cooker environment for single mothers; they can’t help but experience higher rates of psychological distress, mood disorders and anxiety disorders.

Psychological issues stemming from financial difficulties, where some moms were forced to scale back or completely leave the workforce in frustration from the demands of childcare.

Psychological impacts of COVID-19 also caused several problems in 1 in 3 of female-headed households expressing fear, worry, anxiety, anger and stress about their uncertain financial conditions, the well-being of their children and their parents. [7]

How Can We Help?

  1. Lend a helping hand

Single mothers are all around us. They could be our neighbors, our colleagues or even our family members. Small favors like watching over their children for a few hours or running some errands could mean a great deal to single mothers.

2. Affordable Childcare for all

A joint effort between our government, non-government organizations, local communities and private sectors should be made to provide affordable and quality childcare for all single mothers in poverty. High quality and professional childcare exist, but the expensive costs are a major stumbling block. Choosing between professional childcare or financial stability should not exist in the first place.

3. Financial Support from the Government

There are several welfare aids that single mothers that could apply for. However, single mothers in poverty who do not have any internet connection or are unaware that these aids exist. Outreach programs where welfare workers could physically visit their homes to collect data and offer financial support.

Here are some helpful welfare aids for single mothers in Malaysia

Kasih Ibu Smart Selangor (KISS): This program aims to reduce the cost of living with financial aids for purchasing basic necessities.

Bantuan Orang Tua: A financial aid for senior citizens to live a comfortable life with care and support from the local community.

Women of Will: A non-profit organization that equips disadvantaged women with skills and knowledge to run their own sustainable businesses.

Explore Our Sources:

  1. M. Carvalho. (2013). Deputy Minister: Fewer than 8% of single mothers receive aid. Link.
  2. M. A. Talib, N. K. A. Mutalib, S. M. Shahabudin, A. Madmud. (2020). Household Income and Life Satisfaction of Single Mothers in Malaysia. Link.
  3. S. L. Pong. (1996). School Participation of Children from Single-Mother Families in Malaysia. The University of Chicago Press Journals. Link.
  4. I. Lim. (2020). Survey: Single mothers among hardest hit by MCO, bear double burden of work and family. The Malay Mail. Link.
  5. Dailyexpress. (2020). Having a Women at Table. Link.
  6. H. Zainal. (2018). ‘Pay at least RM600 per child’. The Star. Link.
  7. Unicef. (2020). Families on the Edge Issue Two: Status of The Household Post MCO. Link.

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