Women power and decision-making in key positions

Nine women were elected as ministers and deputy ministers and they take up 14% of the parliamentary seats


THERE are more women in leading or key positions and decision-making bodies linked to the government than ever in the country’s 62-year history.

At the ministerial level, the current government elected nine women as ministers and deputy ministers, while about 14% of the parliamentary seats are taken by women.

Malaysia appointed its first woman deputy prime minister. Cambridge graduate Yeo Bee Yin is leading the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry.

Dr Hasnita Hashim, who studied nuclear physics at Oxford University, is the chairman of Majlis Amanah Rakyat.

For the first time, Datuk Seri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat was appointed as the Chief Justice, the highest position held by a woman in the judiciary.

The Armed Forces Fund Board appointed Nik Amlizan Mohamed as its CEO. The country’s financial system is under the care of Bank Negara Malaysia governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus.

Recently, despite heavy criticism, Latheefa Koya was appointed as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief commissioner.

The rise of women in Malaysia has been obvious in a country of 32.66 million people with a ratio of 107 males per 100 females.

Women’s presence and influence is hard to deny as they are the key in the country’s political landscape.

In Malaysia’s 14th General Election (GE), there were 7.57 million women voters or 50.58% of the total registered voters, slightly outnumbering the male voters. In 2004, women voters only accounted for 49.75%.

The next GE will see about 7.7 million new voters added to the electoral rolls following the reduction of voting age to 18.

But will all these key appointments sway the perception of Malaysian women?

Centre of Applied Data Science founder and CEO Sharala Axryd said women in politics have the tendency to reach out to other women in terms of getting the latter to be engaged in decision-making roles.

“We are humans and as such, the more we see ourselves represented, the more we are encouraged to understand that our voices and thoughts are counted.

“But women are also discerning enough to judge beyond gender due to perspective matters. They want to vote for who can bring the most good to issues that affect women and families.

“If women see that their voices are not heard, why then should they bother with what looks like a futile engagement?” she told The Malaysian Reserve.

Axryd, who has been outspoken about women taking the leading roles in an organisation, said seeing women leading in decision-making should be a normality — in order to create a sustained and balanced representation of gender — in the government.

“It needs to come to a point where we need to start normalising it. In the long run, a male-dominated government will lose out if women are disengaged or lacking representation in the government.”

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said having more women in politics cannot work if the government is a non-functioning entity with limited contribution to the public.

“Having more women ministers would encourage more women to join politics, but otherwise, female voters’ concerns are quite similar to male voters, such as livelihood concerns.

“It helps roping in more female figures, but I think it has very little effect on winning over female voters.

“Voters across gender or racial lines vote mainly on their stomach. If the stomach is empty, they tend to vote for the Opposition,” he said.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said the initiative to include more women at the top board should have been more rigorous to allow for issues on women that tend to be overlooked or stand out.

“We want more women in the Cabinet to be the key in the decision-making body. If we don’t put the women in, the Cabinet will not be able to understand or relate to the issues.

“Issues on women not only relating to the violence against them, it is also about economic survival — particularly for the single mothers and how to help them survive in raising their kids with a single income or no income at all,” she said.

Women will have a significant say in the next GE which must be called in the next 40 months. It is a battle on the women’s front.