The United Nations recognises the 8th of March as International Women’s Day. If we look at the progress we have made in Malaysia, there is no denying that a large part of it has been achieved thanks to the women of this country. Since independence the government has recognised the role of women which is why programmes for women have always been part of our socio-economic development plans.
Take for instance education where we have seen remarkable growth for women. Did you know that in 1959 only one out of every 10 local undergraduates were women? Today, more than six out of ten first-class degree holders are women. In fact, we are now faced with the challenge of increasing enrolment and retention rates of boys instead.
In our journey to become a high-income fully developed nation, we have also successfully closed the gender gap in economic development. As shown in the infographic below, 46.1% of Malaysian women are working today – and we aim to increase this to 55% by 2015.
Not only are we seeing almost as many women holding jobs as men, but the nature of those jobs is equally encouraging. The Grant Thornton International Business Report last year ranked Malaysia joint-9th in the world for the number of senior management positions held by women – an impressive 31%. Even in government, we have several women in top positions in the Securities Commission, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and the Central Bank, shaping economic and financial policies of the country.
If you are a young Malaysian woman, I hope you seek inspiration from generations of successful Malaysians before you such as the late Tun Dr. Fatimah Hashim, Tan Sri Dr. Devaki Krishnan, Professor Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman, Judy Cheng-Hopkins, the late Dato’ Sri Tra Zehnder, Datuk Agnes Shim, Datuk Nicol David, and Datuk Michelle Yeoh, to name just a few.
I believe that the future will be even brighter for you. The 10th Malaysian Plan has outlined key programmes focusing on increasing women’s participation in the workforce and the number of women in key decision-making positions, improving provision of support for widows, single mothers and those with lower incomes, and eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.
So whether you are a girl looking at first steps or a woman looking at next steps, I urge you to seize the various opportunities made available by your government. If you have your own thoughts and ideas on improving women development in Malaysia, do share them. After all, Vision 2020 is a collective effort and the success of all Malaysians is guided by the inclusive principles of 1Malaysia.