Going beyond thoughts and prayers

  • naturalLy
  • Saturday, 23 Mar 2019

Ardern visiting a mosque at Hagley Park

WOMEN who lead showed us exactly what they are made of this past week. Following the terror attack at two mosques in Christchurch, the world finally saw how committed politics looks like in the form of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

In similar tragedies, we are usually served with the outpouring of “thoughts and prayers” by political leaders. I admit that I am one of those individuals who would change my social media profile page to be ‘in solidarity’ with whatever tragedy is befalling the world at the time – until the point where I got too cynical to care.

Until last week. Following the terror attack, Jacinda Ardern has not only publicly grieved but exemplified empathy and compassion to what is a minority community in her country.

Barely 72 hours following the terror attack, her Cabinet had agreed to overhaul gun laws, a move that was swiftly followed by banning all military-style semiautomatic weapons a few days later. She consoled the grieving and promised to cover funeral costs.

Her Cabinet then promised immediate financial assistance for the survivors and the families who had lost their sole breadwinners in the terror attack. She further demanded an explanation from her intelligence agencies on the gunman’s profile and how they had overlooked his case – all within a week of the terror attack.

The best response of all however, was her refusal to publicise the gunman’s name. Instead of feeding into the usual cacophony on social media following similar tragedies, she simply refuses to give him and his ideology any limelight at all.

Closer to home, another young woman showed exemplary leadership in time of crisis. Yeo Bee Yin, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology and Climate Change personally oversaw the clean-up, emergency response and initiated legal persecution of those responsible for the toxic spill at Sungai Kim Kim, Pasir Gudang.

Yeo personally oversaw the clean-up at Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang.

While similar cases are only able to be charged under Environmental Quality Act 1974 34(b) where those found guilty face a maximum fine of only RM500,000 and maximum jail term of 5 years, she further communicated with the Attorney General on the severity of the case to ensure justice is served.

Political optics aside by the descend of a horde of her fellow Ministers to the area and visiting victims affected, at time of writing, Yeo announced that Putrajaya is mulling a new law to make polluters pay for clean up and damages.

Both women showed that swift action can be taken following crisis. There is no politicking about sensitivity of the majority population in the case of New Zealand, nor is there any pandering to requiring more investigation in the case of Pasir Gudang.

What we as common rakyat need to ask ourselves is this – why do we tend to put women leaders to a different standard than men? In the same week that these two exemplary leadership are shown; the Selangor State Assembly Speaker berated a member of its assembly for the colour of her dress and coat.

What for? I do not think there was a memo for Speakers to also act as fashion police.

Why do we continue to give leeway for male politicians while at the same time assume that women cannot act in a leadership role? Why do we continue to field, vote for and appoint men who have been shown to have less integrity, dubious qualifications, and shifting principles yet are so triggered by having more women in Cabinet and dismiss their appointments as tokenism?

Why indeed. As we question ourselves on these choices, we must also ask how we can support our leaders beyond sharing our admiration for their action and sharing the hashtag “thoughts and prayers” on our social media posts.

A solidarity march for the Christchurch terror attack aside, Malaysians must now rise above the rhetoric of hate that can so easily divide us. Stop allowing those who manufacture hate to dictate our thinking, our perceptions, and our response to incidents.

Ministers must lead by example and not allow persons who pander to hate to be the inspiration for them or their policies. Call out those who seek to divide us, and never elect them into power.

The case at Sg Kim Kim, Pasir Gudang must see us lobbying for harsher environmental laws. Big corporations must be taxed heavily for negative externalities in their production while at the same time incentivised should they implement green technology to reduce such externalities.

Clean-up costs should be borne by the corporations responsible for pollution. They should also be made to pay for medical costs of victims affected – in short, there must be accountability to causing environmental harm. Ardern and Yeo have shown by example that women leaders are capable, assertive, and set the standards to which we should now subject all leaders to. It’s time for us to elect more women into leadership roles simply because women get the job done.

It is also time for us to act, rather than merely offering “thoughts and prayers”.

  • Lyana Khairuddin is a virologist turned policy nerd living in Kuala Lumpur. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
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