From Prof Emerita Dr Dato’ Wazir Jahan Karim, April 9, 2020.

The COVID -19 pandemic has adversely affected Malaysians in many ways; anxiety for family members who have been tested positive, isolation from families, inability to mourn and perform proper funerals and burial rites; women multi-tasking to maximum levels to care for children, elders, spouses – rushing to complete chores, food preparation, cooking, cleaning, washing, home-schooling and for those working from home, completion of office-work for the days under lock down.

Many receive help from husbands and older children, yet many more are just managing with younger children and spouses who may not be able to help since they are also working from home or simply not able to multi-task like women. Under these conditions, stress may peak at a dangerous level to seriously affect family relationships, leading to physical or verbal abuse, domestic violence or low mental health. With an increasing number losing jobs, or forced to work part-time or take unpaid leave, further anxieties will develop on the ability to provided food and cater for the basic needs of children and elders. It has hardly been mentioned that the pandemonium of panic buying by Malaysians a few days before the announcement of the Movement Control Order on March 16 2020 was mainly a middle-class and upper class phenomenon. The working classes and those partially employed on daily wages would have bought some essentials but it is doubtful that they would have had much cash to stock up for 2-3 weeks supplies of food and essentials.

While the Federal PRIHATIN Economic Stimulus Package and Penang COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Package State are being implemented, we have yet to obtain vital socio-economic and health statistics on women and families in crisis. Sectoral assistance through reaching out to the low-income groups (eg. fishermen, farmers, contract labourers, construction, manufacturing and hospitality service workers) and SME’s is a standard economic criteria for aid but many other women-centred families may be in dire need of multiple financial, medical and social assistance, for example, single-mothers who have been laid off with young children; sick elderly women whose children cannot afford home nursing care or medication; privately managed orphanages and shelters for the abandoned and homeless; physically or verbally abused wives who are unable to do productive work at home due to abuse and school-leavers in between jobs or who are unable to afford further education or training.

The standard welfare aid or stimulus packages may not reach these groups who need urgent services relating to delivery of provisions, food supplies and medicine, medical aid, logistical support; home nursing, tele counselling and training recruitment for temporary online jobs. For a start, the Department of Women’s Development should be gathering vital statistics by setting up a tele-team at every State. to contact NGOs whose volunteers are now working tirelessly to cope with increasing calls for help and offer emergency financial, personnel and logistical assistance to these NGOs in every state. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development should update their data-collection and gender segregated data by content – district (red, orange, yellow, green), household shared income; number and ages of children, number of dependents, marital status of dependents, health of potential recipients for aid, requirements for education, teletraining and work to obtain a better understanding of the immense task ahead in economic, social and psychological rehabilitation of Malaysian women in crisis under the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.