KUALA LUMPUR: If the Cabinet will have 25 ministries, as proposed by the Pakatan Harapan government, at least eight ministers should be women.
So said women’s rights groups and their allies, who assembled at Istana Negara on Monday morning to peacefully picket for 30% women representation in the Cabinet.
The gathering at Gate 2, which was organised by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), called on Pakatan Harapan to fulfil its promise of minimum 30% representation at the highest policy-making body in Malaysia.
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) executive director Angela M. Kuga Thas said 30% is needed because women have very different experiences and perspectives of what development solutions require.
“Women are known to have pushed for child-friendly policies, the Domestic Violence Act 1994, and the recent Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.
“We need women to be at the decision-making table to bring the different perspectives of their lived realities,” she said.
According to Angela, this was also promised in 1998 by the then Barisan Nasional government.
At the time, Tan Sri Zaleha Ismail said Malaysia would have a minimum of 30% women in Cabinet and in all decision-making levels in Government within seven years.
Two decades on, this has yet to become a reality.
Sisters in Islam executive director Rozana Isa also questioned just how much women’s issues are put front and centre by the Cabinet, except when pressed.
“If women’s issues aren’t more actively and aggressively prioritised at the parliamentary level … then I feel women and their rights will be left far behind.
“What we’re asking for is just the minimum 30%,” she said.
Angela added that there are a sufficient number of qualified women candidates, and cited the case of Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh, who was the first woman speaker of the Selangor state assembly.
“She had no experience of being a speaker, and yet she grabbed that opportunity and has performed really well. It’s about making equal opportunities and (creating) access to that equal opportunity.
“If the names are not forwarded to the Prime Minister for consideration, then that’s already a problem.
“It’s not that there aren't enough women MPs who are well qualified for the jobs. It’s just whether the party heads or party leaders will put their names forward or not,” she said.
In response to arguments about merit, Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) acting director Ren Chung Yu had a succinct reply.
“If it doesn’t even reach 30% of women in Cabinet, when we know that women make up 50% in the country, do you think we’re getting the best?
“Not likely,” he said, to shouts of “No” in the background.
“We congratulate Pakatan for putting three women in Cabinet already, but we want to make sure when the next 10 to 15 appointments are made, that the Government fulfils its promise to people,
which include 30% (women) policy-makers in this country,” he added.
So far, in just nine days, over 6,400 people men and women have signed the letter demanding for the minimum 30% women’s representation in Cabinet.
Communications manager Syar S. Alia, who attended the assembly, said she’s never seen the push for more representation to be “as loud as it is right now”.
She pointed out there are enough capable women that can be in Cabinet and state excos.
“The numbers work out still in women’s favour. We’re already doing our part.
“Essentially, we’ve seen what the state excos have fielded, we’ve already seen the numbers not being up to par.
“It’s well within any citizen’s rights to be sceptical, to ensure that the promise is going to be kept for Cabinet,” she said.
Juana Jaafar, a women’s rights advocate and part of the team that drafted the open letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to petition for the minimum 30%, hopes the new administration realise that they still have the opportunity to make it happen as the announcement of Cabinet members is being done in batches.
“They can still make it happen. Please don’t disappoint us.
“Because women went out to vote for Pakatan Harapan. Women campaigned for Pakatan Harapan. There are women within Pakatan Harapan who have won their seats.
“We are not calling for random women to be picked from the streets, you know? We are calling for women who are within the party ranks, elected representatives, who have the people’s mandate.
“What is the problem apart from your sexism? Nothing,” she added.