Single mothers in Sabah are not being marginalised, said Minister of Community Development and Consumer Affairs, Datuk Hjh Jainab Ahmad.

She said on the contrary, the Government provides various assistance schemes, notably the 1Azam (end the poverty era) programme and Yayasan Usaha Maju (a micro-credit scheme enabling women to engage in entrepreneurial activities).

1Azam is an initiative by the Federal Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development with funds channelled to the State Government which has in turn tasked the State Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry to manage the funds.

According to Jainab, women in Sabah, including poor single mothers, have benefited from this poverty eradication programme, which is designed to lift low-income households out of the abyss of poverty through four approaches, namely Azam Tani, Azam Niaga, Azam Khidmat and Azam Kerja.

- Azam Tani: Economic resources (example, tools) are provided for needy participants to venture into agricultural and agro-based activities.

- Azam Niaga: Opportunities are provided to start up small business.

- Azam Khidmat: Opportunities are provided to venture into the service sector.

- Azam Kerja: Employment opportunities are offered through job placement.

“Under the 1Azam programme, the Sabah Women’s Affairs Department (Jhewa) has conducted courses or workshops for single mothers to acquire new skills and gain self-confidence.

“Jhewa is under my ministry. We are in essence creating economic opportunities by training and moulding them into entrepreneurs so that they will eventually be financially independent,” Jainab, who is Karambunai Assemblywoman, told Daily Express.

Skills training includes beadwork, pottery-making, beauty make-up and foot reflexology.

Confirming this, Director of Jhewa, Datuk Hjh Siti Sapoo Hj Ahok, said the department has implemented the 1Azam programme for target groups such as women from low-income households, women who are household heads and single mothers.

“We started in 2011 with Federal funding which is managed by the State Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry,” she said.

According to Jainab, she has also requested chairpersons of women and family development councils (MPWK) in the respective parliamentary constituencies to be proactive in organising relevant courses or workshops for single mothers in their respective parliamentary constituencies.

Wanita Umno chiefs in the 25 party divisions throughout the state are automatically chairpersons of MPWKs.

“That way, the chairpersons will get to know the plight of single mothers and the type of assistance required by them.”

Jainab said another avenue for single mothers to earn a decent living could be manning childcare centres in workplaces.

“The Government is encouraging such centres to be set up so that working mothers could be close to their young children and visit them during break, instead of relying on foreign maids to tend them.”

In this regard, the Minister urged district and municipal councils as well as town boards to consider providing the necessary space for those centres if the need arises.

On claims by some single mothers that they face difficulty in applying for low-cost housing, Jainab hoped that the Sabah Town and Housing Development Authority (LPPB) would give priority to their needs.

However, the Minister made it clear that single mothers cannot expect the Government to help them perpetually.

“It is up to them to avail themselves of government-sponsored programmes.

We don’t charge them for participation. Naturally, we expect them to gradually do away with the ‘government dependence’ syndrome by standing on their own two feet ultimately.”

On the recent revelation by Rural Development Minister Datuk Radin Malleh that the number of single mothers in Sabah is almost reaching 15,000, Jainab said not all the single mothers are poor.

“Many of them are professionals or successful entrepreneurs,” she said, adding the figure is a combination of widows and divorcees.