Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Micro-enterprises empower tsunami-affected Malaysian women

© UNICEF video
Embon Saad and her twin grandchildren. She is the chairwoman of the Women’s Economic Association on Langkawi, Malaysia.

By Steve Nettleton

LANGKAWI, Malaysia, December 2006 – For the men who cast their nets off the tsunami-affected coast of Langkawi, life is finally returning to normal. With assistance from the Malaysian Government, vessels and harbours have been rebuilt and fishing boats once more dot the horizon.

For many women, however, it’s taking much longer to restore livelihoods destroyed by the tsunami. Due to traditional social roles, women’s losses were viewed as less important than those suffered by men. Hence, women received little or no compensation after the tsunami.

Early psychological assessments conducted by UNICEF and its partners  revealed that women were more vulnerable than men due to lower socio-economic status, limited access to resources and an inability to provide for their families, among other factors.

© UNICEF 2006/Malaysia/Nettleton
Embon Saad (centre) and fellow members of the Women's Economic Association preparing a traditional Malaysian snack for sale.

Women’s role in the economy

Embon Saad has been trying to change that. She is the chairwoman of the Women’s Economic Association on Langkawi, an organization aimed at helping women to run small enterprises.

The tsunami set back her efforts. Like the women she was trying to help, she suddenly found herself starting over.

“The tsunami was a terrible experience. It had a big impact on my family’s life,” she said. “My income was affected. I had two shops; they were both destroyed. It affected my livelihood and reduced the income to my family.”

With support from UNICEF and the Malaysian organization EMPOWER, Embon Saad is once again helping women play a role in the local economy.

© UNICEF video
Micro-enterprises like this food preparation and sales are giving tsunami-affected women a chance to improve economic conditions for themselves and their families.

In 2005, she and 100 other women received training in economic and marketing skills. Her association used this training to enhance their small business, where local women prepare a traditional Malaysian snack of dried anchovies and peanuts.

The training also served as a catalyst for setting up micro-enterprises in the neighbouring state of Kuala Muda Kedah, benefiting more than 50 families.

Community involvement

UNICEF aims to help women not only get back on their feet but also become more involved in their communities.

“We’ve talked to the women about gender awareness, leadership skills, how they can assume a greater role in any future disaster,” said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Gaye Phillips. “How they can rightly express their needs and not be overpowered by their male counterparts.”

The ultimate goal of these efforts is to empower women in Malaysia, so that like the men who sail out to sea, they can chart their own course.




December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on efforts to help Malaysian women in tsunami-affected communities run small enterprises.
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