MALAYSIA: Women want more empowerment, political representation

by Alisha Hassan | 25 September 2012 | Bikyamasr – Indipendent news for the world 

Malaysia women remain on the outside of politics.

KUALA LUMPUR: Mary Li sits quietly in her office in Kuala Lumpur. She is a lawyer now, but she had been a leading youth figure only 15 years ago, meandering her way into the political fray of Malaysia’s political scene. For her, however, the current situation facing women is frustrating.

“Women in this country have lost out on being a real instrumental part of the political scene, which is why I left politics for law,” she told Bikyamasr.com.

She believes that the male-dominated political machinations in Malaysia have given so little opportunity to women that she feels alienated and angry.

“We need more female representation in parliament and we need visible women in the public sphere to galvanize and promote women’s rights and empowerment,” she added.

Li quit politics after she said numerous male colleagues could not stop flirting and propositioning her throughout her few years as a youth leader in Penang. That was the tipping point, she said, and fears that women, especially young women, are facing similar struggles today.

“The country is supposed to be moving forward and the government keeps talking about being a developed country, but we can’t even develop our top resource, which is women,” she added.

Her beliefs are supported by women’s rights organizations in the country, who have repeatedly talked about the lack of political representation of women in government, the rise of sexual violence and the lack of key strategies to empower.

Although women make up half of the 13 million potential voters in Malaysia, analysts and women’s groups have said the situation facing women in the country is not optimistic and neglect has taken hold.

According to statistics from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, only 10.4 percent of the country’s 222 federal lawmakers and 8 percent of the 576 assembly persons in state assemblies nationwide are women.

In total, there are 13 Barisan Nasional (BN) women MPs and 10 from Pakatan Rakyat (PR), comprising four from the DAP, and three each from PAS and PKR.

At the state level, BN women occupy 27 seats in state legislatures while PR holds 21 seats — 13 from the DAP and four each from PAS and PKR.

Making matters worse still for women, activists argue, is that women’s empowerment and rights are being run at the government level by a man, Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“How can a man know what is best for a woman? He can’t, but this is part of the problem here in Malaysia,” Li added.

Jayum A. Jawan, a professor of politics and government with Universiti Putra Malaysia, said women wanted to participate in the country’s development but political parties have not been treating them “seriously”.

He said the “lack” of women in “high decision-making positions” must be addressed, saying that there are many “capable” women in the workforce.

“Anybody who includes more women candidates will definitely appeal to the professional women.”

“That is how you empower women, put more of them in Parliament,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Will elections to take place before April next year, Li and other women’s rights advocates are uncertain, even pessimistic, that the political plight of the female will change in the country.

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