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There Needs To Be More Women Entrepreneur’s in Rural Malaysia

The king may rule the kingdom, but it’s the queen who moves the board. – D.M. Timney

Women are the backbone of our families and the strong foundation of our societies. Coming in all shapes and sizes, these ladies are our mothers, wives, sisters, aunties, grandmas, and friends. 

With 15.9 million women in Malaysia, they make up 48% of the country’s population[1].

Women In The Malaysian Workforce

Malaysian women thrive both in urban and rural areas. Based on the Malaysia Gender Gap Index, females are surpassing males in Educational Attainment and have decent scores in Health and Survival and Economic Participation and Opportunity. Unfortunately, the female labour force participation rate in Malaysia only stands at 55.9% – a percentage that is considerably low compared to developed nations[2]

Those that did not fall into the labour force participation rate, include those that fell into unemployment, or part of the outside labour force (which includes housewives, students, retired, disabled and uninterested in work).

Source: Nestle

The women in the workforce have many seen and unseen barriers to advancement in career. 

In 2011, only 37.7% of women held managerial, professional and technical roles. In 2015, this rose to 40.8% [3].

Unfortunately, there remains a high percentage of women who are earning meagre salaries and informal jobs without social security benefits[3]. The sector that had the highest number of female workers in 2016 was wholesale and retail. This was followed by manufacturing, education, and food industries[3]

Since then the country has aimed to further empower women through self-employment opportunities and entrepreneurship, especially in rural regions.

Rural Women Struggle To Find Employment

In 2017, 2.6 million women did not join the labour force due to family responsibilities[4].

These family responsibilities are common to all households – for example, taking care of children, caring for the elderly and day-to-day household chores. Traditionally and statistically, these responsibilities affect rural women more compared to women in urban areas[4]. This could be due to the fact that women in urban areas are more open to the idea of having helpers or maids and babysitting services and daycare are easily sourced in urban areas.

Source: World Bank

Studies have identified that the lack of participation may be due to factors of education, household income, the financial condition of the households, family size and family background[3].

All these play a substantial role in female participation in the workforce[3]. It is important to remember that as women get older – their responsibilities evolve. 

In a rural setting, these factors play an even larger role. This results in women in rural areas facing higher unemployment rates compared to their urban counterparts[4].

Those in rural regions are often associated with poverty due to the lack of income as a result of the lack of education and low participation rate. Many women in rural areas fulfil their responsibilities as mothers and wives and career is often an optional item[5]

However, a method of empowerment that has successfully gained popularity over the years are entrepreneurial activities in rural areas. Not only does involvement in entrepreneurial activities improve the quality of lives of the individuals involved, but it also acts as a source of systematic job creation and economic growth increasing household income and wealth and bringing them forward to the global economy. 

Women Entrepreneurs In Rural Areas 

In 2020, there were 61.3 million women entrepreneurs operating in ASEAN countries.

Malaysia recorded approximately 650,000 women entrepreneurs in 2020. Of this number, women entrepreneurs only makeup roughly 20% with men taking the bigger share of the pie[2]

Source: The World

Whilst these numbers are not bad, it is important to note that women entrepreneurs, primarily those in rural Malaysia, are met with many obstacles. 

  • Lack of access to capital
  • Limited business & entrepreneurial skills
  • Lack of inclusiveness in major decisions involving entrepreneurship
  • Bargaining power within the market. 

Empowering Through the Internet

A 2018 study on empowering rural entrepreneurs through social innovation models taught women that they didn’t need to have large scale sites to make their business work. By educating the ladies on ICT as a driver to support their company growth they were able to improve their enterprises’ capabilities[6]

Countless studies have proven that the usage of the internet in business is a key factor of a company’s success[6]. Social media, for example, has taught women entrepreneurs, how to properly utilise different social media platforms to promote their business whilst chatting and interacting in a positive way[6]. Thanks to this method, rural women entrepreneurs do not need to worry about the lack of facilities available for them. 

