I applaud Steve Oh's commendable piece on women's rights which is right on target and timely, with news on women and related issues taking prominence in the print and electronic media over the last few weeks.
I am elated that many men and women have come forward to speak on the issues plaguing women for centuries and decades now.
I am especially impressed and thankful to our prime minister who, in his keynote address at the Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on the Advancement of Women, said that all laws and regulations that are discriminatory to women will be reviewed or amended.
While, it is heartening to note that people at the decision-making level recognise that women's issues need serious redress, I hope the same powers that made the call for review and amendment are not merely offering mere lip service. We want to see action and without delay.
Would I be ostracised as a pessimist were I to hypothesise that beyond this NAM event, it will be deafening silence yet again?
We have seen women's issues being highlighted at the various conferences where findings and resolutions were recorded and neatly archived, but we are yet to see changes that make a difference. We have heard of how the women's wing of the political parties make resolutions year after year at the annual general assemblies but the outcome is often left to our own imagination and conclusion
Women continue to live as second-class citizens, being deprived, discriminated and hardly heard, at home, at work and in the society. The onus is now on the respective ministries, women's wing of the various political parties and the relevant NGOs to pursue these resolutions doggedly to empower women for greater success and achievement.
The campaign against discrimination on women should begin at home. As Steve Oh rightly pointed out, every woman in a household must be respected and given equal importance and prominence.
Incidentally, we must also not forget that discrimination of women by women is also common in Asian society, especially from the middle class downwards. Mothers favouring sons to daughters, divorced women being chastised as 'fallen' women, rape victims being shunned and snubbed are some examples. The list can go on.
Educating the public at large on women's rights is a long and arduous task but not an impossible one. Together, we can make a difference
At the next NAM Ministerial Meeting on the Advancement of Women, it will be of interest to the average women in Malaysia to know to what extent the resolutions and pledges have been realised.
In this context, I would like to share an often quoted speech made by Nehru way back in 1928 in Allahabad:
'May I say that you agree with this idea of women's life and education where a woman's place was in the home, that her duty was to be a devoted wife, bringing up her children skillfully and dutifully obedient to her elders, what does it signify? It means that the woman has one profession and one only that is the profession of marriage and it is our chief business to train her for that profession. Even in this profession her chief role is to be of secondary importance. She is always to be devoted helper, mate, the follower and the obedient slave of her husband and others.
"I wonder if any of you have read the Ibsen's Doll's House, if so, you will perhaps appreciate the word 'doll' when I use it in this connection. The future of a nation cannot consist of dolls and playthings and if you make half the population of a country mere plaything of the other half, an encumbrance on others, how will you ever progress? Therefore, I say that you must face the problem boldly and attack the roots of evil.'
(Quoted from the book Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World by Kumari Jeyawardena, 1986).