Only 37 women candidates will be contesting in Johor come Saturday, out of 239 candidates. That’s hardly 15 per cent.
And as of February 2021, only 14.9 per cent of seats in Parliament are held by women.
This is not about messy tangles that cannot be straightened out. It is about nonchalance and the absolute absence of a political will to see more women in politics.
“Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” is UN (United Nations) Women’s rallying cry for this year’s International Women’s Day. In Malaysia, many are struggling to grasp the meaning.
UN Women had coined the theme to show a direct relationship between gender, social equity and climate change.
It also emphasises that lives and livelihoods remain at risk, as women have less access to natural resources, and in their own words, “bear disproportionate responsibility to secure water, goods and fuel”.
While we have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Suhakam says that Malaysia is trailing behind in terms of women in politics, their economic participation, and literacy rates.
Sometimes, numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to the Malaysia Gender Gap Index (MGGI) last year, the country’s gender equality has improved by 74 per cent.
And yet, Loh Siew Hong had to fight tooth and nail to see her children, just because her ex-husband had converted them unilaterally.
As I write this, Indira Gandhi is still trying to find her daughter, who was kidnapped by her ex-husband upon his conversion, despite a court order.
Empowerment of women and girls also helps to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals such as education and eradicating poverty.
According to UN Women, “As of December 2020, only 45.1 per cent of indicators needed to monitor the SDGs from a gender perspective were available, with gaps in key areas, in particular: violence against women and women in local governments. In addition, many areas — such as gender and poverty, physical and sexual harassment, women’s access to assets (including land), and gender and the environment — lack comparable methodologies for regular monitoring”.
It is important for us to note that while cases of domestic violence increased dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development failed to implement mechanisms to protect women from sexual harassment, sexual violence, and physical violence.
In fact, women activists gave the Ministry a “failed” rating for its first 100 days.
Therefore, while it is important to mark an occasion, it does not mean that all is well on the ground.
But I am heartened to see many women who continue to speak truth to power.
Although there is much more to be done, for this year’s International Women’s Day I will celebrate the courage and conviction of women who will not give up, and who, again and again, will stand up against tyranny.
As Maya Angelou says, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women”.
Happy International Women’s Day in solidarity, always.
Charles Santiago is the Member of Parliament for Klang.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.