Photo: The game of Congkak © Fadzly Mubin, Flickr

Women in politics and governance

Women able to vote?: Yes

Women able to stand for election?: Yes

Percentage of female MPs: 10% (2013)

National Women’s Machinery: The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM)

Universal suffrage was introduced in Malaysia in 1957 with the minimum voting age set at 21. Prominent women in Malaysian politics include Nurul Izzah, the Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai and a supporter of the People’s Justice Party (PKR); and Hannah Yeoh, a member of the Selangor State Assembly and the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The International Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranks Malaysia joint 111thout of 190 countries in terms of number of women in national parliaments, with women making up just 10% of the seats, a proportion that has remained unchanged since 2005.

Human rights and legislation

CEDAW status: 5 July 1995, acceded

Maputo protocol: No

Same-sex relations: Illegal, punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, fines or corporal punishment

Legal age for marriage, women: 18 yrs, 16 yrs with permission

Legal age for marriage, men: 18 yrs, 16 yrs with permission

Malaysia ratified CEDAW in 1995. Sharia Law is active within the dual legal system.

The CEDAW and Malaysia: Malaysian Non-Government Organisations’ Alternative Report was launched in 2012 by 22 NGOs. The Alternative Report lists examples of gender discrimination prevalent within the country. These included the continued under-representation of women in politics and decision-making positions; low women’s labour force participation; lack of labour rights for migrant domestic workers; permissibility of child marriage; policing of morality; lack of rights-based sex education; and non-recognition of marital rape.

In 2007 the government together with NGOs responded to the increase in gender-based violence through reviewing existing and introducing new legislation, as well as implementing preventive and rehabilitative programmes. Statistics sourced from the Royal Malaysia Police and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development indicate that domestic violence has dropped by around a fifth between 2008 and 2010. The number of rape cases more than doubled in the years 2000–09, falling slightly in 2011, while child abuse saw a rising trend between the years 2000–09.

Programmes in awareness and training relating to understanding gender roles and expectations, preventing abuse and maintaining family harmony are planned to continue to be instigated by the government and NGOs. During the Tenth Malaysia Plan period (2011–15) efforts are promised to continue to be undertaken to address issues of gender equality, with a specific focus on the 2.4 million vulnerable households categorised as the poorest 40%.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Malaysia and punishable by incarceration of up to 20 years, a fine and whipping, although corporal punishment is also listed as a possible punishment. The government has refused to consider repealing article 377B of the penal code which criminalizes consensual homosexual intercourse, or to update article 377C on non-consensual sexual acts with a gender-neutral law on rape. In 2010 the Malaysian Film Producers’ Association released censorship guidelines allowing gay characters to appear in films, with the provision that they are seen to repent during the film or incur negative consequences. Cross-dressing can result in arrest, particularly if the individual involved is Muslim. It is estimated that a large number of transgender persons are forced into commercial sex work.

The legal age for marriage is 18, although those over 16 may marry once permission has been attained from the Chief Minister of the State. Polygamy is legal for Muslims although illegal under the Law Reform Act for non-Muslims.

Corporal punishment of boys is lawful in schools, regulated by the Education Regulations (Student Discipline) 2006 under the Education Act 1996. Article 350 of the Penal Code 1936 confirms that caning of a scholar by a headteacher does not amount to criminal force.

Economic empowerment

Maternity leave: 60 days, paid

Paternity leave: None

In 2010, 3.8% of the female labour force was unemployed compared with 3.6% of the male. Data from 2012 shows that 36% of the labour force is female, with 47% of women active in the workforce compared to 82% of men, resulting in a female-to-male ratio of 0.57:1. Women are permitted to sit as judges in the civil courts, this right being extended to the Sharia courts (state courts dealing with aspects of Islamic law) in 2010.

Malaysia ranks second in the Gender Gap Report 2012 wage equality survey, with women’s wages averaging 82% of the average male wages. However, annual income information shows that on average women earn 57% less than men, with this figure attributable to disparities of average rank in the workplace. Women hold a quarter of positions as managers, senior officials and legislators, and make up two-fifths of the professional and technical workforce.

Malaysia holds legislation prohibiting gender-based discrimination and advocating that a mandatory minimum figure of 30% of decision-making positions within corporate companies in the private sector must be held by women by 2016.

In 2000 Zeti Akhtar Aziz became the first woman to hold the position of governor in Bank Negara Malaysia, Malaysia’s central bank.

Maternity leave is 60 days or more, during which time the mother receives full pay from her employer. Paternity leave of one week is available for those working in the public sector, also payable at the father’s full wage.


Abortion: Legal only in cases where it will save the mother’s life, or preserve her physical and mental health

Life expectancy is estimated at 77 years for women and 71 years for men for 2012. There are 100,000 adults with HIV in Malaysia with 11% of these being women, a country percentage among the lowest recorded by the World Bank (est. 2009). The contraceptive prevalence rate among married women is 55%.

In the period 2007–11 Malaysia had a reported maternal mortality ratio of 30 deaths per 100,000 live births (this figure was estimated at 29 deaths per 100,000 by UN agencies/World Bank in 2010). In the period 2007–12, 99% of births were attended by a skilled health professional.


Literacy rate women (15yrs+): 91% (2010)

Literacy rate men (15yrs+): 95.4% (2010, World Bank)

Malaysia has achieved gender parity at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. In 2006 some 96% of pupils completed primary school with 48% of these being female. Women make up 51% of those enrolled into secondary education, with the female–male ratio for gross enrolment into tertiary education recorded at 1.29:1. In 2010, 66% of adult women had attained secondary education while 72.8% of men attained the same.

Women make up most of the teaching force in Malaysia: 69% of primary, 67% of secondary and 50% of tertiary teachers are women (2009).

Civil society and non-governmental organisations

Civil society is becoming increasingly influential in Malaysia, with many NGOs working to reduce the incidence of poverty among women, including single mothers and female-headed households.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) combats violence against women, offering shelter and social and emotional support for victims of abuse. WAO holds regular events that include fundraising and campaigning.

The Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia (OGSM) is working to boost health care for women by providing data and playing a supporting role to the Health Ministry. The society aims to become a voice for women’s health care in Malaysia.

The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) promotes societal equality and human rights, with a focus on gender-based violence and the politicisation of ethnicity and religion.

Tenaganita (Women’s Force), founded in 1991 to address issues faced by women workers in industrial sectors and plantations, is an NGO that promotes equality and human rights. Tenaganita is one of the organisations heading the Esther Project, which aims to establish a shelter for rescued victims of human trafficking in Malaysia.

Related reports

UN Women Progress of the World’s Women report 2011–12

Data was accurate at first half of 2013 or as otherwise dated. If you think any of this information should be updated or amended due to inaccuracy, please send me your suggestions and amends. If you would like to contribute information (e.g. LGBTI issues) please also get in touch.

Sources include the World Bank, UNICEF, UN Women, Amnesty International and various women’s organisations.

Text © me, though you are welcome to use the data and information described within the text (attribute original source, e.g. World Bank, accordingly).

Originally published at on March 4, 2014.