The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) strongly urges all political parties to uphold their commitment to at least 30 per cent women political participation through fielding proportional numbers of women candidates for elections.
Political parties play a significant role in deciding which candidates to field, as this is pivotal in the recognition of women’s right to equally contribute to nation-building as agents of change.
Malaysian women deserve recognition of the barriers that they face to political empowerment. They also deserve opportunities and support to take up political leadership, in light of not only their calibre, but also extensive reach to the community.
Malaysia also has one of the lowest women’s representation in Parliament in Southeast Asia, where 14 per cent of seats are held by women, compared to the regional average of 20 per cent.
Women’s entry to and participation in politics remains limited, due to patriarchal sociocultural barriers and political institutions. They have to contend with public distrust towards their capabilities as political leaders, as well as unrealistic expectations to possess a balance of ‘feminine’ (e.g. collaborative, nurturing) and ‘masculine’ (e.g., assertive, risk-taking) traits of leadership.
They also face obstacles such as obtaining campaign resources and fundraising due to lesser political influence, as well as having less time due to care responsibilities – all of which can compromise their electoral competitiveness.
Effort by political parties to fulfil the 30 per cent target is thus an important step towards creating a gender-equal political arena for our women and as an indicator of our willingness to uphold gender equality.
Despite the constraints faced, our women politicians are as competitive as their male counterparts. Research on the gender gap in electability in GE14 revealed that with the exception of PAS, women candidates performed better than the male candidates at the federal level.
Furthermore, 90.6 per cent of women policy makers emerged from mixed gender contests with a 50 per cent winning rate during GE14, with the victory rate rising after the elimination of ineffective candidates, most of whom were male.
Equally important, over the years, women politicians have played an instrumental role in bringing Malaysian women’s interests onto the political agenda and instituting policy change to address their needs.
Women-friendly legislations such as the Domestic Violence Act, theSexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill are the culmination of cooperation between women policymakers who are critical actors in championing gender equality such as Maria Chin Abdullah, Hannah Yeoh, Azalina Othman, and Kasthuri Patto, as well as women’s rights groups.
It is also our women members of Parliament who have competently and actively participated in Parliamentary debates on critical issues affecting women and families, such as unequal citizenship rights, child care centres, single mothers, criminalising stalking, maternity leave, as well as women’s position in the public and private sectors.
In the current political environment where patriarchal norms and sexism remain prevalent, achieving a critical mass of at least 30 per cent is a crucial step forward in precipitating substantive representation of women in policymaking.
Fulfilling the at least 30 per cent target goes beyond improving our political empowerment index or upholding our commitment to cornerstones such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and the Sustainable Development Goals.
As women constitute half of the national population, it is a necessity for inclusive development, and ultimately for a Malaysia that is truly prosperous for all.
Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- Persatuan Kebajikan Sokongan Keluarga Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- KRYSS Network
- Justice for Sisters
- Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
- Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.