When the 14th Parliament of Malaysia convenes for its first meeting of the first session on 25 June, around 16 percent of the Dewan Rakyat will be composed of women.
A total of 251 women were nominated to contest in a parliamentary or a state seat in the recent general elections. Males outnumbered female candidates by more than 8 to 1. 612 men and 75 women fought for federal seats, while 1470 men and 176 women contested state seats. Women accounted for around 11 percent of all candidates.
Based on the Election Commission’s electoral roll, women also make up 50.58 percent of 14,968,229 registered voters. 11 states and two federal territories actually have more female voters than male voters, namely Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Sarawak, and the two federal regions of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Selangor has the most number of female voters at 1.22 million voters.
Assuming the same proportion is applied to the voter turnout of 82.32 percent, it is likely that 6,232,390 Malaysian women took part in the polls of 9 May.
So what do these numbers all mean?
It means that not only did women play a crucial role in shaping voter concerns and likely voting patterns in the lead up to the general elections, they very likely determined the historic outcome which broke Barisan Nasional’s 60 year hold on the government. In other words, women were the margin of victory.
Today’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government owes the women voters of Malaysia a huge debt of gratitude of making the seemingly impossible, possible.
There’s a paragraph on page 181 of the PH manifesto which promised voters that at least 30 percent of policy makers would be women. It is one of the key commitments to women and girls in the areas of economy, health and social security, education, legal status and political participation.
It is the same commitment contained within the previous Pakatan Rakyat manifesto in 2013.
Let this be clear. This 30 percent is not a quota as we usually understand and have experienced in this country, where race and religion have often been seen to be more important than merit and experience.
This commitment to women is an overdue recognition of their value, abilities, competency and contributions to this country. It is a recognition that a system exists in which they are intentionally or unintentionally marginalised, excluded and forgotten from consideration to be policy makers at the highest levels.
It is a promise to correct that unfairness and disparity.
So far, it doesn’t look very encouraging. Neither the current excos in PH ruled states nor the Cabinet have a minimum of 30 percent of qualified women as its members. It is even likely that some state excos won’t even have a single woman onboard. Is it really that hard to find qualified women to be Ministers and Exco members? You only need eight in the case of the Cabinet.
Whenever the question is raised as to why women are woefully underrepresented in government, the answer is always in the form of another question often asked in an indignant demand, are they qualified?
The insistence for 30 percent of leadership and policy making positions does not come with a demand for exceptions to be made regarding the quality, competency and qualifications of the person for the job. It is also not about tokenism, handouts or ticking a box.
Here’s a fact.
Research shows that because the bar is set higher for women seeking public office than it is for men, those who actually run are more likely than men to possess qualities sought after by both voters and those wanting to form a government. Qualities such as integrity, competency, intelligence and experience.
The fact is that women candidates have to be better qualified than men in order to win elections.
It is interesting to note that every single woman that DAP fielded as a parliamentary and state assembly candidate won in the recent elections. More than half of the 27 candidates won with five digit majorities. Take a look at their CVs.
Look at all the women who have made it to the Dewan Rakyat and State Assemblies. Most of them are skilled and credentialed professionals with proven track records either in their work or politics demonstrating skills and the qualities stated earlier. They persisted, persevered and won.
In the past, we have seen the appointment of men into positions of authority and responsibility, whose credentials were barely enough to qualify for entry-level positions, much less ministerial appointments. I don’t recall the demands to demonstrate competency or questions of their appointments being tokenism, as many or as furious in their intensity.
The real issue isn’t about capability, qualifications or competency. It is about power.
Examples from around the world and in Malaysia itself, prove that women’s participation and role in decision making and designing public policies are highly beneficial and have a positive impact on people’s lives.
We don’t have to look far for such able people. For example, imagine what Fuziah Salleh, Member of Parliament for Kuantan, could do as a Minister in charge of the environment?
The lack of women in positions of policy making and political power has a cost to society, as they often have a diversity of priorities which often are different to that of men. They are more likely to highlight health, community, environment, labour and welfare issues.
The fact is that everyone benefits with more women in power
Our continued growth, competitiveness and resiliency of countries depend on us being able to successfully harness and mobilise half of our population and talent capacity. Women have successfully built and governed cities and countries, institutions and economies.
We just cheered at the appointment of the first female Deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps one day we will mark the occasion of the first female Chief Minister and even, if I may dare imagine, celebrate the first woman as our Prime Minister.
Until the political participation gap is closed, women will be unable to meet their full potential, and we will be poorer as a result.
2018 should be a wake-up call for us to insist on fulfilment of this long-held promise. This must be communicated clearly and loudly without any ifs, buts or caveats.
As published by The Star (2 June 2018)