Hold­ing up the sky

To­day is In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day and we cel­e­brate women’s in­domitable strength.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries by MAY CHIAM star2@ thes­tar. com. my

TO mark In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day this year, we are shin­ing the spot­light on women who hold their fam­i­lies to­gether.

Based on the 2010 Census, there are 990,780 fe­male heads of house­hold in Malaysia, in­clud­ing 235,240 sin­gle moth­ers.

While fe­male- headed house­holds are usu­ally larger, the women who head them do not al­ways have un­mar­ried chil­dren to sup­port.

By con­trast, sin­gle moth­ers have un­mar­ried chil­dren to pro­vide for. Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment, sin­gle moth­ers are women who are ei­ther un­mar­ried, sep­a­rated/ di­vorced, wid­owed, or with hus­bands who are un­able to work.

Con­se­quently, th­ese unsung hero­ines are in need of more at­ten­tion.

In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day has been cel­e­brated for over a cen­tury, high­light­ing the so­cial, cul­tural, eco nomic, and political strides women have made. This year’s theme – “Pledg­ing for Par­ity” – is a call to ac­tion for gen­der par­ity, so that all girls and women may achieve their full po­ten­tial.

The theme res­onates with the plight of sin­gle moth­ers in Malaysia. As women at the helm of their fam­i­lies, they face nu­mer­ous ob­sta­cles in their quest for sur­vival and for a b ter life for their chil­dren and for them­selves.

But who are they and what is­sue do they deal with?

The United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme ( UNDP) re­ports that sin­gle moth­ers in Malaysia are in their sit­u­a­tion be­cause of “spousal death, spousal aban­don­ment or di­vorce”. More­over, the min­istry has noted an in­crease in sin­gle moth­ers and fe­male- headed house­holds. There has also been a change in the de­mo­graphic of sin­gle moth­ers due to a rise in di­vorce.

“Based on the sta­tis­tics ob­tained, there is a steep in­crease in the to­tal num­ber of sin­gle moth­ers in the age range be­tween 30- 39 com­pared to the age range be­tween 20- 29,” says Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity

- De­vel­op­ment deputy min­is­ter Datuk Az­izah Mohd Dun.

“The in­crease is very sig­nif­i­cant as the sud­den spike in­di­cates that most women be­come sin­gle moth­ers at the range from 30- 39. The na­tional sta­tis­tics on di­vorce rates also in­di­cates that this age range records the high­est num­ber of di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tions.” The le­gal process of di­vorce it­self poses a prob­lem for many sin­gle moth­ers. Sis rs in Is­lam ( SIS), who deal with cases of women seek­ing di­vorce and child main­te­nance in Syariah courts, says that women strug­gle fi­nan­cially with court and lawyer’s fees in lengthy di­vorces, as well as with the up­keep of chil­dren.

“Through­out the eight or more years of di­vorce pro­ceed­ings and pro­cesses in court, most of our clients have al­ready be­gun liv­ing life as sin­gle moth­ers due to their hus­band’s ab­sence,” SIS com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Aliah Ali says. “How­ever, legally they are not yet sin­gle moth­ers be­cause of their pend­ing di­vorce case. The le­gal limbo causes dif­fi­culty as it lim­its their ac­cess to aid for sin­gle moth­ers of­fered by the govern­ment.”

Aliah says that in 2014, the ma­jor­ity of cases to Telenisa, SIS’ le­gal ad­vice ser­vice, was about claim­ing child main­te­nance. She says that it’s dif­fi­cult to get main­te­nance be­cause of lax en­force­ment.

“Even though pro­vi­sions ex­ist within the law to help sin­gle moth­ers claim main­te­nance from their ex- hus­bands, im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law re­mains lack­lus­tre.”

In cases where women are vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse, the Women’s Aid Or­gan­i­sa­tion ( WAO) says that seek­ing spousal and child sup­port can be more com­plex be­cause of abu­sive re­la­tion­ships.

“There’s def­i­nitely an is­sue with child main­te­nance and spousal sup­port,” ad­vo­cacy of­fi­cer in law and pol­icy Lainey Lau says, “be­cause a lot of abusers just don’t pay.”

She has no­ticed the stigma that sin­gle moth­ers en­counter, even when it comes to find­ing a place to stay.

