Women face higher unemployment rates than their male counterparts

PETALING JAYA: Young Malaysian women face higher unemployment rates despite being academically more qualified than their male counterparts.

Women have exceeded men in formal qualifications and have steadily increased their labour force participation (LFP), but they also experience higher unemployment rates, a study by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute found.

Its senior fellow and Malaysia Studies Programme co-coordinator Lee Hwok Aun, who authored the paper, said while male unemployment is outstandingly higher in Sabah, female youth unemployment is dispersed across various regions, including the northern peninsula and Sarawak, with Pahang, Terengganu, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur in close succession.

In his paper titled “Unemployment among Malaysia’s Youth: Structural Trends and Current Challenges”, Lee said the burgeoning numbers of tertiary-qualified women have contributed to a narrowing LFP gender gap, mainly for adults 25 years and older.

His paper stresses that the LFP gender gap among youth has stayed constant and the persisting gap is surprising, especially when research shows that young women express more ambition than men.

“A nationally representative survey of upper secondary and tertiary-level students found female respondents to be more career-minded than their male counterparts.

“Among tertiary students, larger shares of women regard work success with clear career goals as their main goal in life.

“At the same time, women’s enrolment in science, technology and engineering courses is persistently lower, ” he added.

Published on June 18,2020, the paper addresses several factors affecting youth unemployment, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced shutdown of many sectors.

“Education features saliently, where in 2018,45% of young Malaysians – 50% of women and 45% of men – were graduates, with tertiary-level qualifications.

“However, Malaysia’s graduate labour force also registers a higher unemployment rate than other education levels.

“The gender aspects are substantial. Women have exceeded men in formal qualifications and steadily increased their LFP, but they also experience higher unemployment rates.

“Ethnic and geographic factors weigh in (too). The bulk of attention has looked at unemployment in the bumiputra population, who constitute two-thirds of the Malaysian citizenry, but other categories – notably, the Indian labour force, and Sabah and northern peninsula states – are impacted in ways warranting further research and policy attention, ” he said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities Centre for Research in Media and Communication Assoc Prof Dr Jamaluddin Aziz said this trend of women unemployment is a global phenomenon.

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed structural weaknesses in our society, he added.

“It’s not the overt gender discrimination that is hard to tackle, but the ostensible religious values that are alarmingly difficult to deal with.

“There should be a paradigm shift in our political system. We need to relook at what is happening and go back to our core values.”

Perak Women for Women Society president Sumathi Sivamany agreed that there are inequalities in job scopes for professional women.

However, she argued that it is more apparent in the private sector and at management and higher levels.

“Sometimes, gender inequality is based on the job scope and not a direct refusal to offer a particular job to a qualified woman.

“Changes are needed, especially in the higher management side of the private sector, which is still male-dominated, ” she said.

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