Women in Malaysia’s rural areas yearn for skills-based training

Almost half of Malaysia’s working-age population are women, but only about half (53.5%) of them are in the workforce.


March 8, 2022

PETALING JAYA – Women in rural and remote villages want the government to hold skills-based training programmes at their villages so that more women can earn a living and lift their families out of poverty.

Enterpreneur Rufina Isbol (pic), who owns a bakery in Telupid, Sabah, said many women in her village are in dire straits and are eager to learn a skill so that they can work and help support their families.

But they face many barriers such as the lack of support from their spouses and family and insufficient funds to enrol in skills-training courses.

“Even if there are courses, these are often held in big towns like Sandakan or Kota Kinabalu.

“Telupid is far (five or six hours away) from Kota Kinabalu and the women here don’t have the money to go that far.

“Many also have young children that they can’t leave for a few days to go for the courses.

“Why not organise courses in the villages? It will benefit so many women,” she said.

Rufina said although she did not have the support of her husband, she was determined to work.

She saved money from selling kuih to attend a baking course in Sandakan.

“My husband had no choice but to look after the children. It wasn’t easy but now, I have my own shop,” said Rufina, 43.

Almost half of Malaysia’s working-age population are women – 9.5 million women compared to 9.8 million men. However, only about half (53.5%) of them are in the workforce.

Research by the Khazanah Research Institute shows that women in rural areas have a lower workforce participation rate than those in urban areas.

About 60% of working-age women who don’t work cite housework and childcare as the main reasons, according to a 2018 World Bank study.

For women in rural areas, the lack of access to jobs and education and training means that they will continue to lag behind.

Mother of three Rosia Seet said she hoped to start a small business which she can run at home while minding her children.

“I make some craft now to sell at the shops in the village.

“But the sales are not good because I only sell to the villagers. They also don’t have much money to spend on these items. I want to go outside the village to sell my products but who will take care of my children?” said the single mother.

“There are many women who also want to work. They want to bring their families out of poverty but they are confined to their homes. They need support,” said Rufina.

“Many men in the village also believe that taking care of children and doing domestic work is the job of women.

“I wish that the government would also come to the villages and talk to the men, to make them realise the role women can play in the economy,” she added.

In support of the 2022 International Women’s Day Global Collective against discrimination and gender bias, The Star, as chair of the World Editors Forum (Asia Chapter), in collaboration with its regional media partners, will embark on a year-long initiative to highlight stories that celebrate and promote equality.

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