Source: Digital News Asia

Nonetheless, these skills are not just picked up. The study highlighted challenges in getting women up to speed with the use of technology. Women had to learn the hardware and how to’s in marketing their products and services online. With a little practice, it was found that these rural women were able to adapt and innovate and some even had significant income increase from three to four figures monthly[6]

In support of this, the government had previously channelled funds towards bridging the digital gap in rural communities. The funding went towards the construction of telecenters to improve internet penetration, community access centres and computer literacy classes.  The local government also promoted programmes to assist vulnerable demographics (PWD, senior citizens, single mothers, youth, micro-enterprises) with ICT services[4].

Another study in 2020, also talked about the importance of digital literacy[7]. Being able to fully utilise, communicate and access information via internet platforms, social media and mobile devices are essential.

This study found that the main social media platform was Facebook (50%), with WhatsApp being used for communication[7]

Regardless, even with the internet platform representing a stable new tool for women entrepreneurs, there is still a pressing need to provide more rural women with training and mentoring services during the start-up phase of their business. With the crucial support system in place, rural women will be able to break barriers, tackle any digital hiccups and gain the confidence to grow their business. 

The same study found that all the participants agree that the usage of the Internet positively helps their business, hence, increasing their earnings[7]

Empowering Through Micro-Financing

An institution that is known for its success in micro-financing is Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM) as they provide zero-interest loans to poor households to fund their income-generating activities. 

As of September 2019, AIM has 363,497 registered members and since then there have been many success stories of those that were able to escape poverty thanks to the funding. 

Hasnah Abdullah from Perlis was a micro-financing fund recipient. She was previously earning only RM260 per month. As a single mother, she had to support her children and older members of her family. 

After applying for a loan from AIMS in 1996, taking out a total of RM121,900 by 2006, Hasanah was able to buy two lorries which she rented out to receive income. She now has RM386,000 in personal assets and an average monthly income of RM18,000[8].

Changemakers Helping Women Become Entrepreneurs

Here are some changemakers that are empowering women to take the leap in business. Whilst some may not solely focus on rural communities, their focus and vision are to help women in need, those looking for opportunity and a chance to shine. 

Women of Will: Transforming the lives of disadvantaged women in Malaysia and their communities through micro-credit financing and entrepreneurial development programmes. Contact them at: +603 6211 7555 or email: enquiries@womenofwill.org.my

Where Holistic Experiences Empower (WHEE!): Advocates rural communities via entrepreneurial empowerment. WHEE! Uses the strength of local culture to promote self-sustaining business. Current projects in In Bario, Sarawak, WHEE currently runs youth volunteering programs, ranging from ecotourism to preservation of traditional rice farming methods. 

ROCKA Atelier: A social enterprise that produces quality womens’ fashion in an ethical manner. ROCKA empowers young underprivileged ladies through apprenticeship programmes and helps them generate income. Contact them at:  011-2672 0041 or email: rockaatelier@gmail.com

Malaysian Organisation for Development of Indian Women in Career, Entrepreneurs and Professionals (MiWEPs): A nonprofit working with Malaysian Indian women to tap into their abundant workforce potential and increase the roles of Indian women in high profile careers. Contact them at: +60 10 232 5063 or email: miweps@gmail.com

Purple Lily Kuching: Inspires and empowers disadvantaged ladies by providing financial education as well as like skills training via workshops. Contact them at: +6082 231 803 or email:info@purplelily.org

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). Demographic Statistics Fourth Quarter 2020, Malaysia. Link.
  2. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Statistics on Women Empowerment in Selected Domains, Malaysia, 2020. Link.
  3. R. Akhtar, et al. (2020). Labour Force Participation and Nature of Employment Among Women in Selangor, Malaysia. Link
  4. Khazanah Research Institute. (2018). The Malaysian Workforce: A Changing Landscape. Link.
  5. N. R. N. M. Masdek. (2015). Empowering of Rural Women in the Agriculture Community through Women Development. Link.
  6. H. H. Ali, et al. (2018). Empowering Rural Women Entrepreneurs Through Social Innovation Model. Link.
  7. R. Hamid, et al. (2020). Digital Literacy Among Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Areas. Link
  8. UNDP. (2008). Malaysia Nurturing Women Entrepreneurs. Link.
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