Activists: More pledges for women, but less representation in decision-making

Ida Nadirah Ibrahim
Fadiah Nadwa Fikri speaks during ‘Women and Youth: New Awakening and Leadership’ forum in Petaling Jaya April 25, 2018. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

PETALING JAYA, April 26 — The manifestos of the three main political parties — Barisan Nasional (BN), Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Gagasan Sejahtera — contain many initiatives that cater specifically to women, such as issues concerning the welfare of housewives, entrepreneurship and maternity leave.

However, activist and former lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said there’s still a lack of female representation in Malaysian politics, which raises the question of how sincere political parties are when proposing policies with women in mind.

She said while some of the manifestos were significant, such as PH’s promise to open up the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to housewives, others appeared to be more populist in nature, like PAS’ two-year unpaid maternity leave proposal.

“It is high time for us to acknowledge that housework is work and a form of labour. Society needs to understand that it is not a woman’s job to make sacrifices. The responsibility should be shared; hence, the EPF for housewives.

“However, although the two-year maternity leave sounds good, knowing that women face discrimination in the workplace, it will not be easy for them to return to work after being on leave for two years,” said Fadiah at the public forum titled “Women and Youth: New Awakening and Leadership” yesterday.

She added the parties appear to view women as merely a means to win votes.

“These pledges only come every five years when it’s close to the election because they will say, ‘Women make up 51 per cent of the voters’. They want our votes, not because they care for our welfare and rights.

“To appeal to women, they put women on the frontline just to get our support but in Parliament, we are not needed in the decision-making process,” she said.

“They say the voters need to be realistic, but they themselves are not realistic when they make promises.”

In terms of female representation in administrative posts from 2010 to 2016, Sisters in Islam (SIS) executive director Rozana Mohd Isa said there had been a very slow rise in numbers, and a significant drop in the upper house from 18 women senators to 13.

Rozana also said no more than three women hold a ministerial position at any one time.

“We have never had more than three women ministers at a time. We need to review the selection criteria, as right now, it is not transparent.

“There needs to be a policy to ensure we have at least 30 per cent women in political parties and decision-making positions as they are the ones who will work together more effectively to push policies that will uphold women’s rights,” she said.

Also present at the forum, organised by SIS, were economist and academic Prof Madeline Berma and student activist Anis Syafiqah Mohd Yusof.