by AZALEA AZUAR / Pic by BLOOMBERG
GENDER equality in Malaysia’s workplaces still leaves much to be desired.
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh admitted that the country is still lagging behind in this regard and hopes that policymakers will act on it.
“We need to improve on equal work, equal pay, flexible hours and a more sensitive workplace for women,” she said at the launch of the Malaysia Women & Girls Forum 2021 last Friday.
The 12th Malaysia Plan includes the country’s commitment towards gender equality, where the country is expected to meet the fifth outcome of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, which is gender equality by 2030 as well as the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.
Fuziah said apart from aligning the government’s strategies to meet these plans, one of its short-term efforts is to ensure the successful rollout of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill.
“Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination.
“Focusing on this specific area would provide a practical foundation for drafting a gender equality bill, which we are hoping for in 2023 and upholding the rights of females,” she said.
Penang Women’s Development Corp CEO Ong Bee Leng believes that females should enter politics as there is a very large gender gap.
“If you look into the gender gaps index, this is the biggest gap that we have. We are only at 10.7%, which must be addressed.
“I hope that the government would put more resources and incentives to encourage more women to go into politics,” she explained.
Moreover, Ong feels that a converged approach is needed in empowering women and bodily autonomy, where handling such issues is a joint effort between the public and the government.
“We should also look into the upstreaming strategy.
“One of the ways is to educate young children on understanding their body, such as recognising the discomfort if somebody touches them and that it is not taboo talking about it,” she added.
According to Due Diligence Project co-founder and human rights lawyer Zarizana Abdul Aziz, bodily autonomy affects everything from the right to life to the right to liberty and security.
“Unfortunately, it is not the first right granted to women under the Malaysian married women act.
“Malaysia has an international obligation to ensure women’s bodily autonomy and integrity, but we still fall a bit short.”
Meanwhile, UN resident coordinator for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam Karima El Korri said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the gap on women’s rights.
“Women have suffered more and still do; their hard-won development gains were probably too fragile to withstand such a crisis.
“We have seen countless heroic acts performed by women, particularly as healthcare workers and caregivers but yet, they suffer massive job losses, wrecked livelihoods, disruptions in access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, a rise in domestic violence; all alongside a rise in unpaid work.”
Karima also noted the increase of child marriages and school dropouts among girls. She believes that there are many women’s rights issues that need to be addressed as we head toward recovery, including understanding women’s bodily autonomy, identifying and breaking taboos, as well as forming the right legislation.
Also present at the launch was Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar, who declared violence against women as a health issue since it violates their human, integrity and sexual rights.
“Abused women are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviour, like smoking and substance abuse disorders which could lead to chronic diseases and mental health disorders.”
He added that the Ministry of Health, with the Royal Malaysia Police, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, as well as related agencies, aim to combat domestic violence by providing a consolidated processing point for survivors to have access to protection, healthcare and justice.
“Based on the sheer volume of cases, calls and reports, it is time for us to investigate how we can up the ante in terms of expanding access, efficiency, training, counselling, as well as other vital considerations.”
Khairy also admitted the essential social and legal gaps that need to be bridged for women and girls, which can only be filled when everyone makes an effort.
“I will do more to create policies that will ensure not only the protection of women and girls, but that focuses on their wellbeing in all aspects.”