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Published: Wednesday December 4, 2013 MYT 9:27:00 AM
Updated: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 4:10:43 PM

The women of PKR

PKR’s Elizabeth Wong hopes to bring down the ‘boys club’ mentality in politics.

PKR’s Elizabeth Wong hopes to bring down the ‘boys club’ mentality in politics.

PETALING JAYA: Among the constitutional amendments passed in PKR Special National Congress on Nov 24 was to give more voice to women within the party.

The initiatives taken were to achieve at least 30% representation of women in the party's decision-making positions and increase the quota of Wanita members in the national congress to 50 from 30.

PKR central leadership council member Latheefa Koya said the amendments were not something completely new within the party but were a move that had to be made in writing.

"The amendments are to formalise what PKR has been practising all this while. While the first constitution was drafted with a general view, this amendment provides a more detailed explanation of women's roles within the party.

"The president, vice-president and key figures are women. Although women already play an important part, this should be reflected in the constitution," said the PKR legal adviser.

Among the many political groups in Malaysia, PKR has the highest number of women in its forefront.

Although women make about 50% of the voting population, women’s policies are still often overlooked in Malaysia, says Latheefa Koya.

When asked how this came to be, Latheefa credited it to the way women are projected within PKR.

"The women are not just seen as a 'Wanita wing' but hold their own in the political sphere. They are not just token positions.

"There is a Wanita wing, but it is more for recruitment, training and to make participation in the party easier," said Koya, adding that being a part of Wanita PKR did not stop members from joining the mainstream leadership.

"At the end of the day, women have long way to go in political awareness and realisation of power.

"In many parties, women's issues are discussed only in women's wings. Unless women become part of the political bureau or are in the central committee, these issues get sidelined."

When asked how increasing a quota from 30 to 50 would make much of an impact, Latheefa said that change will take some time.

"It is a small step, but a step forward nonetheless.

"While certain quarters dangle money and benefits, we do not intend to employ such tactics. Nearing elections, women voters in rural areas are often targets of these methods," said Latheefa, and added that PKR will instead employ door-to-door campaigning in an effort to educate women about the importance of voting.

By including 30% of women in the party's decision-making, PKR was acting to push women into such positions in every level of the party, be it in the political bureaus, central leadership and divisional committees.

"These are places are where we want the 30%. If women remain as regular members, it is hard for them to make an influence in the party. Without a 30% representation, there is no women's influence in issues discussed. We do not want our women to just hold bunga manggar, to oversee the cooking. We want them in the thick of things."

Bukit Lanjan assemblyman Elizabeth Wong also lauded the increase of women's representation in the amended constitution.

"Regardless of political party, women are usually left out of positions of decision-making and policy crafting. Like it or not, it is still a 'boys' club’ in the political arena," she said.

"Back in 2007, the PKR Women's wing also campaigned for the 30% women's representation. However, we didn't get 30% during the 2008 general election as many women political activists were still hesitant.

"In the 2013 election, we had more women wanting to jump into the fray. That, for me, was a result of our demand to have more women representation 6 years ago."

According to Wong, gender discrimination was still prevalent in politics and often women were required to work twice as hard to prove their worth.

"We still hear the same lame excuses - our women must prove themselves to be credible. But no one ever asked if the male candidates were credible or better to begin with.

"The 30% is a start but if we are serious about inclusivity and fair representation, it should be 50% as women make up half the population in Malaysia!"

Using the minimum number of 50 women as a benchmark, Wong believes the quota plays an an important role as a symbol of women's position within the party.

"It shows that a national congress cannot proceed without women's voices,” she said.

In the next general election, Wong expects more women, especially younger ones, to get involved in dictating party policies, volunteering as candidates and for PKR to provide "winnable" seats for them.

Looking to Selangor as an example of female might, the 41-year-old hoped the next few years will see PKR empower all women over the country to take charge in politics.

"Selangor is still the best state for women to perform and shine. We hit a record 25% women representation in the state assembly for this term and maintained 40% women representation in the state executive council.

"I am proud that PKR gave due recognition to women by filling all its executive council seats with women!"

On whether PKR was planning to expand its approach beyond the party, Wong said that while comparison of party policies are made within PKR, the greater implementation of similar policies is up to the capacity and capabilities of individual parties and states.

For now, PKR commands three women MPs - Nurul Izzah Anwar for Lembah Pantai, Zuraida Kamaruddin for Ampang and Fuziah Salleh for Kuantan while Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah holds the party president's post.

The party also boasts seven state assemblywomen in Christina Liew (Api-api), Rodziah Ismail (Batu Tiga), Dr Daroyah Alwi (Sementa), Haniza Talha (Taman Medan), Chua Yee Ling (Kuala Sepetang), Dr Norlela Ariffin (Penanti) and Wong.

Both Nurul Izzah and Fuziah Salleh double as the party's vice-presidents while Liew and Wong are PKR central committee members.

Rodziah, Dr Daroyal and Wong also hold the exco posts in the Selangor state assembly.

Tags / Keywords: Politics, PKR, women, Elizabeth Wong, Latheefa Koya