This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In commemorating a century of global recognition of the equal rights of women, the United Nations’ theme this year is ‘Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.’ We can be proud that Malaysia is one of the countries where such opportunities are accessible to women. At present, women make up 47.3% of the Malaysian workforce, compared to 30.8% in 2000. By 2015, the Government hopes that the number will increase to 55%.
We have worked hard at social transformation, which is the key to any nation’s success. As I said earlier this year at the 10th anniversary celebration of the formation of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, changing social attitudes and values remain the biggest challenge. Nevertheless, it is a challenge we must all overcome so that the nation can transform holistically to succeed in the 21st century.
Women in Malaysia can lay claim to a vast array of achievements. Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Aziz has frequently received recognition for her role as Governor of Bank Negara. Datuk Nicol David is a well-known sports role model for her international achievements. Young entertainer Angelica Lee Sinje has developed a large following within the global Chinese community not only for her singing and award-winning acting, but also for her charity work. Datuk Lim Phaik Gan is well-respected as one of the country’s pioneer female lawyers. During his administration, my late father appointed her Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1971, the first Malaysian woman to hold the post. Her contributions have been invaluable to the growth of the nation.
Every year, local universities welcome more female students onto their campus, where decades ago education was a luxury few women could afford. The Ministry of Higher Education records that 58.6% of new intakes in local public institutions of higher learning for the 2010/11 academic session are female. In fact, in the 10th Malaysia Plan, I shared that the number of first-class degree holders produced in these institutions in 2008 were largely female, at 62.3%. This trend shows that more and more women will enter the workforce in the coming years equipped not just to become productive employees, but with great potential to become leaders in their field. As the popular poem by William Ross Wallace goes, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
In recognition of this day, I hope all Malaysians will acknowledge the roles of the hardworking women in your lives, and continue to provide encouragement and support so that we all can successfully contribute to the wealth and prosperity of the nation.