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Thursday, 29 February 2024 8:02pm

Empowering Single Mothers in Malaysia

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Malaysia has been placing great emphasis on family as a vital element in its socio-economic development. Through its National Family Policy, “family” is interpreted as a basic social unit that supplies human resources for development, and guarantees the continuity of people as future generations.

Such family includes single mothers; beginning the 2010 Population and Housing Census, a single mother in the country is defined as either:

  • A woman who is the head of her household, widowed or divorced/permanently separated and has unmarried children in the same household;
  • A woman who is the head of her household, but has a husband (who is unwell and unable to work) and unmarried children in the same household; or
  • A woman who is the head of her household, is not married but has children (adopted or illegitimate children).

There are a total of 831,860 single mothers accounted for in the 2010 census. Ten years later, the number rose to 940,735 as reported in the 2020 Population and Housing Census – or close to three per cent of Malaysia’s population of 32.4 million.

The increasing number of single mothers demands the Malaysian Government to ensure their empowerment through its policies and strategies as it builds a more progressive and inclusive society.

For example, the Tenth Malaysia Plan (2011-2015) outlined major programmes that aimed to enable women to realise their full potential and be part of the country’s socio-economic development more effectively, whether in the labour force or via entrepreneurship.

Some of these programmes involved improving the provision of support to women in challenging circumstances such as widows, single mothers and those in low-income groups.

This continued in the subsequent Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), in which women’s role in development was enhanced by creating a more conducive working environment and boosting the number of women in decision-making positions.

In 2015, Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat through Jabatan Pembangunan Wanita together with the United Nations Development Programme Malaysia launched the Single Mothers Empowerment Action Plan 2015-2020.

Screenshot from 2020-2021 Statistics on Women, Family and Community by Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat

The five-year national plan sought to empower single mothers through 18 strategic measures categorised under three main pillars: economic empowerment; improved social well-being; and research and coordination of the development of single mothers in Malaysia.

All these plans have led to various initiatives that have allowed single mothers to thrive economically and socially.

Some of which encourage them to venture into entrepreneurship, including the Skills Upgrading Programme by SME Corporation Malaysia and the Women Exporters Development Programme by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation.

At the same time, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM) distributes welfare aid for single mothers, ranging from monthly assistance for child support, disabled workers and the elderly, to one-time assistance in the form of launching grants for business support, skills training and school assistance for those with children.

Single mothers can be as capable as every other citizen in contributing to a country’s socio-economic development. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto @ Pexels

In Sarawak, many measures undertaken by the Sarawak Government have helped single mothers who want to generate their own income to earn financial independence and boost their standard of living.

Jabatan Wanita dan Keluarga Sarawak (JWKS), for instance, provides the Ketua Isi Rumah Wanita Sarawak (KIRWaS) micro financial assistance for women who are the sole bread winner of their family and/or single mothers.

The department also offers training for single mothers to enhance their knowledge and skills through its Women Skills Training programme, in areas such as sewing and clothing; culinary; beauty; and spa and massage.

Other financial aids for single mothers running their own micro businesses are made available by other government agencies and departments as well as government-linked companies, including the Ministry of International Trade, Industry and Investment Sarawak; Department of Agriculture Sarawak; Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC); and Majlis Amanah Raya (MARA).

Various initiatives by the Government encourage single mothers to transition from welfare to work through entrepreneurship and skills training. File photo

Despite these numerous government services designed to empower single mothers in Malaysia, there is a need to take a more holistic approach towards ensuring their independence.

Considering that most of the aforementioned initiatives involve transitioning from welfare to work through entrepreneurship and skills training, some studies propose strengthening the social support of single mothers.

Particularly, families and communities need to play their part in aiding these women through non-monetary means such as childcare, emotional support or constant words of encourage, which is fundamental in overcoming negative perceptions of single mothers as ‘incapable’ or ‘abusive of the welfare system.’

Most welfare assistance for single mothers are provided by Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat. File photo

Other studies suggest the need for the Government and women empowerment agencies to promote programmes and assistance more actively to single mothers who remain unaware of such benefits.

More importantly, continuous research on this specific group in the country is essential to better understand their diverse socio-economic statuses, needs and challenges; findings from such research can lead to the development of more comprehensive ways of championing their endeavour.

Many studies suggest that a shift in societal perspective, a boost in the promotion of programmes and assistance, and more in-depth research are needed to better support single mothers in Malaysia. File photo


2020-2021 Statistics on Women, Family and Community. (2022). Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat. https://www.kpwkm.gov.my/kpwkm/uploads/files/Penerbitan/Buku%20Perangkaan/e-book%E2%80%A2KPWKM%202020-2021%20291122.pdf

Badiozaman, I., Voon, M., & Birdthistle, N. (2021). Examining Work Re-Entry Decisions for Single Mothers through Bourdieu’s Capital Theory. International Journal Of Service Management And Sustainability, 6(2), 27-52. doi:10.24191/ijsms.v6i2.15570

Bantuan Ketua Isi Rumah Wanita Sarawak (KIRWaS). (2022, October 26). Jabatan Wanita dan Keluarga Sarawak. https://jwks.sarawak.gov.my/web/subpage/news_view/33

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Ishak, Suraiya & Raflis, Ahmad & Osman, Lokhman & Jasli, Nur & Hussain, Mohd. (2021). The Single Mother Entrepreneurs Business Growth Conundrum: What Matters?. International Journal of Asian Social Science, 11(3), 137-153. 10.18488/journal.1.2021.113.137.153.

Pelan Tindakan Pemerkasaan Ibu Tunggal 2015-2020. (2015). Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat. https://www.kpwkm.gov.my/kpwkm/uploads/files/Dokumen/BUKU%20PELAN%20TINDAKAN%20PEMERKASAAN%20IBU%20TUNGGAL.pdf

Perkhidmatan Ibu Tunggal. (2023, November 23). Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat. https://www.jkm.gov.my/jkm/index.php?r=portal/full&id=YTRSSkczSldsb0oyUnN2eG5mdGhyZz09

Rahman, N. N. H. A., Ramli, N., & Hamdan, M. N. (2022). Empowerment of Single Mothers Livelihood through Comprehensive Social Support System. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 12(1), 155–162. https://hrmars.com/papers_submitted/11602/empowerment-of-single-mothers-livelihood-through-comprehensive-social-support-system.pdf

Tenth Malaysia Plan 2011-2015. (2010). Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister’s Department, Malaysia. https://www.pmo.gov.my/dokumenattached/RMK/RMK10_Eds.pdf

Women Skills Training (WST) 2023. (n.d.). Jabatan Wanita dan Keluarga Sarawak. https://jwks.sarawak.gov.my/web/subpage/webpage_view/168

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