The gender wage gap in Malaysia

Author:Linda Osman

Department:Womens Rights Team

Malaysia faces an increased level of employment fallouts, although it has always created opportunities across its sectors. One of the main reasons for this is the lower percentage of women engaging in the labour force. As the World Bank Organisation (WBO) points out, even though Malaysian women outperform Malaysian men in education, female labour participation remains low compared with peer countries. For example, while in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore, the female participation rate is more than 60 percent, in Malaysia, it is only 52 percent (Jae El, 2021; Star times, 2019).
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the fundamental reason for the lower percentage of female participation in employment in Malaysia is gender conformity, since the social norms that view "men as the main breadwinners and women as homemakers are deeply embedded in Malaysia." The gender ideologies have made it very difficult for Malaysian women to enter the world of work (ILO, 2017). Another fundamental factor contributing to the lack of women in Malaysia's workforce is the discrimination against women in the workplace, including discrimination in access to employment opportunities, treatment, the absence of maternity leave and unequal wages between males and females (Jae El, 2021). The gender pay gap, in particular, will be the focus of this article.
National Legislation
The primer legislation prohibited discrimination against women in the Malaysia Federal constitution. Under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, all persons are equal to the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
Besides the Federal constitution, the 1955 Employment Act (the EA), amended in 2012, is regarded as the most important employment statute. It outlines the minimum rights of employers and employees. Section 34 of the EA prohibits female employees from working at certain hours, while Section 35 restricts women from doing underground work such as mining. Other than these two sections the EA treats women and men equally. However, the EA has no specific provisions that mandate "equal remuneration for work of equal value", or any explicit prohibitions on gender-based discrimination during the course of employment (Bhatt, 2010). Therefore, the Act does not provide adequate protection for women's rights within the workplace, especially with regard to the issue of equal pay for work of equal value.
Relevant Ratified International Agreements
The main international agreement that protects womens rights is the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Malaysia ratified this convention in August 1995 (OHCHR, 2022).
CEDAW is aimed at protecting women from all forms of discrimination whether at home, in the workplace or elsewhere. Regarding employment and the right to equal remuneration in particular, Article 11 of CEDAW requires States to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women in employment. It also requires States to ensure that women have the same rights as men in exercising their right to work, the right to the same employment opportunities, the right to choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, the right to job security, the right to receive training, the right to social security, the right to protection of health and the right to safety in working conditions. The provision also specifically requires states to ensure women's right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work.
Another international agreement that is relevant to this topic is The Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), which Malaysia ratified in 1997. Article 2(1) of the Convention requires state parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure the right to equal remuneration for work of equal value for all workers regardless of their gender.
Gender pay gap in Malaysia
In Malaysia, male employees generally make more money than female employees. In the latest available data published by the Department of Statistics Malaysia in October 2019, the Salaries and Wages Survey Report Malaysia 2018 showed men earning a median monthly salary of RM2,342 as compared to women at RM2,227, despite the fact they were employed in similar jobs (The Star, 2019).
The gender wage gap in Malaysia is by no means an indicator of a gap in the quality of work of men and women, however. According to a recent World Bank report, Breaking Barriers: Toward Better Opportunities for Women in Malaysia, women have on average greater educational attainment and show more actual learning (The World Bank, 2019) . Therefore, the question remains as ot why Malaysian women still not making as much money in the labor force.
According to the CPA Australia report on "Gender Equality In The Malaysian Workplace", the gap between women's and men's wages in Malaysia is a product of two reasons: a. Gender bias, misperceptions, and discrimination in workplaces and b. Occupational segregation (CPA Australia, 2020).
a. Gender bias, misperceptions, and discrimination in workplaces
Malaysian employers assume that women are unable to work in certain environments and that they are unable to perform in leadership roles. Therefore, they prefer men who are deemed to be more valuable in certain roles. Accordingly, women are often wrongfully penalised at work due to a multitude of reasons which include discrimination and incorrect perceptions about a womans ability to contribute (CPA Australia, 2020).
The gender wage gap appears to widen as employees climb up the career ladder because the effects of gender discrimination are compounded over time. he report explains that salaries for entry-level positions tend to be more standardised, but as women progress in their careers, gender bias may affect their performance appraisal and opportunities for promotion (CPA Australia, 2020).
Moreover, women are less likely to negotiate for pay raises, and those who do so may be perceived as pushy, and the recruiters often ask job applicants about their previous salary, which further compounds the wage gap. In addition, once women have children, they may face the so-called motherhood penalty in Malaysian workplaces, since employers perceive mothers to be less competent and committed than women without children, even when they have similar credentials. In contrast, fathers are perceived to be more committed than men without children (The Star; 2019; CPA Australia, 2020).
Moving forward, the government should ask companies in Malaysia to review their performance appraisal criteria to mitigate potential gender bias and ensure that these criteria are fair. The government should also require companies in Malaysia to reveal how much they pay their male and female staff to solve the issue of women being paid less than men for doing the same work ( Murad, 2019).
b. Occupational segregation
The other reason that contributes to the gender gap in Malaysia is occupational segregation, where some industries and careers are dominated by one gender. In Malaysia, all jobs in manufacturing and engineering, which are high-paying jobs, are mostly male-dominated. While most women work in the five"Cs": cleaning, cashiering, caring, clerical work, and catering, which are all, unfortunately, underpaid not because it is less productive but partly because Malaysian society undervalues them. Furthermore, due to traditional and cultural norms that still expect women to take sole responsibility for family and household duties, women in Malaysia still face barriers to attaining managerial positions in companies; they are instead encouraged to pursue what are considered more feminine job types that allow them to work less time, so they can do the household duties and taking care of the children (Vaghefi, 2018; CPA Australia, 2020).
To address occupational segregation, the government should challenge gender stereotypes and expand the range of career options available to women and girls. In addition, barriers that hinder women and girls from pursuing careers in traditionally male-dominated fields should be removed. This could be done by taking a number of steps like introducing laws to stop gender discrimination in the workforce, requiring companies to report the proportion of men and women employees, and providing accessible and affordable care services for children to enable more women to work in more productive jobs (Vaghefi, 2018; Women Aid Organisation, 2019).

The gender income gap problem not only does it impact labour-market performance in Malaysia, but also greatly hinders the opportunities for Malaysian women who are restricted in their careers, and consequently their lives. . Narrowing the gender pay gap requires the Malaysian government to take concrete steps to address gender bias and occupational segregation in workplaces and work to correct these issues. This can be achieved by introducing laws to end gender discrimination in the workforce, introducing a provision on "equal pay for work of equal value" in the Employment Act, by helping women overcome traditional and cultural barriers, and advocating for more social support for care workers. Taking such steps will benefit the Malaysian labour market and help Malaysia to comply with its obligation under international law.