I AM a science communicator trained in biotechnology. Being a career woman in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), I also spend my time empowering women in science and encouraging young girls and women to pursue STEM education and careers. I therefore commend the Government for announcing 2018 as the Women Empowerment Year and the related measures announced in Budget 2018.
These include increasing the mandatory maternity leave from 60 days to 90 days in the private sector; requiring government-linked companies, government-linked investment companies and statutory bodies to set aside 30% of positions in their board of directors to women by the end of 2018; and allocating RM20mil for training and entrepreneurship programmes tailored for women through the Entrepreneur Programme.
However, I have one major issue with the proposed tax exemption for women who wish to return to work after taking a two-year break. I feel this is not fair for those women who persevered and stayed on in their career despite all the challenges.
Working women have additional expenses such as the maid, baby sitters, and children’s transport to school. Why discriminate us in spite of all our sacrifices and contributions?
I was asked to return to work two weeks after delivering my second baby. My former employer felt that women should go back to work whenever the office needed them, even during their maternity leave. I refused as I had efficiently handed over my responsibilities to my team before taking my maternity leave. That cost me my job.
I trust many working women suffer in silence but we remain steadfast to keep our career.
Working women at all levels, whether they are professionals, skilled workers, clerical or production operators in factories, face very similar predicaments.
Dealing with maids and maid agencies is a constant nightmare and leaves a deep hole in our pockets. Those who cannot afford maids resort to baby sitters, and this comes with another set of problems. There are also working women who have to deal with unsupportive husbands.
I would like to ask why all working women whose incomes are taxable are not given tax exemption at a certain rate. Why aren’t there measures to keep us in the workforce instead of luring us back once we have left? Why is the Government trying to cure a problem when preventive measures can be taken? I feel it is not fair to neglect women who are currently in the workforce and only incentivise those who wish to return. We need to be appreciated for our perseverance.
It would indeed be a great election pledge if Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak could announce that all working women with taxable incomes will be eligible to some level of tax exemption. In fact, giving a yearly allowance like BR1M to working women from the lower income bracket is not too much to ask for.
This would help all working women and encourage them to remain in the workforce.
We need measures that will go to the core of the problem to solve it, instead of just treating the symptoms.
DR MAHALETCHUMY ARUJANAN