On the topic of Human Capital Development and excerpt of the Budget 2020 speech by YB Tuan Lim Guan Eng, Finance Minister of Malaysia: “Female labour force participation rate continues to stagnate at around 55 per cent, far from our target of 60 per cent. A recent World Bank study concluded that if all barriers against Malaysian women are removed and women’s participation in our economy is increased, the country’s income per capita could grow by 26.2 per cent.”
The proposal was to give a wage incentive for returning women workers of RM500 per month for two years, and a corresponding hiring incentive for employers up to RM300 per month for two years.
Let me ask this question as women leave the workforce for various reasons, one of the commonest reason being pregnancy and subsequently child care needs.
How does a women return to work if she subsequently has a short interval unintended pregnancy, which is too common or has too many child care needs and unable to find or afford alternative childcare? In addition, how does a woman come back to work if she suffers pregnancy complications and needs long recuperating time?
Research had predicted that there will be 80,000 Malaysian women who will leave the workforce in year 2020 due to unintended pregnancies.
We know that 40 per cent of all pregnancies are unintended. We also know that women with unintended pregnancies are less prepared mentally, emotionally and financially to go through with the pregnancy. They tend to suffer higher risks of pregnancy complications, have less antenatal care and are more challenged to meet the many needs post delivery.
These consequences are more profound in the lower socio-economic strata and the less educated. Thus the vicious cycle of the poor getting poorer and sicker.
There is a clear link between family planning, women empowerment and human capital development. At its core, family planning allows women to plan when they want to be pregnant or not and avoids unintended pregnancies as its ultimate mission.
When women can plan their pregnancies, it gives them better control over their lives and families, allowing them to pursue better education and professional developments, staying in the workforce longer and meeting the needs of career advancement. This leads to a cascade long-term effect of building the country’s human capital potential.
Modern contraceptives are not just family planning tools, but it adds on to myriads of women health benefits, such as decreasing menstrual pain or bleeding, reduction of the risks of ovarian, uterine and bowel cancers, among others, allowing women to stay healthy and participate in the workforce more productively and longer.
Family planning saves mothers’ and infants’ lives by decreasing unintended pregnancies as well as promoting better maternal and infant health with longer inter-pregnancy interval.
Family planning investments are also cost-effective. It has been shown that US$1 invested in family planning can yield a health care cost savings in maternal care and newborn services of US$4, and US$1 invested in the highly effective hormonal implant contraceptive, for example, can yield a health care cost savings of US$16.
On the economic aspect, it had been shown by a recent case study of India and Nigeria, for example, that if both countries were to meet their family planning commitments by 2030, India could potentially reduce its overall household expenses by US$89.7 billion and Nigeria by US$12.9 billion.
The immense benefit of investing in family planning for positive women’s health, social well being, economic empowerment and human capital development in the long term cannot be ignored and it is hoped that future government budgets would take this core issue into consideration despite the repeated calls before.
Dr John Teo is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
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