Wednesday, August 10, 2016

'Several Countries Already Have A Female Premier, What Is The Likelihood Of Malaysia Having Its First?', Malaysian Digest, 10 August 2016


Written by Syareen Majelan
After David Cameron announced his resignation last June, Britain was set to have its second female Prime Minister, and it was down to two women candidates Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom− which saw the former emerging victorious as the nation’s successor.
While miles across the North Atlantic Ocean, Hillary Clinton recently won over the Democrat votes, making her the first woman in United States history to win the nomination of a major political party, and placing her in the running to become the country’s first female President.
Pic: APPic: AP
These milestones signal a real-breakthrough that women are capable of being leaders in their own right, despite being at the periphery of leadership compared to the men in the political sphere. And they are not the only ones, as contemporaries in countries such as Germany, South Korea and Taiwan, have been entrusted to pursue the country's top job.

Evidently, having women helming the administration of a state is not something foreign in this day and age. As more nations are being more open to having female top leaders, is there a chance that Malaysia would emulate and see a woman as our future Prime Minister?
In order to answer this question, Malaysian Digest reached out to people familiar with Malaysia’s political scene to hear their thoughts.
Female Politicians Need To Break From Their Mould To Progress
Young Syefura Othman, or more widely known as Rara, is one of the most recognisable female figures in the Malaysian political scene as a member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
In regards to women in Malaysia politics, the Assistant Secretary of DAP National Women believes that women are getting more recognition and are more visible in politics today compared to back then, as tallied based on the electoral numbers.
Young Syefura OthmanYoung Syefura Othman"Women make up a large portion of Malaysia’s electorate, comprising 49 per cent of Malaysia’s 13.3 million voters.
"Over the last five years, the number of women nominated as candidates for the Malaysia 13th General Election have increased from 120 to 168.
“Women’s nomination at parliamentary levels also went up from 37 in 2008 to 56 in 2013.
“In the same vein, the number of nominations also increased at the state assembly levels from 91 in 2008 to 112 in 2013," she told Malaysian Digest.

The motion to field more women candidates by political parties is also a direct response to the changing political demography and circumstances in order to capture the votes of women voters.
“With this kind of development, we can see more visibility and recognition for women politician in the partisan politics.
“But this is not only isolated to partisan politics as some of the nonpartisan political movements are also being led by women,” she relayed.
The increasing visibility of women in politics opens them up to criticism and public scrutiny, which is what the current crop of female politicians have to contend with compared to back then when women participation in politics was below par.
“Due to patriarchal attitude and mind set, women have a tougher time than men in politics.
“Women politicians are expected to conform to certain established 'sensibilities'. They are expected to speak, dress and act a certain way.
“Their public lives are also under greater scrutiny than their male counterparts,” Rara disclosed.
The struggle that women politicians face are real, and it also manifested in 2014, after Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah’s campaigned as a prospective candidate, to assume the position of Selangor’s Menteri Besar (MB).
Datin Seri Dr Wan AzizahDatin Seri Dr Wan AzizahThe constitutional monarch came to its decision not to endorse Dr Wan Azizah from holding the highest position in the state administration, despite Selangor’s constitution not having any clause that restrict women from becoming the MB.
"A woman MB has to perform Islamic religious obligations with, or on behalf of, the Malay ruler and this will be an obstacle when she is having her period.
“This is because should a woman menteri besar suffer from ‘uzur syarie’ (period), there will be many obstacles for her to accompany the Sultan at religious functions.
“Hence, the Article under the Selangor constitution for example may not hinder a woman from becoming a menteri besar, but by convention there could be problems due to the said circumstances.” Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun, an UMNO lawyer, was quoted saying to a local newspaper.
Dr Wan Azizah's nomination was also rejected by some PAS leaders due to her gender, however, during the fiasco their disagreements were played down.
“To date, the PAS top leadership had yet to give clear reasons why they continue to make statements rejecting Dr Wan Azizah even though the PAS central committee has yet to convene,” PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution said.
Although the naysayers’ opinions were not the general consensus, it was proof that some Malaysians still have reservations to having women holding these high-ranking positions.
The expectation placed on women politicians to champion certain causes in politics that relate to women, children and family, is another challenge that women politicians have to face.
This specificity hinders women politicians from moving up the political hierarchy and to have meaningful roles in politics.
However, despite the challenges that women face in politics, Rara believes that it is possible for Malaysia to see its first woman Prime Minister.
“I believe it is possible, but not in the near future. For now, we are still stuck with increasing racial polarisation.
“Political space for women is limited by democratic boundaries and institutionalised patriarchal values in state machineries and political parties.
“However, there is major development in the nonpartisan political area with women leading critical movements like Bersih and I believe the waves are coming to partisan politics now,” she confided.
Nevertheless, the increasing participation and changing political circumstances is not enough to see Malaysia take the leap of electing its first women Prime Minister as Rara highlighted several things need to be done before this can be achieved.
“Women need to be more involved in every level in political parties to ensure that they can choose who among them would be their leader and to bring out the best in the person that they elected.
“With more involvement of women, they also can push to remove the patriarchal values in political parties,” she said.
She also added, the mentality that politics is dirty to women needs to change, and that female politicians have to insist on moving away from the roles that have been assigned and associated with them by being brave and vocal to champion national level causes.
“Female politicians have to change their mindsets from only representing women to representing the views of women and the public as a whole,” Rara firmly stated.

