PETALING JAYA: Despite the many advances made in promoting women's rights, women continue to experience widespread discrimination in Malaysia, says Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail.
"According to the Department of Statistics, only 54.7% of women participate in the workforce compared to 80.1% of men, yet approximately half of all professional and technical workers are women," he said.
He added that even in management and senior roles, only 22.2% were headed by women. He said women on average only earned RM93.80 for every RM100 that men earned.
"We have also yet to see proportional representation of women in leadership roles at every level in society.
"Among the top 100 largest companies on Bursa Malaysia, only 23.2% of appointed Board of Directors are women. Coupled with a mere 13.9% of parliamentary seats occupied by women, this clearly illustrates a greater need to encourage the participation of women in politics and in leadership roles.
"These figures do not even begin to take into account the number of girls who are unable to participate in the workforce or in public office due to early marriage which impacts their ability to complete their education," he said in a statement in conjunction with International Women's Day on Friday (March 8).
Hence, Razali said women cannot be expected to live their lives to its full capacity and to be able to contribute positively to country and society if they still faced barriers and opposition that arose not from their inability to perform.
"It is imperative that institutional barriers that have hindered the empowerment of women be systemically addressed and spearheaded by the government," he said.
Razali added that having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) in 1995, it took Malaysia 24 years to draft laws that formally recognised gender equality and criminalised sexual harassment.
"This is a positive step, but the Committee on Cedaw, Suhakam, and other women's rights groups urges the government to expedite the enactment of these laws, and calls upon the government to table these two Bills in this year's Parliament session.
"Suhakam also calls for both laws to extend to the protection of women and girls in the marginalised groups such as the indigenous community, refugees, migrant workers and victims of human trafficking given their vulnerability," he said.
Razali also pointed out that it was adamant that raising the marriage age to 18 without exception would allow girls to focus on their education and enable them to be financially independent, upwardly mobile and be fully empowered.