Plight of working class women remains unresolved after 100 years

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Several civil society groups say the RM750 eligibility ceiling for welfare aid for low-income single mothers should be increased to RM1,500 in view of the high cost of living.

Every year, on International Women’s Day, women are celebrated the world over for the unique role they play in society.

However, it is disappointing to reflect that the issues women struggled with – a hundred years ago in 1917, when working class women took to the streets demanding “Bread & Peace” in feudal Russia – remain the same, even if their uprising had led to the downfall of the oppressive Tsar regime and initiated this global annual commemoration for women.

The struggle for “bread and butter” is still an issue because working class women and single mothers are unable to meet their family needs due to low wages and the rising cost of living.

On this day, brave women in our community who have stepped up to uphold the rights of women and the downtrodden are showcased as exemplary figures while we take stock of progress made in our struggle for equality in a burgeoning global community.

Thus, we are outraged that the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development should take a hefty budget cut for 2017 in the midst of a bloated budget. The drop from RM1.87bn in 2016 to RM 1.75bn this year is indicative of the government’s view that the RM120m can be put to better use than assisting the urban poor, working class women, single mothers, their school-going children and the vulnerable who require the protection of the Welfare Department.

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According to statistics provided by the ministry, 61,600 single mothers were recipients of a total of RM151m in 2014. However, in response to a parliamentary question, the ministry reported that 830,000 single mothers were recorded in the country. Even if less than half of the latter figure (40 per cent) should fall under the low-income bracket, it is indicative that the Welfare Department will have to turn away at least 270,400 applicants.

An urgent revision of its priorities is urged of the government, and a boost in the allocation to this ministry that would truly reflect the role it should play towards the welibeing of the Rakyat should be implemented immediately.

Low-income single mothers are hit the hardest especially because there is no change to the Poverty Line Income measurement which qualifies only those earning a monthly wage of RM750 and less to financial aid.

This welfare benefit cap is cruel and provides no solution to helping low-income families out of poverty especially those led by single mothers. The RM750 eligibility ceiling should be increased to RM1,500 to facilitate the current expenditure trends for basic necessities.

We also call for a proactive revision on the classification of the term “single mothers” eligible for welfare aid to include women with children below the age of 18 years whose husbands are prison inmates. Having lost their entire household income through no fault of theirs, many women and children are displaced with potential risk to their health, education and wellbeing.

We can foresee that the government will no doubt acknowledge International Women’s Day with activities and actions that will highlight the achievements of prominent women in business and social leaders in an attempt to prove it has lived up to its role in implementing initiatives that have successfully upgraded women.

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Such showcasing efforts are grand farcical attempts at masking the real suffering of working class women, whose lives will further deteriorate following the budget cut.

In 1975, 8 March was adopted as the International Women’s Day; yet Malaysia has made little progress in moving away from a patriarchal system that does little to reduce gender disparities, defend the rights of women or alleviate discrimination and violence against them.

We the undersigned call upon the Malaysian government to:

  • increase the budget allocated to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development by doubling the 2016 allocation as this ministry is responsible for the improvement of the lives of people who are the foundation of the nation – the working class.
  • raise the Poverty Line Income measurement to RM1,500 and set up a system that monitors their progress in improving their livelihood.
  • set up government-funded crèches at all low-cost residential areas in stages to provide a safe and secure environment for the children of the working class. Children from low-cost homes should automatically be registered in quality crèches.
  • revise the classification of the term “single mothers” eligible for welfare aid, to include women with children below the age of 18 years whose husbands are inmates in prisons.
  • introduce a new low rate for low-cost homes especially for low-income single mothers with an easy payment hire-purchase scheme.
  • revisit single mother applications that were rejected by the Welfare Department and introduce a new scheme that will allow the department to analyse problems and issues faced by single mothers and enable them to implement new schemes to elevate their standard of living.
  • the Jaringan Rakan Ibu Tunggal has engaged with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development from 2014 through a memorandum and a dialogue. However, none of our recommendations was implemented. We reiterate the seriousness of the challenges and needs of single mothers, the most vulnerable of working class women
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The above joint statement was issued in conjunction with International Women’s Day and is endorsed by the following organisations.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Community Development Centre
Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit)
Aliran

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