And when asked in the current line-up of women politicians, who she feels would be capable of rising to the top: “Hannah Yeoh, Nurul Izzah and Ambiga,” she concluded.
It Is Time For Women To Be Given Pertinent Positions
Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian also thinks that the odds of Malaysia having its first female Prime Minister are not too slim, but he mentioned that it all depends on the willingness of the political parties themselves.
Dr Sivamurugan PandianDr Sivamurugan Pandian“We are moving towards there gradually but it all depends on the extent the political parties are willing to offer important positions to women, for example the top five positions,” he said.
Apart from the willingness of parties to give way to female members to rise to the top, the political environment also plays a part in the direction that Malaysian politics is heading to.
“In UMNO, we only have Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said as the Division head from 191 divisions. How many women hold division or state chairs in PKR, DAP or BN parties? In fact, we are struggling to reach the 30 per cent quota for women representation in the corporate world.
“Therefore, we need to open up and allow more women to be given higher positions in the party rather than women utilised only at the grassroots level to move from house to house just to get support,” Siva said.
As the women have been playing the role for so long, Siva believes that it is time for women to be given pertinent position in the parties.
In a county where most of its people hold Islamic values close to their hearts, having a woman leader would not mesh well with them as it would seem contradictory with the teachings of Islam.
Siva however disagrees with this notion, citing other Muslim nations that have been helmed by a woman.
“Indonesia, with the biggest Muslim community, had a woman President – Megawati Sukarnoputri; Pakistan also had a woman Prime Minister – Benazir Bhutto,” he said.
This is also not a thing of the past as Bangladesh currently has a woman as its Prime Minister – Sheikh Hasina, who is actually the second woman appointed as the country’s Prime Minister.
A look in Islamic history also proved during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), women played an important role in leadership and power, and were allowed to take on powerful leadership positions.
Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. FilePic: Berita HarianDatuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. FilePic: Berita HarianHaving said this, Siva added that religion should not be used as an excuse to stop women from becoming a leader as they have a track record that shows that they are capable of holding the position.
“They have a track record if we refer to their performance in companies and also parties or organisations.
“With high enrolment of female to universities, women are already becoming an asset and we need to come out from conventional thoughts on women,” he said.
He ended by stating that it is timely for women to be given better positions, including the highest position in the government, as women emancipation has changed throughout the world.
Unfortunately, we were unable to get a response from Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said as she declined to comment on this issue when Malaysian Digest contacted her earlier.
Yet, despite the obstacles our female stronghold figures are faced with, they have proven to work hard, in fact twice as hard, to stand out and strive for the same goals as men, stepping into territories traditionally occupied by men, as well as having their voices heard in the political world full of barriers.
Hence, if we can all look beyond playing the gender card in Malaysia, perhaps one day we will start creating a more gender-balanced Parliament for our nation. Then optimistically, in future, we will be able to witness a moment of history unfolding right before our eyes.

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