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Cedaw Report: Malaysia Still Lacks Women Leaders In Politics, Government

According to Malaysia’s sixth periodic report to the UN’s Cedaw, women form less than 20% of the Cabinet, Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara, and local councillors.

Parliament. Picture by Boo Su-Lyn

KUALA LUMPUR, May 12 – Fewer than one of five leaders in Cabinet, Parliament, and local government in Malaysia are women.

According to Malaysia’s sixth periodic report that was submitted by the government to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), women only comprise 19 per cent of federal ministers, 19 per cent of senators, 16 per cent of local councillors, and 15 per cent of Members of Parliament.

The corporate sector also falls short with women comprising only about a quarter of board directors on listed companies, despite a recent report that put Malaysia on top in women’s board representation among Asian countries.

Malaysia fares better in terms of international representation, with women comprising about half of officers in the Malaysian foreign service.

Malaysia has also surpassed the minimum 30 per cent requirement for female decision makers in the civil service.

39% Women Civil Servants Grade C and Above

In government agencies, Malaysia has surpassed the minimum 30 per cent requirement for women decision makers, according to Malaysia’s Cedaw report.

As of December last year, 38.8 per cent of women civil servants hold decision-making positions of Premier Grade C and above in government agencies, which is a slight increase from 38.2 per cent in 2020.

Among the 552 people with disabilities (PWDs) in the public service, 20.4 per cent (113) of them are women with disabilities.  

Malaysia also made inroads in women’s leadership in independent bodies, according to the Cedaw report, with the appointment of the first female Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner, Latheefa Koya, who served from June 2019 until March 2020 under the Pakatan Harapan administration.

Malaysia’s first female chief justice, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, was also appointed under the same administration.

The first woman with disabilities, Ras Adiba Radzi, who is also a senator, was appointed as the chairwoman of the Bernama national news agency in 2020.

16% Women Local Councillors

At the local government level in Malaysia, the number of women in leadership positions is still wanting. 

Despite a proposal by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government that a minimum of 30 per cent of councillors’ posts be filled by women, only 15.6 per cent (441 out of 2,828) of local government councillors in Malaysia were women, as of December 2020.

In fact, the gender gap between women and men is still quite significant at 0.108 in political participation, according to the Malaysian Gender Gap Index released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) in 2020. A full score is 1.0.

Local councillors and mayors are usually appointed by state governments, while the Kuala Lumpur City Hall is managed by the Federal Territories Ministry, as Malaysia still has not yet restored local council elections that are a feature of modern democracies.

19% Women In Cabinet, 15% In Parliament

However, the Cedaw report maintained there is a slight increase of female representation in Parliament from 14.4 per cent in 2019 to 15 per cent in 2020.

Female MPs currently account for 33 out of 220 filled seats in the Dewan Rakyat, representing only approximately 15 per cent of the entire 222-seat House of Representatives. 

In the Senate, there are 10 women representatives — including Ras Adiba who is a PWD – out of 53 members. This equals to women comprising just 19 per cent of the Dewan Negara. Senators in Malaysia are appointed, not elected.

In its report to Cedaw, the government also noted a number of female firsts achieved in government leadership positions.

These include the appointment of the first female deputy prime minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who served under the previous PH administration from May 2018 to February 2020.

Noraini Ahmad was the first chairwoman of the Dewan Rakyat’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), holding the position under the same administration from April 2019 to March 10, 2020.

Noraini resigned to assume the role of Higher Education Minister when Perikatan Nasional took over the government, amidst the political crisis in 2020 and remains in the same position under the current government led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

In 2019, Malaysia appointed the first female deputy speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Azalina Othman Said, who held the position from July 2020 to August 2021.

The first female chief administrator of Parliament, Nor Yahati Awang, was appointed in January last year and still serves in this position.

As of December 2021, only 19.2 per cent, or five out of 26 federal ministries, are led by women. 

The five ministries headed by women ministers are the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Nancy Shukri); Ministry of Higher Education (Noraini), Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (Rina Harun); Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (Zuraida Kamaruddin) and Ministry of National Unity (Halimah Mohamed Sadique).

Women Form Half Of Foreign Officers

The number of women officers in the Malaysian foreign service has increased significantly over the years, according to the Cedaw report.

As of December 2020, there are 49.75 per cent (711 out of 1,429) of women officers in the Malaysian foreign service, as compared to 47.17 per cent (660 out of 1,399) in 2016.

Last year, 31.25 per cent (20 out of 64) of women officers in the Malaysian foreign service held positions at decision-making levels.

The participation of Malaysian women in international organisations, such as the UN, generally falls into three categories or levels: professional, management, and support staff.

Malaysian women are currently attached to various international organisations, including UN bodies and international non-governmental organisations. Four out of nine officers representing the Ministry of International Trade and Industry overseas are women officers.

Currently, the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board has 35 officers at overseas offices and 12 (34 per cent) are women officers comprising  five directors and seven deputy directors.

26% Women on Boards of Listed Companies

At the corporate level, the representation of women in the top 100 public limited companies’ boards of directors still falls short of the 30 per cent minimum requirement at 25.8 per cent.

According to the Cedaw report, the country has implemented a number of initiatives to accelerate equality between women and men.  

One of them is the Career Comeback Programme (CCP) under Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad (TalentCorp), which is described as a staple initiative since 2015 to facilitate the return of women on career breaks back to the workforce.

TalentCorp has also been mandated by the government through the national budget in 2018 and 2021 to implement tax incentives in the form of an income tax exemption as inducement for professional women to re-enter the labour market and contribute to the country’s development.

Additionally, to encourage job opportunities for single mothers, PWD, retrenched workers and those who have been unemployed for a long period of time, employers were provided with a hiring incentive of 60 per cent (20 per cent higher than the regular hiring incentive) of monthly income per month for six months.

According to the report, the initiative has resulted in 128,779 individuals securing jobs in 2020. When it was continued in 2021, the figure rose to 270,292 individuals.  

Women who have been on a career break for at least two years were also encouraged to return to the workforce through a personal income tax exemption on their earnings at a maximum of 12 months’ consecutive salary received during the years of assessment from 2018 to 2020.

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