One Year On, Women And Children Still Most Affected By Covid-19 — Dr John Teo

The dire situation for many low-income families, including those who are headed by females, can be best described as living in abject poverty.

The media recently reported the prediction by the Minister of Finance that the implementation of the third movement control order (MCO 3.0) nationwide is not expected to have a significant impact on the country’s economic growth as almost all economic sectors are allowed to remain operational.

This is unlike MCO 1 a year ago when all economic sectors were shut down, affecting mostly the self-employed, youths, women, as well as the low skilled/low-income groups.

However, the actual situation of the marginalised, underserved and low-income reminds us of the stark hardship and reality they face every day.

One year on, their situation had not improved much, especially where women and children are concerned.

The Unicef “Families on the Edge” survey reported their final series 4 last May 11. This final series documents the wellbeing of 500 urban low income households in Kuala Lumpur.

The survey found that the unemployment rate among female head of household stands at 16 per cent, roughly three times the national average. Although earnings of female-headed households had returned to pre-crisis level, it remains relatively low at RM1,300. This may reflect the low wages and earnings by women from self-employment and informal industries.

Direct social assistance from government made up 11 per cent of overall household income, rising to 19 per cent in female-headed households.

Roughly six in 10 households are unable to purchase enough food for their families and one in three reported difficulties in providing enough money for their children to buy meals at school.

Many households struggle to make ends meet and resorted to mainly delaying rent payments, borrowings from friends or families, using up their savings and relying on government assistance. As women mainly work in informal industries or from home, it’s concerning to note that no female-headed household relied on i-Sinar or i-Lestari, possibly due to the non-possession of EPF accounts.

Their children also continues to have considerable difficulties in accessing education, both online or offline. Those difficulties ranges from lack of space, equipment, ability to remain focused, and lost of interest in studying.

These difficulties appear highest among children living in female-headed households who had suffered the most hardship for the past year.

Mental ill health appear to be highest in female-headed households, with one in four report being depressed. Many women had became physically and mentally exhausted over the past year.

Women often assumes multiple roles, from income earner to household work, child care, and never-ending chores in many households. Even when households are headed by males who lost their jobs, it’s often women who have to step up and take on additional roles to supplement family income, while at the same time keeping up with all their existing responsibilities.

The dire situation for many low-income families, including those who are headed by females, can be best described as living in abject poverty. RM1,300 is a meagre amount to be depended upon for the household’s monthly needs when one is in the middle of bustling Kuala Lumpur. This is considering that the average household size in the sample was between five to six persons.

Malaysia acceded to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995. CEDAW legally binds all States Parties to fulfill, protect and respect women’s human rights – this means that States are responsible not just for their own actions, but also for eliminating discrimination that is being perpetrated by private individuals and organisations. Gender inequalities must be addressed at all levels and in all spheres, including the family.

Twenty-six years on, women continues to lag behind in many aspects. Covid-19 set back many years of the gains we had made.

Urban poor women and children continues to suffer the deepest and most severe consequences of Covid-19 without much relief in sight. From the lens of these women and their families, access to health care and reproductive health, employment opportunities, and the ability to be self-reliant is vital.

With that, the availability of increased and regular governmental aid, micro-credit schemes for entrepreneurship, free and quality child care, equality in wages, low-cost and safe quality housing goes a long way towards alleviating their social economic status.

The magnitude of ill mental health, as well as the risk and incidence of domestic violence cannot be underestimated with Covid-19 lockdowns and the economic downturn.

The availability of mental health and women support centres are, at best, barely adequate. These resources must be ramped up rapidly and in large numbers.

If we are to recover from Covid-19 and to build a resilient and dynamic society, political leaders, policymakers, communities and the nation at large need to accept that policies, laws and programmes must put women and children in the centre.

Specifically, we must ensure women’s equal representation in all Covid-19 response planning and decision-making. We must strive for gender equality by addressing the care economy, paid and unpaid.

Anything less would hardly be the right way forward.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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