Women in Numbers

Political representation

Malaysia’s 14th general election saw an unprecedented representation of female-elected politicians. However, the overall percentage is still dismally low, as per Malaysia’s electoral history. With only 10.9% of parliamentary candidates and 10.8% of state assembly candidates being women, the desired minimum of 30% women representation in government remained unattainable.

The general election achieved the highest ever proportion of female representation in the lower house of parliment, where a total of 32 female parlimentarians or 14.4% were elected (Figure 1). Overall, the number of female parliamentarians either increased, or remained the same across all states. Melaka, in particular, had the highest percentage of female parliamentarians (33.3%; two out of six parliamentarians are women) followed by the Federal Territories (30.8%) and Johor (26.9%).

In Penang, 15.4% of its parliamentarians are women, with two women elected to the seats of Batu Kawan and Permatang Pauh. Female representation among the parliamentarians in Perlis, Terengganu and Negeri Sembilan has remained elusive since the 13th general election.

In terms of the government’s gender structure, women make up 16.4% of the frontbench, where 17.8% are represented in ministerships and 14.8% in deputy ministerships.

At the state level, there is an increase of three state assemblywomen in Malaysia, and this is equivalent to a 0.6% increase compared to the results in 2013’s general election, bringing the total representation of women in state assemblies to 12.5% (Figure 2).

Most states, including Penang – with six assemblywomen – generally maintained their proportion of female representation from the last general election. While Perlis, Kedah and Sabah recorded an increase of state assemblywomen, Selangor saw a decrease of 3.6%, bringing down its percentage of state assemblywomen to 21.4%.

Terengganu did not manage to formally elect women to its state assembly, but the state government has nominated a female politician as a non-constituency state assemblywoman in a bid to include women in its government.

The state’s frontbench, on the other hand, is poorly represented by women across all states. With the exception of Perak, Perlis and Selangor, only one state assemblywoman was appointed to the state executive council, typically holding the portfolio of Women, Family and Community Development. Selangor has the highest percentage of women as state ministers, at 27% (with the appointment of three women).

Labour Force

Malaysia’s female labour force participation rate (LFPR) remained approximately 25% lower in comparison to their male cohorts. In 2017 the male LFPR for Malaysia and Penang were 80.0% and 79.2% respectively, while the female LFPR were 54.7% and 55.7%. The female LFPR for Penang has always trended higher than the national rate.

Figure 3 illustrates the proportion of Penang’s workforce by occupation and skill level. The trend is consistent over the five-year period, where comparatively, male workers had higher percentages in high-skill and low-skill professions, and female workers had higher share in mid-skill occupations. The majority of Penang’s workforce – for both male and female workers – are medium-skilled workers, with a large proportion working as services and sales workers, and as plant and machine operators. In fact, the highest concentration of female workers is found in the services and sales sector, where it sustained 22.8% of Penang’s total female labour force in 2017.

The percentage of high-skilled female workers in Penang recorded its first decrease in four years, seeing a 0.8% decrease in 2017, to 31.2%. Low-skilled female workers in elementary occupations have been decreasing since 2015; the number was at a five-year low of 5.7% in 2017.

Gender inequality in salaries and wages remains an unresolved issue in Malaysia. Although the median wage gap as an average of all salaries was considerably low – even achieving a zero-percent wage gap in 2013 and 2015 – significant gender wage gaps still persisted in different occupational sectors (Table 1). The mid-skill occupations (with the exception of clerical support workers) and low-skilled occupations, in particular, sustained huge gender wage gaps, where men are paid at least 20% higher than women on average.

The gender median wage gap is smaller for high-skilled occupations. In fact, technicians and associate professionals actually achieved pay parity in 2015, but the gap then widened again over the following two years. Most occupations observed a closing of the gender wage gap in 2017, with the exception of technicians and associate professionals, and plant and machine operators.


The number of female students in tertiary education has consistently outnumbered that of male students. In 2017 nearly two-thirds of all Penang-born enrolments in public universities were females (a total of 64.4%). Unsurprisingly, female graduates from Penang were significantly higher than male graduates across all levels of study (Figure 4). In 2017, for masters, bachelor and diploma levels of study, female graduates made up more than 60% of total graduates. The gap was slightly smaller for the doctorate level of study, where 56.1% of graduates were female, versus 43.9% male graduates.27

In considering gender parity in different fields of study among Penang-born graduates, the percentage of female graduates is considerably higher than that of their male counterparts across all the fields, with the exception of engineering, manufacturing and construction; however, the observed gender gap is significantly smaller in comparison. In 2017 female graduates in the aforementioned fields were 46.0% of total graduates, where male graduates made up the remaining 54.0% (Figure 5). In contrast, for the field of education, where the biggest gender disparity was found, female graduates were 76.8% of total graduates.

In general, female graduates stood for at least two-thirds of total graduates for the remaining fields of study in 2017, with the exception of agriculture and veterinary, and services, where the difference was comparatively smaller.

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