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Having a woman at table
Published on: Sunday, October 25, 2020
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Credit: (For Illustration Purpose only)
POVERTY rate in Sabah is an issue that is often raised in political arguments.

It is a well-known fact that Sabah is the poorest state in Malaysia. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s (DOSM) report, Sabah recorded the highest poverty rate at 19.5 per cent, involving 99,869 households based on the 2019 Poverty Line Income (PGK) calculation methodology.

However, it also has been reported time and time again that Sabah has one of highest numbers of single mothers in the country. 

In 2010, it was reported that there were 61,717 single mothers in the state by Department of Statistics Malaysia.

There have not been any further reports by the department on this since then. Still, as reported by Daily Express Sabah on 8th of July this year, the Sabah Department of Women’s Affairs (Jhewa) has received applications for assistance from 18,700 single mothers since the government’s implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18. 

These figures are likely to reflect only a fraction of the actual number of single mothers in Sabah as the application process was all done online. Some mothers may not have reliable access to the internet nor have the necessary skills to fill up the online application.

Many studies link single parenthood with poverty. The vulnerability of single motherhood is further exacerbated by fathers that refuse to provide child support for their own flesh and blood. Single mothers are, thus, saddled with juggling the full responsibilities of raising children while searching or holding jobs that allow flexibility and support to pay the bills.

Most of the time, they will have no choice but to settle for part-time or informal jobs that pay only a meagre sum. 

This is further supported by the Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report 2019 produced by DOSM that shows that relative poverty in Malaysia is higher among households headed by women than it was among households headed by men.

In Sabah, workplace culture and policies have yet to adapt a supportive work environment for women, whether they are single mothers or not. This contributes to the already low female labour force participation rate in Malaysia.

The lack of support systems for women within the workplace, coupled with lack of affordable and accessible childcare forces them to drop out of work to focus on the home and caregiving.

This is still fine if she has a partner that earns well and can support the family. However, this impacts her career choices and ability to be financially independent. Should anything happen to affect this dynamic, for example divorce, or death of a spouse, etc, she will be left vulnerable and struggling to support herself.

These are just some of the challenges that impact women in Sabah, but the effects on the economy are widespread. Simply providing aid does not solve the problem, it perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

What the Sabah government desperately needs is to include a gender lens in their planning and decision-making to ensure that effective solutions are found. After all, women and girls make up half  the population of Sabah.

As such, Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All Sabah (Serata) believes that there should be more effort in including women in top decision-making posts including the Sabah cabinet, as there is no one better to bring up issues that are faced by the female population (or half of Sabah) than women themselves.

Sadly, when the new Sabah Cabinet was recently unveiled, it revealed a stark disparity from the previous cabinet – there was not even one full women Minister.

But the fact is, women have always been side-lined in Sabahan politics.

We only had our first female minister in 1976, 13 years after Malaysia was born. Since then, we have had mostly only one full female minister. 

It was in the last government that we had a woman elevated to Deputy Chief Minister status and three well-qualified women appointed as assistant ministers. 

There were visible results of this - there was finally some work in progress, for example, towards ending child marriage, another problem that perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Imagine the progress had we had more women in the cabinet in this new government.

A state that is almost equally half male and half female deserves a cabinet that is also 50-50. It is not true democracy when only half of Sabah’s views are represented and the other half cast aside.

Without women representation at Cabinet level, how will the views and opinions of women and half the state of Sabah be included in their decision making?

We desperately need to focus on getting more women in politics and into the Sabah Cabinet.

Put a woman where decisions are being made, and maybe then we are closer to solving half of Sabah’s problems, including ending poverty.

Serata is a non-profit organisation located in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah that works on achieving gender equality through partnership. Our mission is to dismantle long-held socially constructed gender roles and promote gender equality by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls. We envision equal representation and fair division of tasks of both genders at work and in the home to reflect true partnership and respect.

Sabrina Aripen (Founder / Chairperson)

- Having a woman Minister cannot be a magic wand for women empowerment. A good start to ensuring women’s concerns are not overlooked is to have 30pc representation at all levels right down to JKKKs (and MPKKs). This is how women input in policies and planning improved in many parts of the developing world. 

What is often heard is for full woman Minister – or top and  not from the bottom up. 

Because in the Malaysian context this position may be filled by someone who is politically favoured or of certain ethnic, and not necessarily because she has women enpowerment in mind.

As for poverty, what is overlooked is that Sabah’s original population would be better off in socio-economics terms today, if not for the addition of “photocopy Sabahans” as some put it after 1990 through what RCT acknowledged as the “existence of a project IC.”

This perhaps caused Sabah’s resources to be stretched to the limits to cover the needs of one-third of the population estimated some 1million of the 3.5m population.

Resulting in many of  the migrants who obtained documents better off than indigenous in the interior. No thanks to some native leaders who cared for their own political and economic wellbeing first. – ED


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