KUALA LUMPUR | Malaysians’ income could rise 26% if women are given equal access to economic opportunities, according to the World Bank.

That rise in income per capita would imply a RM9,400 (US$2,240) annual gain for each Malaysian on average, according to a report released by the bank on Friday. Three-quarters of the rise would come from closing the gap in women’s participation in the labor force, which stands at 55.2%, while one-quarter would come from women becoming entrepreneurs.

The Southeast Asian country’s working-age population is set to start shrinking next year, increasing the urgency of bringing in more women into the labor force. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration will revise the employment law to extend paid maternity leave and introduce anti-discriminatory as well as anti-sexual harassment clauses to boost women’s labor participation to 60%. The government is also drafting incentives for women who are returning to work after a career break.

In addition, Malaysia should expand child care coverage until up to 17 years of age, from as old as 6 currently, and improve access to affordable child and elderly care especially for the urban poor, said the World Bank. More than half of women cite housework as their reason for not joining the labor force, according to the report.