Achieving gender equality and empowering women are necessary to achieve social, economic and political development. Today, girls and women continue to benefit from health and education services with women surpassing men in enrolment and academic achievements in many situations. Women in Malaysia are also more actively involved today in politics and numerous other national initiatives. Malaysia’s commitment and dedication to the advancement of women is evident in many of its programs and policies in the last two decades.
In 1985, the Government of Malaysia formulated the National Policy on Women as a guide for women’s participation in the development process. The Policy helps enhance women’s quality of life by overcoming challenges through poverty eradication and education. The stature of women became a primary objective of the 6th Malaysia Plan (1991 – 1995), where a special fund for the development of women became a significant and integral step towards empowering women in Malaysia. Subsequent Malaysia Plans continue to focus on the needs of women with recommendations to advance their position in society.
By agreeing to the commitments set forth in the Beijing Platform for Action at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (1995), the Government promised to 1) enhance the national machinery for women’s advancement; 2) increase women’s participation in decision-making; 3) safeguard women’s rights to health, education and social well being and 4) remove legal obstacles and gender discriminatory practices. In 1995, the Government also ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW). In 2001, the Government created the Ministry of Women and Family Development with a mandate to address issues on women and uplift the stature of women in the country.
Malaysia’s Constitution was amended in August 2001 to prohibit discrimination in any law on the basis of gender. The Government continues to play a crucial and supportive role in achieving greater gender equality in the country, by providing a healthy environment for the advancement of women at both national and international arenas. The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development which is responsible for addressing women’s issues in Malaysia has had its budget increase from RM 1.8 million (US$ 0.5 million) in 2001 to RM 30.5 million (US$ 8.6 million) in 2005, demonstrating the country’s serious commitment to the cause.
Future challenges to be considered include: addressing the continued poverty among female-headed households; combating violence against women; raising the effectiveness of gender mainstreaming strategies; reducing women’s risk of contracting HIV; removing attitudinal challenges that impact capacity-building; and raising the level of women’s participation in the labour force, in business and in politics and government.
KPWKM is headed by a Minister, currently held by Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil (UMNO). She is assisted by a Deputy Minister, currently held by Senator Heng Seai Kie (MCA). The following departments and agencies are under the purview of the KPWKM:
* Department for Women’s Development In 1975, the Government set up the National Advisory Council on the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID) as the machinery to ensure the involvement of women in development. In 1983, the Secretariat for Women’s Affairs (HAWA) in the Prime Minister’s Department was established to take over the tasks of the NACIWID Secretariat. From 1997, HAWA functioned as a department under the former Ministry of National Unity and Social Development. In 2001, the Department was placed under the then newly established KPWKM and restructured as the Department for Women’s Development (DWD). By 2002, the DWD had set up branch offices in every state in Malaysia.
* Social Welfare Department Initially set up in 1946 as the Community Welfare Department of Malaya, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has evolved in fulfilling its role in national development. From initially being involved in mitigating the social problems brought about by the immediate post-war period, the role and functions of this department have expanded to cover prevention and rehabilitation services in social issues as well as community development.
* National Population and Family Development Board The National Population and Family Development Board (NPFDB) was established in 1966 to improve the reproductive health status of women and men and encourage family planning. It has since evolved to include policy and advisory roles by assisting planners and programme managers to integrate population and family development into sectoral development programme planning as well as facilitate policy makers to consider population and family development factors in the formulation of national development policies and strategies.
* Social Institute of Malaysia The Social Institute of Malaysia was set up to promote professional and semi-professional training in the field of training and research as well as social education to all social workers from various levels and groups from within and outside the country including non-governmental organizations. It currently operates from a 50-acre (200,000 m2) campus in Sungai Besi that was completed in 2001.