HELP AT HAND
The idea of ‘having it all’ has generated much debate amongst women in the West, but perhaps we haven’t been able to collectively pause and examine the issue in the East. Does our situation differ from our Western counterparts, for instance? “Malaysian women have similar dilemmas as Western women in balancing careers and families. And it is a myth to think that Malaysian women would give up their careers for their children,” says Professor Dato’ Dr. Wazir Jahan Karim, a respected economic anthropologist and gender studies scholar.
“In fact, there are more maids and child minders being imported in the developing economies of Asia than the West, and it is not because they are ‘cheaper’. It costs an exorbitant sum to bring in a good qualified maid through an agency, and salaries are equivalent to those of young Malaysian graduates. Malaysian women are very concerned for their children and a few do take time off to bring up their babies to preschool age, but the majority carry on with their careers and pray that their child minders will take good care of their children. Here, however, they have an added advantage of supportive help from their parents or parents-in-law.”
ARBEIT MACHT FREI
“One reason for the pressure on women is because society is still largely patriarchal and roles are still harshly defined – sadly, women must singlehandedly raise the kids even if they have to work in the field or lead the country,” Datin Rose explains. “The downside to having access to domestic help is that Malaysian men have not had to step up to the plate. Their Western counterparts have had to help with raising kids, washing, ironing and cooking. In the process, they’ve become better partners, husbands and fathers.”
CHOOSING OUR CHOICE
At the heart of the matter is choice – and if the choice a woman makes results in her happiness and satisfaction, be it in her professional or personal life, is it really right to dictate what decisions a woman should make? Rather than blindly encouraging women to either have it all or to choose one over the other, perhaps we should be looking at whether Malaysian women are given the opportunities to create the life they want.