DAP made Malaysian history last month, by setting a minimum 30 percent women’s quota at the central executive committee (CEC) level. Many regard this as a positive step that will encourage more women to participate in politics, especially at decision-making levels.
Wanita DAP chief Chong Eng aptly described it as “an important step to begin paving the way for more women leaders, and thus policies that are reflective of women's interests”.
Sadly, both PKR and PAS are still lagging in terms of women representation in politics. Even though PKR amended its constitution in 2009, which included a 30 percent quota for women representation at all levels, the party has yet to achieve this.
Meanwhile according to PAS’ Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, PAS’ men leaders and part of the women leaders “are not ready to impose such a quota” - even if this was the wish of the party’s women’s wing.
Such reports are upsetting, but change is not impossible. The role of women in local politics must be given greater emphasis, and this can only been done by changing the mindset of our society.
I concur with Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin’s statement that although the party - and to an extent, the Pakatan Rakyat coalition - has successfully attracted numerous capable women, unfortunately, quite a number of women are still somewhat reluctant to “step up” and take on leadership roles.
Female politicians easier targets
Gender discrimination is a definite problem that has kept a lot of capable women away from politics.
In general, female politicians are easier targets when it comes to smear campaigns and negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, we still live in a deep rooted patriarchal system that curtails a woman’s mobility and freedom, where some - both men and women - still feel that men are better suited emotionally and ‘genetically’ for politics.
We have also seen the ugly side of internalised sexism, where women single out and belittle other women through organisations that struggle to maintain patriarchal beliefs.
The notion that women are ‘alone’ and have no support from society can be demoralising. The obstacles Malaysian women face - whilst trying to purge the repulsiveness of misogyny - can be daunting and discouraging at times, some Malaysians even go as far as dismissing women’s rights as something frivolous and not worth fighting for.
Given that women make up more than half of the Malaysian population, there is a great necessity to ensure that women are presented the same opportunities for leadership as men, and are also allowed to serve without fear of intimidation and discrimination.
Our biggest challenge right now is addressing the factors that deter women from seeking or accepting a career in politics and challenging the patriarchal system; women and young girls are capable of achieving greatness, and are more than capable to compete with men as equals.
We need to inspire, encourage and implant ideas that will enable them to see themselves as future leaders, not just playing second fiddle or merely complimenting the ‘masculine form’.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID is Bukit Bendera Wanita DAP political education director and Bukit Bendera DAP Socialist Youth secretary.