Women in Malaysian Politics
By Alyssa Chua (P.104 Kelana Jaya Intern, 2017) Executive Summary:
In this paper, we explore the positions of women in education and in the workforce, and examine how that in turn has influenced their representation in politics. We first observe the following: 1.1 Female students outperform male students in primary and secondary schools, and outnumber them in Malaysian public tertiary institutions; 1.2 There is a high percentage of women who hold entry-level positions; however, most of them leave to raise families and do not return to the workforce, largely due to the lack of welfare benefits for new mothers in Malaysia; and 1.3 As most women leave the workforce in their mid-20s, hardly any have the experience to climb the corporate ladder, let alone seek out leadership positions in the public sector.
Based on interviews with four women Members of Parliament (MPs) and one State Assemblywoman (namely YB Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, YB Nurul Izzah Anwar, YB Dr. Siti Mariah Mahmud, YB Fuziah Salleh, and YB Hannah Yeoh), we identify three core issues hindering female participation in politics: 2.1 The existence of a cultural glass ceiling in Malaysia for women in politics; 2.2 Work-life balance being more of an issue for women than for men; and 2.3 Women politicians experiencing more boundaries to being elected compared to their male counterparts.
The Malaysian government has previously committed to several initiatives such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, and a 2003–2006 collaboration with the UN Development Programme, “Towards Achieving at Least 30 Percent Participation of Women at Decision Making Levels in Malaysia.” However, the percentage of women MPs in the Dewan Rakyat remains low at 10.4% in 2017.
While the Nordic countries’ collective effort on the Nordic Cooperation Programme on Gender Equality is likely unfeasible among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Malaysia can still learn from some of the Nordic countries’ individual efforts, including: 4.1 Revising our electoral system from a plurality, first-past-the-post voting system to a proportional representation system; and 4.2 Like Prime Ministers Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of Iceland and Olof Palme of Sweden, our political leaders should publicly advocate the issue of gender equality in politics.
Referencing examples in North America and Europe, we make recommendations towards promoting female retention in the workplace and representation in politics, such as: 5.1 Implementing affirmative action policies in company committees, boards, and councils to give women a voice in decision-making roles; 5.2 Updating maternity leave benefits to paid maternity leave for a more optimal amount of 50 weeks, as opposed to the current 60 days available; 5.3 Installing family-friendly facilities, including lactation rooms and childcare centres to accommodate new mothers returning to the workplace; and 5.4 Temporarily enforcing a gender quota in Parliament and the State Assemblies until 30% female representation is achieved, and revising this quota once the 30% is met.
The shortage of women in politics is a universal issue. Liberal democratic countries have long been pushing for gender equality not only in politics, but on all fronts. It is time that Malaysia fulfilled her goal of becoming a developed nation by joining in the fight for this fundamental human right.