Address the impact of COVID-19 on low-income women and children

By:

Lim Su Lin

Affiliations:

-

Policy Code:

3e Economic Justice

Problem Statement:

Women and children from low-income urban households in Malaysia number among those who have been most impacted negatively by the COVID-19 crisis. COVID-19 has vastly reduced women’s economic opportunities, particularly those coming from low-income backgrounds who often are part-time and informal workers, generally paid low and do not have enough savings. Women and children from these households also experienced disproportionate difficulties such accessing social safety nets, healthcare services and reliable internet connectivity/ technology needed to seek work online and to carry out home-based learning.
In Malaysia, this issue has been highlighted in various reports, including several official reports released by the government bodies, UNICEF agencies as well as countless news reports and public testimonies shared on social media.

Value(s) and Belief(s):

No matter how serious a threat the virus might pose, there are people everywhere who face and have always faced far greater threats to their lives, health and well-being. With COVID-19, we have become acutely aware that our health is tied to others, and to what the state does or does not do. We must ask hard and immediate questions about what can be done to support the poor and vulnerable in our society, and to help them shoulder the burden of disproportionate inequalities and limited access to resources that are necessary to survive the crisis.

Proposal of Solution:

Malaysia’s social protection system needs to be critically re-evaluated to reduce the pandemic’s compound effects on pre-existing poverty, inequality and social exclusion, and to provide robust and comprehensive protection, especially for women and children coming from the urban poor and vulnerable communities.

Future social protection policies must specifically target these low-income women and girls, in all efforts to address the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. To ensure this, a central coordinating committee should be set up, with representation from elected representatives, civil society and most importantly members from this community i.e. women and children themselves, to lend their perspective of lived experience. The committee should be tasked to establish key principles and priorities in assistance provision and delivery of immediate aid such as targeted cash transfers, food aid, healthcare. The committee should work with agencies and NGOS on the ground to deliver this.

To address mid-long term impacts, the committee should also look into reforming the current infrastructure of social assistance. Beyond receiving cash transfers and food aid, women and youth of working age would benefit greatly from support to increase their long-term economic resilience and independence. This could come in the form of providing greater access to work and business opportunities (including capital, space and equipment), as well as training, entrepreneurship and skills development programmes. As a first step, the committee should open up discussions with multiple stakeholders, involving government agencies such as SOCSO, Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) and Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) as well as NGOs and local leaders, to align efforts in developing and delivering these programmes to the community on the ground.

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