Uplifting every mother

mother's day concept with rose on pink background

MOTHERS have always held a sacred place in society.

After all, they do a lot for their family even as they navigate their own life.

On this Mothers Day, Sunday Star takes a look at what the government has been doing to uplift Malaysian mothers and what more can be done.

The government has long recognised the importance of providing a good support system to mothers, with the establishment of the Women’s Affairs Ministry in 2001. The ministry was later expanded to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM).

In recent years, the ministry has been doing good work in forming and implementing policies that benefit mothers.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) senior director of research Sri Murniati Yusuf says she sees a lot of positive work from the ministry since former minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s time in the KPWKM in 2018 to 2020.

“There were a lot of initiatives for mothers who are working mothers when Dr Wan Azizah and (then deputy minister) Hannah Yeoh were in the ministry.

“Both of them are so public that the issue became mainstream and a lot more visible in the press.

“We also had some stuff for housewives like the i-Suri under the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF),” Sri Murniati says.

The i-Suri, launched in 2018, is a subscription programme voluntary for housewives, widows and single mothers registered under e-Kasih.

Members of i-Suri can enjoy the same benefits as any other EPF members such as annual dividends on their retirement savings, withdrawals of EPF savings, incapacitation benefits and death benefits.

They can also contribute a minimum of RM5 on a monthly basis into their retirement savings account in order to be eligible to receive the government incentive of RM40 a month.

The government also implemented the Housewives’ Social Security Scheme (HSS) in December 2022, which is eligible for housewives below 55 years of age.

Under this scheme, husbands can voluntarily register to pay RM120 in advance to the Social Security Organisation (Socso) to provide protection for their wives covering a 12-month period.

Housewives themselves can also choose to make contributions if their husbands elect not to sign up for the scheme, which offers a range of medical benefits and compensation payments of between RM300 and RM50,000 depending on the seriousness of injuries sustained by housewives while at home.

Nowadays, Sri Murniati says there are many housewives who start their own small business from home on top of their care work.

One way the government can help such mothers is to normalise informal jobs such as these, she adds.

The government is also taking into consideration mothers who took a break from work for family reasons but want to return to work.

The Career Comeback Tax Exemption was extended for another year under Budget 2024, allowing women who returned to work from a career break of at least two years prior to be exempted from individual income tax of up to 12 months.

Working mothers have also seen policies in recent years to help facilitate their efforts in maintaining a balance between their work life and their family.

The current KPWKM minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri has previously expressed her intentions to push for even more initiatives empowering women in the workplace.

“Although women dominate men in universities, only 56.2% of the female population is employed, compared to 81.9% of men.

“Women in the 30 to 39 age group are more likely to leave their jobs permanently due to family commitments,” she said.

In 2019, KPWKM pushed for all government agencies to set up nurseries at the workplace to make it easier for working mothers who have young children.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) research consultant Yu Ren Chung says access and affordability of childcare services should be the government’s biggest priority if they want to uplift mothers.

“There are various ways the government could do this, for example expanding the number and hours of existing Community Development Department (Kemas) centres run by government or expanding subsidies for childcare services.

“This may require substantial public investment but would pay off in the form of higher labour force participation among women,” he says.

In 2022, the government also amended the Employment Act to increase maternity leave from 60 days to 98 consecutive days, and introduced a seven-day paternity leave.

But what has paternity leave got to do with uplifting mothers?

“With this right, fathers are more able to carry out their responsibilities in the first week of their child’s birth as well as provide support to the mother.

“Mandating paternity leave also sends a message that parenting is a shared responsibility,” says Yu.

However, Sri Murniati believes one week of paternity leave is not enough for the father to help the mother with her recovery after childbirth on top of taking care of the newborn baby.

This is one of the things the government can improve upon if they want to further help mothers, she says.

Meanwhile, Yu says the government could explore public funding for maternity leave.

“Currently, the costs are born by companies. Public funding would reduce the incentives to discriminate against mothers-to-be and help smaller companies with costs, which would ultimately benefit mothers,” he says.

There are also other ways the government can help mothers aside from coming up with direct policies.

They can play a monitoring and facilitating role in encouraging the private sector to provide better support for their women employees.

The challenges mothers face is not just about economic reasons, but the whole system of support provided to them.

Beyond economics: Working mothers have also seen policies in recent years to help facilitate their efforts in maintaining a balance between their work life and their family. However, we need to push for even more initiatives empowering women in the workplace.Beyond economics: Working mothers have also seen policies in recent years to help facilitate their efforts in maintaining a balance between their work life and their family. However, we need to push for even more initiatives empowering women in the workplace.

Like the efforts to establish nurseries in government offices, private companies could also be encouraged through government incentives to have creches in the office, for example.

Sri Murniati points out that many mothers find it difficult to deal with the “double burden” of having to juggle between working at their jobs and handling a majority of the housework and childcare.

“While we still have the patriarchal system, it’s kind of difficult, right? Like me, I’m quite lucky that my husband is not that traditional in a way, he doesn’t ask me to do this or that, but I was raised that way.

“So I feel bad if I don’t iron his shirt, for example. This is the expectation we have, even as a woman ourselves, because we grew up that way.

“The government can play the role of providing incentives, subsidies or tax waivers (to encourage companies),” Sri Murniati says.

Community is another important part of the support system for mothers.

“I think what is missing from the conversation is parenting skills. We need to create a community in which, hey, as a parent, you need to educate yourself.

“This is something that you don’t consciously make it as something you have to learn (but) raising a human being is not an easy thing to do.

“The emotional scars will live with you, without a doubt, and you pass it onto your kids and you create a cycle of this bad parenting.

“So if we want to create a healthy society in which we deal with, for example, the problem of mental healthcare, we need to go beyond the economic needs of the families.

“I don’t know what the government can do because this is beyond the government,” Sri Murniati says.

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