Political participation - parity, inclusivity, diversity

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Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) congratulates Jannie Lasimbang for her win in the Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK) election for Kg Tanaki and Nampasan in the district of Penampang, Sabah. We further congratulate the district of Penampang for the admirable effort in holding local elections, thus ensuring that people on the ground have a real say in how the place they live in should be run.

This news makes the International Women’s Day 2016 extraordinarily meaningful.

Jannie Lasimbang is a well-regarded indigenous rights activist and human rights defender. She co-founded Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (Pacos Trust), which aims to raise quality of life for the indigenous people by strengthening social organisations, the knowledge system in the indigenous community and management of natural resources, and early childhood development.

Between 2010-2013, Lasimbang was a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner. She was also secretary-general of the Asian Indigenous Peoples’ Pact and was a former member of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The meaningful participation of Orang Asal (indigenous) women in politics and public life must be reflected nationwide. In this, Empower strongly supports the urging by Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) for equitable representation of Orang Asal women in politics.

Despite the government’s stated commitments to women’s representation in decision-making positions, the percentage of women in Parliament and state assemblies have stagnated at around 10 to 11 percent.

As of 2014, women make up only 13.6 percent of 2,857 local councillors. Orang Asal women are further marginalised from leadership and decision-making positions. Bringing back local government elections, including those for city councils, would enable more women who are already engaged with improving the lives of their communities to be decision-makers.

A critical mass of women decision-makers, especially Orang Asal women, is crucial to promote and implement gender sensitive policies and laws that take into account diverse needs.

While we celebrate women’s gains, we must not forget that women who face multiple layers of discrimination due to their ethnic, income, and/or social status have to contend with serious barriers to equal access, opportunities and participation. Empower has been working to enhance the skills of grassroots women leaders and potential election candidates since 2010.

With the economic downturn and toxic political culture, as well as the continued denial of voting rights at the local government level, we are concerned that women from less privileged backgrounds may find it even harder to have their voices heard. The government should emulate programmes such as Empower’s women’s political participation programme to encourage more women to participate in politics and stand as candidates.

Empower again congratulates Lasimbang for her win and the district of Penampang for holding local government elections. Happy International Women’s Day.

JANARTHANI ARUMUGAM is president, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower).

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