Kak Wan and the symbolic force of the first female DPM

Opinion  |  James Chai
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | At the break of dawn on May 10, we will have our first ever female deputy prime minister - Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, or Kak Wan, as she is widely referred to.

When Malaysia is greeted with a woman helming the second-highest public office of the country, there will be an impact that is both symbolic and concrete.

It is undeniable that women around the world still face an invisible barrier called the “glass ceiling” that inhibits them from rising to the top. This is especially so in Malaysian politics. Female politicians are constantly objectified, jeered, and ridiculed in and out of Parliament. It is no wonder that there are only about 10 percent of women in the August House.

When a woman thinks of joining politics to serve the country, one of the most common handicaps is the perception she will receive based on her gender.

But after May 10, things will slowly change for the better with Kak Wan as the symbol of strength and resilience.

Young girls of Malaysia will start their lives with someone they could look up to. Women competing in fields traditionally considered “male”, like politics, science and business, will have the confidence to achieve all they set out to do.

Symbol of strength and resilience

Kak Wan is no stranger to gendered attacks. When she was proposed as the menteri besar of the wealthiest Malaysian state of Selangor, she was told that she is unqualified because the post had always been a male post. Her menstrual cycle, they said, prevents her from doing her job effectively. When such degrading comments were thrown against her, she soldiered on.

But many people still have reservations about Kak Wan. They think that she’s just a puppet to her husband, Anwar Ibrahim. To assess the truth of this, we must look deeper.

We must remember that this is the woman who held the fragile PKR fort for nearly 20 years. She persisted through the most difficult time of 2004 when PKR was left with only one seat in Parliament - her seat. She has won several elections on her own and has held the opposition leader position in Parliament...

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