“Un­for­tu­nately, they face stigma to­wards them. We’ve found that some of our clients have trou­ble find­ing a place to rent, be­cause land­lords think that sin­gle moth­ers can’t af­ford to con­tin­u­ously pay rent. They’re dis­crim­i­nated against, so hey have to hide the fact that they’re sin­gle moth­ers.”

The stigma of sin­gle moth­er­hood is all too real and ad­versely af­fects their lives and liveli­hoods. In a pre­vail­ing pa­tri­ar­chal cul­ture, where women are seen as the “se­cond sex” and thus tied to a man, a sin­gle mother is a threat to the nu­clear fam­ily. By as­sum­ing the man­tle of lead­er­ship, she is at odds with deeply rooted cul­tural norms.

As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Dr No­raida En­dut, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Re­search on Women and Gen­der ( Kanita) at Univer­siti Sains Malaysia ( USM), has con­ducted for­mal and in­for­mal re­search on sin­gle moth­ers. In her work, she has dis­cov­ered neg­a­tive so­cio- cul­tural fac­tors that im­pact sin­gle moth­ers.

“When you talk about em­pow­er­ing sin­gle moth­ers, you don’t just talk about em­pow­er­ing them y giv­ing them money,” she con­tends. “There are other so­cio- cul­tural fac­tors that pull them down. When it comes to do­ing busi­ness, our sin­gle mother group has told us that their sin­gle sta­tus makes it dif­fi­cult for them to go out and do busi­ness at night.

“When they go out, peo­ple will com­ment about how they’re leav­ing their chil­dren be­hind; and other women are wary about them in­ter­act­ing with their hus­bands. The busi­ness world is dom­i­nated by men; so even if they’re try­ing to earn a liveli­hood, there’s a so­cial stigma that they’re ‘ loose women’ be­cause they mix around with men.”

Dr No­raida is also con­cerned by the poverty that sin­gle moth­ers face. While money isn’t all that’s re­quired to em­power sin­gle moth­ers, there’s no deny­ing that as heads of house-

hold they need to have steady in­comes, es­pe­cially to clothe and feed their chil­dren.

“They are dou­bly bur­dened be­cause they’re look­ing af­ter their fam­ily sin­gle- hand­edly,” she says. “If they don’t have ex­tended fam­ily sup­port, it be­comes more dif­fi­cult for them to earn a liv­ing, but then they must be­cause child­care is ex­pen­sive.”

For sin­gle moth­ers, this is a com­mon predica­ment: fight­ing the con­stant tug- of- war be­tween tak­ing care of the kids and work­ing to pro­vide for them. The UNDP re­ports that the sit­u­a­tion is worse for sin­gle moth­ers in ru­ral ar­eas. Work­ing me­nial, low- salaried jobs, they can scarcely feed the many mouths in their fam­i­lies. Nu­mer­ous more are forced to stay at home to mind the kids and other de­pen­dants, re­ly­ing on fi­nan­cial aid from the govern­ment to sur­vive.

The min­istry has a range of pro­grammes and ini­tia­tives to help low- in­come sin­gle moth­ers.

In Oc­to­ber last year, the 2015- 2020 Ac­tion Plan to Em­power Sin­gle Moth­ers was launched to “em­power sin­gle moth­ers eco­nom­i­cally”, “in­crease the well- be­ing of sin­gle moth­ers,” and “in­crease re­search and de­vel­op­ment and co­or­di­na­tion in ar­eas per­tain­ing to women’s de­vel­op­ment”.

“The min­istry of­fers both kinds of as­sis­tance, wel­fare pro­grammes and also in­come- gen­er­at­ing ini­tia­tives which pro­vide skill en­hance­ments and in­come as­sis­tance,” Datuk Az­izah says.

In a world where sin­gle moth­ers have to over­come chal­lenges ev­ery day, as­sis­tance and aid are wel­come re­lief.

It’s also im­por­tant to recog­nise them as women who achieve de­spite the odds stacked against them, de­spite an alien­at­ing so­cial stigma, and de­spite the bur­dens they shoul­der. They are heroic women who raise chil­dren, earn a liv­ing and hold their fam­i­lies to­gether, even if at times they have to do it on their own.

And for all that more, we salute all fe­male heads of house­holds this In­ter­na­tional Woman’s Day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.