An Open Letter to Pakatan Harapan, Especially Women of Pakatan Harapan
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)* would like to congratulate Pakatan Harapan on its success in becoming the new government of Malaysia. We have pleasantly observed how swiftly some critical measures have been taken in order to ensure that legal and structural reforms will be pursued in the best interest of the peoples of Malaysia. So we congratulate you and applaud you for all the right steps taken.
We would also like to take this opportunity to particularly recognise and extend our congratulations to each and everyone of the women of Pakatan Harapan for the role(s) you have played, from those who have stood as electoral candidates to those who have worked hard to help and support the election campaigns for this 14th General Election.
For too long, we have wanted to see more women being fielded as political candidates in Malaysia’s general elections, and more so, appointed to key positions in government. The promise to ensure 30 per cent women’s representation across all decision-making positions in government in the Buku Harapan, states under Iltizam 5 (Iltizam Khas Untuk Wanita), that Pakatan Harapan promises “To ensure at least 30% of decision makers in every level is made up of women”. This promise was therefore of special interest to us, among other promises in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto. There has been a call to fulfill that promise, not only from women’s rights organisations like those in the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) and in the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO), but from women on the ground, who voted and believed in the change that Pakatan Harapan would bring.** It is not too early to fulfil this promise.
The argument of merit versus quota is a false argument. The affirmative measures taken under the New Economic Policy comes to mind. Quotas are sometimes needed to facilitate and ensure access to equal opportunity, to ensure the follow through of political will in achieving its stated aspirations. Quotas are like achievable milestones towards an ultimate goal. Quotas are only problematic if implementation is superficial, self-serving and allows the breeding of nepotism and cronyism. Quotas are therefore called temporary special measures for good reason. When there is no longer a need to create a more enabling environment for women to be equally considered for decision-making positions in government, there will no longer be a need for quotas for women’s representation in this area.
Women in Malaysia are undeniably a marginalised majority. The irony is inescapable for most of us, women and men, who are very conscious of the deeply embedded prejudices that some hold that result in all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination. One of the greatest biases that society has against women, including by women, is to associate a negative experience of a woman’s leadership to all women’s leadership. This cultural inclination to label a singular experience as true for all women leaders has to stop and it can only start to become less of an obstacle if the women of Pakatan Harapan speak up and speak out.
We encourage each of you as elected representatives in Parliament and at the level of State Legislative Assemblies to think and work differently towards the promotion of gender equality and non-discrimination. Greater solidarity among women in politics is clearly needed, despite what partisan politics may suggest, if we are indeed committed to eliminating all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination in our country. We urge you to work for the institutionalisation of the Women Parliamentarian Caucus, to establish it as a Select Committee in Parliament. This was one of the demands of civil society’s Women’s Manifesto (manifestowanita/empowermalaysia.org). We also urge you to visibly support the call to fulfil the promise of 30 per cent women in decision-making, in cabinet, in the Upper House of Parliament, and in the State EXCOs.
We certainly appreciate the various stands elected representatives have taken. Notably, how YB Nurul Izzah has asked that Pakatan Harapan fulfils its promise of repealing the Anti-Fake News Act. We have observed the interest of YB Hannah Yeoh in ensuring freedom of information, and her personal conviction that all of us should be known as Malaysians. We hope that together with other women politicians, a Freedom of Information Act at the Federal level, can be enacted, on the basis, that once that information is made available to anyone at minimal to zero cost, such information should be made available to all. We also hope that the much needed National Harmony Bill can be revisited. We have similarly noted Maria Chin Abdullah’s promise to work hard to bring back local council elections, and we look forward to seeing this realised. All of the issues raised, while not typically women’s issues, have far-reaching gender implications.
We need assurances, especially at this critical time of forming the new government, that the promises in Buku Harapan for gender equality, like the Gender Equality Act, are not merely tokenism. Speak up and speak out. We want to hear you.
Angela M. Kuga Thas
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor
* Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) is a women’s rights organisation working towards women’s political equality in Malaysia.
** To read the open letter by women’s rights activists and advocates to YAB Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and to support the call for 30 per cent women’s representation in cabinet, go to http://tinyurl.com/30peratus. To read the press statement by JAG calling for one-third representation, go to https://empowermalaysia.org/onethirdwomenrepresentation/.