Sabah govt urged to cut gender gap in assembly

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's unique constitutional provision to allow the appointment of six nominated state assembly seats could be used to boost women's representation in government, a non-governmental organisation said.

The Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo) said it was unacceptable that only seven of 73 elected representatives in the current state assembly are women.

It suggested that the state government convert the current nominated seats into women-only "top-up" additions.

"If fewer than 18 women are elected in the next state elections for the 73 seats, then all six nominated seats must be filled by women pre-nominated by the various parties," Sawo said in a statement on Tuesday (Feb 9).

It said the current composition of women in the state assembly is only 9.6%, against the world target of a 30% minimum in legislature set by the United Nations in 1995.

Sawo urged Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor to take a bold step towards using women-only top-up seats to help meet the 30% target.

"If 22 women are elected then we would have achieved 30% representation in the Sabah assembly. If it is less, then there is a need for a top-up using the nominated seats," the statement said, adding that even if the 30% target is not met, the nominations would at least reduce the gap.

"Under-representation of women is not because we lack women talents, when we have more women than men among graduates today.

"What we really lack is retiring male incumbents, who cannot be removed by party leadership even if they have lost their vigour and relevance," Sawo said.

Having top-up seats for women is not new in Malaysia. Under PAS, Terengganu changed its constitution in 2003 to allow the appointment of up to four women or non-Muslim representatives to the state assembly if no women or non-Muslims were elected.

Sawo hoped the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) government under Hajiji would use the existing constitutional provision to increase women's representation in the state legislature.

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