* Chinese translation here.
080312 | Bukit Mertajam
As we celebrate more than a hundred years of struggle to seek recognition of equal dignity and equal rights for women, symbolised by the annual observation of the International Women’s Day on Mac 8, I want to invite women and men in Malaysia to return to the drawing board to the fundamentals.
15 years after the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action which targeted to have at least 30% women decision makers,Malaysiais still far from achieving the goal. While we have more women than men possessing a first degree and more women than men pursuing a post graduate degree; the composition of power in public life is still very much dominated by men. At the highest level in politics, in the Dewan Rakyat, we have only about 10% women Members of Parliament, at the state level, state assemblywomen totalled to an average of 8% among state legislators. In Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s cabinet, there are only two women out of thirty Ministers; the number of women Ministers having never exceeded three at any time since Merdeka.
We must come together again and review our strategy. The world has changed since Beijing – yes, while women in many places are still the most marginalised group, needs of women and men, as well as social dynamics have changed. With more than fifty percent of our graduates being women and most of them having access to all sorts of resources, the question today is how do we instil political awareness about the existing system where inequality in general is taken for granted in our society.
Living in a society where the system takes inequality for granted, the question we should ask in Malaysia is how do we bridge the power gaps between government, the corporations and the civil society? In other words, how do we diffuse the traditional monopoly of power? In our society, the culture of inequality is deeply entrenched. The widening disparity between the rich and the poor, and the disappearing middle class are symptoms of a system which prioritised profit above people, and one which in Malaysia was made worst by unfettered government power and its abuses. The way forward is to deal with social inequality – to enact laws against discrimination, to protect the weak and the workers from the market strength of capital owners and to return the concept of justice to our legal system, not merely seeing it as a tool to facilitate contracts between businesses.
The time has also come for Malaysians to view politics differently. While it is a noble goal to aim for more women in the traditional positions of power, what needed to be done more urgently is to expand the democratic space at all levels. Politics is not merely about winning election once in every five year, but rather it should ultimately be more concerned about the process of democracy in between elections. This is the area where we want more women, and more men to take part in. Participation should not be misconstrued as merely about positions. If anything it should be about positioning, not just positions. The people should be empowered and positioned to demand accountability from the government. Women, and men, for example, must be empowered to participate in local government decision-making process which affects their daily lives. InMalaysia, we are still struggling with the issue of democratisation where not only women, but also men are not allowed to express their opinions freely without fear of repercussion from the government. As such it is imperative to deal with the root of the problem and this include to stop seeing politics as a game of the elite few but rather a process of democracy which require participation from all levels of the society, men and women.
Which is why in MPSP (Seberang Perai Municipal Council), we are setting ourselves as a model of good governance in local authority by expanding the space for local democracy and participation of the people. This year, MPSP is embarking on its first pilot year to implement Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB), where moving forward, fiscal planning of the council will deliberately consider budgetary impacts on both men and women as well as include greater public consultation in our budgeting process. In line with the Competency, Accountability, Transparency (CAT) principle of the Penang State Government, MPSP will also strive to provide more access to information and a wider platform for residents of Seberang Perai to be involved in local government decision making process. These moves ultimately aim to empower civil society, men and women, to have more insights and more control of the way decisions are made in the local government.
Happy International Women’s Day
…and happy 4th anniversary of the people’s power (308) in Malaysia.
Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai (MPSP) Councillor
Member of the MPSP Gender & People With Disabilities (PWD) Ad Hoc Committee
(Picture from WanitaSuperMy)