Women’s political participation still poor, says AWAM

PETALING JAYA: Despite women making up about half the number of voters in the country, Malaysia is still among the countries with the lowest proportion of female parliamentarians.

This was pointed out by All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) programme manager Lilian Kok, who said that in the 14th general election (GE14), 7.3 million women made up 50.44% of the total number of registered voters.

However, in contrast, only 14.86% of the elected federal lawmakers are women, she said.

She said it has become a human rights issue as women need substantial political representation as they make up about half the population.

“We can expect the number of female voters for GE15 to be consistent at about 50-50, even with new voters under 21,” she said.

Kok said AWAM, together with Cent GPS, conducted a survey – Malaysian Women in Politics – in 2021 involving 118 female respondents registered with various political parties.

In the survey, 76.3% of respondents highlighted that domestic responsibility is the biggest obstacle for a woman who intends to run for office.

Meanwhile, 78% of the respondents agreed that the public is more likely to vote for male candidates compared to female candidates.

“More surprisingly, 69.5% of survey respondents noted that women received less support and encouragement from the community.

“These points highlight the strong social and cultural barriers that need to be realigned so that we value a politician’s ability by virtue of merit and performance.”

As such, she said AWAM looks forward to seeing the narrative of our culture and social norms change in favour of providing a safe, supportive and conducive environment for women politicians in the country.

On Sept 27, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun said a women’s leadership forum involving political leaders from different parties will be held today, adding that it was time to beef up women’s representation to 30% at all levels.

Kok stated that the organisation was eager to observe the outcome of this meeting to strengthen the solidarity among Malaysian female politicians.

She hoped that the ministers and members of political parties would be aware of the factors that deter or discourage women from participating actively in politics and would be able to tackle the issues before the next election.

TalentCorp deputy vice-president (women’s programmes) Dinatra Mohd Saat said women may shy away from politics due to being unconsciously influenced by social norms.

She claimed that one of the issues is a lack of role models, adding that media coverage also tends to make politics a man’s game while highlighting women’s challenges negatively.

The solution, she said, is to highlight women’s impact on politics positively and the good they can bring about for people through their participation in politics.

“Early awareness is important,” she emphasised.

Dinatra said 30% representation was a good starting point, adding that this can be accomplished if each party fields 30% female candidates in the upcoming election.

If all political parties do this collectively, she believes it is possible to create a pool of female candidates with a better probability of being elected, resulting in a higher chance of them being appointed as Cabinet members.

In a statement, the Women Leadership Foundation (WLF) said female representation globally is still below 30%.

“Data from the Global Gender Gap Index (GGDI) shows that the global average of women in ministerial positions nearly doubled between 2006 and 2022, increasing from 9.9% to 16.1%,” it stated.

Malaysia was ranked 116th in GGDI 2022, jumping nine places from 125th in 2021.

“Therefore, we are well below the 30% benchmark. We must expedite the process. We must make sure we get a 30% quota of women in Parliament holding ministerial and key positions at federal or state levels,” the WLF said.

The foundation also expressed its concerns over the low representation of women in Parliament, as only 33 out of 222 MPs were women.

Of the 33 female MPs, only nine (or 27%) hold the positions of ministers and deputy ministers.

As for Dewan Negara, only 12 out of 61 members are women, or 19%.

“The number or the percentage is too small, therefore, bold and fast actions have to be taken,” it said.

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