More political will required to meet 30% women candidates quota

PETALING JAYA: Although women outnumber men in the electoral roll, they only make up 13.5% of candidates in the 15th General Election (GE15).

According to the Election Commission (EC), there are 21,173,638 registered voters for the GE15, with 50.3% or 10,622,151 women and 49.7% or 10,511,487 men.

In GE14, women made up 50.58% of the 14,940,624 voters.

However, the 14th Parliament, prior to its dissolution last month, only had 14.86% or 33 women MPs out of 222.

Political analyst Assoc Prof Dr Sharifah Syahirah Syed Sheikh, who is also with the National Council of Women’s Organisations of Malaysia (NCWO), said the 13.5% of women candidates for GE15 was considered low but this was 3% more compared to GE14 which had 10.5%.

However these numbers missed the 30% mark set by global standards on women’s involvement in political and public life, she said.

In GE15, there are 187 women candidates compared to 1,199 men contesting for the 222 parliamentary seats, as well as the Perlis, Perak and Pahang state seats, and the Bugaya state by-election in Sabah.

Sharifah Syahirah said the issue of meritocracy was often raised when discussing the lack of female representation in politics but this was a stereotype and a form of discrimination.

“One reason why it’s hard to increase the number of female candidates is not because of the women leaders’ credibility itself, but because of internal party politics, which are male-dominated.

“Our mindset is still masculine-centric and looks at male traits as being better than female,” she said.

Sharifah Syahirah pointed out that political parties which were less dominated by men had successfully fielded more women candidates for GE15.

Pakatan Harapan is fielding 19% women candidates for Parliament, or 40 out of its 206 line-up, according to figures by Pantau PRU15, a group formed by the NCWO to monitor women representation in the coming election.

Barisan Nasional has 12.4% or 22 women among its 178 parliamentary candidates while Perikatan Nasional is fielding 11%, or 16 females among its 146 candidates.

Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA), which is contesting under the Pejuang logo, is fielding 16 women out of 116 candidates contesting, which comes up to 13.8%.

Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) has four out of seven, making it the only party with 57.6% of female candidates.

Warisan is fielding six women out of its 52-candidate line-up, or 11.6%, while Gabungan Parti Sarawak has four female candidates out of 31, or 13%.

There are a total of 19 other candidates who are either Independent or with other parties.

Sharifah Syahirah said there was a national action plan geared towards realising the 30% quota for women.

However, political parties must make a commitment to field more women as electoral candidates to enable them to change the face of politics and hold office.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s professor of political sociology Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said women had always been the pillar in political parties.

As voters, their numbers are slightly higher than men, so they could become kingmakers in certain critical constituencies, he said.

“Their voice is important to be heard.

“Meanwhile, as a candidate, they bring the voice of gender equality and transform a gender biased nation in politics to a more balanced acceptance, giving more opportunities to lead a diversified nation,” he said.

Sivamurugan said women succeeded in winning seats for major political parties in GE14, although out of 39 parties, only 19 fielded female candidates.

DAP won all eight seats while PKR snapped up 13 seats and Barisan Nasional polled two out of three.

He said women had the same merit and quality as male candidates but many were denied candidacy due to competition within the party.

He said parties must have political will to field more women candidates.

“Everything starts from the party itself if it wants to see changes and achieve the 30% quota.

“We must push for a more balanced ratio and demand for more gender equality from various bodies.

“There’s no point in focusing on women’s issues and making it one of the main agenda in all political parties’ manifestos but they can’t offer more (women) candidates.

“Change for women representation starts from within the party and we hope to see that in the future,” Sivamurugan said.

Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said there was a need for political leadership and party policies to ensure more women in politics and government.

“Being a female candidate is also important in uplifting the country’s agenda for women and not only in the party,” he said.

Awang Azman, who is with Universiti Malaya’s Department of Socioculture, Academy of Malay Studies, said in GE15, the performance of women candidates would depend on the grade of the seat assigned.

“They can win if the seats are grades A and B. But if you name women as candidates just to fill the quota and stand in other parties’ strongholds, then the candidate will lose, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman,” he said.

Awang Azman added that in the selection of candidates and office bearers, it was important for parties to choose according to the strength of their performance and merit in order to ensure that the best women lead.

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