Malaysia needs structural reform to address women inclusivity

By NURUL SUHAIDI / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

GENDER disparities in Malaysia must be addressed through structural change and the country must continue to mainstream gender equality agenda to enable women to soar higher. 

Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar said Malaysia is still not doing enough to push the agenda and provide multidimensional support for women, especially those in a leadership position. 

“The country must provide an opportunity, not in a victimised way, to enable a safer environment across ministries and agencies,” she said at “The Gender Equality Today for Shifting Mindsets, Behaviour and Practices for Enduring Changes” webinar yesterday, in conjunction with International Women’s Day. 

She added that the Covid-19 pandemic should be a huge wake-up call to bridge the disparity, address the power dynamic and mainstream gender equality, and form a fair policy for women. 

“We need agencies to integrate to provide the safety net to millions of women and children regardless of their background and economic status,” Nurul Izzah said. 

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya’s Gender Studies at Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences Assoc Prof Dr Shanti Thambiah said there are two major areas where women need to be reformed and properly represented, namely political empowerment and economic participation. 

“Malaysia continues to lag behind other Asean countries in terms of diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DE&I), and this is a concerning trend. 

“Looking at this, we must act urgently to encourage women participation in that aspect,” she said during the webinar. 

She also believed that under-representation is due to structural, cultural and institutional roadblocks. 

“Despite the continuous push from activists and academicians in drafting an act related to women discrimination, no law has been finalised in the country to fight the discrimination until now.

“It is fundamental to describe the process that denies the DE&I, which is discrimination. Hence, it needs to be defined in our legal system,” Shanti added. 

Fundamentally, she believed that a policy is vital to foster a gender-sensitive society and make people aware that gender discrimination is illegal. 

“We need to have a gender-sensitive culture, encouraging male and females to engage in activities geared toward gender equality to eliminate prejudice against women,” she said. 

In terms of women’s involvement in entrepreneurship, she added that the equality practices are far from enough and should be addressed consistently across Malaysia. 

“This is especially true when despite already making steady progress, women are still struggling to secure the role of leadership and face gender bias in some organisations,” Shanti explained. 

Nonetheless, she noted, the number of women entrepreneurs holding leadership positions has escalated and women make up about 20% of all the registered enterprises. 

“However, the number is still very low, hence, the government and businesses should be encouraged to make significant efforts to increase the involvement of women in all aspects such as decision-making in the workplace and in other areas like politics. 

“It is critical to face the truth that there are inequalities in society, regardless of gender. Realising this, we need a significant effort and dedicated leadership to promote more gender inclusivity,” Shanti concluded.