Malaysia is truly on the brink of a new era. The 14th General Election has resulted in many firsts. Among them, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah being the first female Deputy Prime Minister and today, Syed Saddiq becoming the youngest-ever minister in the country at 25 (he’ll turn 26 in December). But the matter remains that the ratio of women to men in the Malaysian political scene is still relatively low. Wan Azizah’s appointment prove to be a huge first step, allowing, at least, the possibility of a female Prime Minister to be questioned and considered.
Even so, there are still naysayers who doubt her capabilities and discredit her work, claiming her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is actually the Deputy Prime Minister instead of her. She recently told New Straits Times Press, “I am the one who goes to work, go in early, I do all the work and (they say) that he is the deputy prime minister?”
“Give me some credit. I do a lot of work, you know,” she continued. “Lest you forget, I was also the country’s first female opposition leader.”
“Why should I vacate the seat? I was elected by Pandan voters,” she answered on the topic of her vacating the parliamentary seat for Anwar’s return.
While there may be several factors that lead to these kinds of doubts, ponder also for a moment that this is in response to a female leader. In our exclusive interview with MP Hannah Yeoh — who was sworn in today as the Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development — she admitted that women in the local political scene tend to get certain unrelated comments, unlike the men.
In that case, despite the hot topic and deafening support from feminists, is Malaysia truly ready for more women representation in the government when there’s still a portion of people who look at gender over ability? The rest of the Cabinet ministers (and their respective deputy ministers) were sworn in today where out of the 50 members, only nine are women: Five full ministers and four deputy ministers. One of Pakatan Harapan’s manifestos proposed to have at least 30 per cent of the Cabinet to be women. The current percentage is 18 per cent.
Before anyone transforms into a keyboard warrior, know that Wan Azizah had addressed this recently, saying it is a target, not a fixed quota. According to The Malaysian Digest, she pointed out that though gender is a criteria, so is choosing capable people for the job. She told The Star, “There are some new phases and changes in the Cabinet coming, but I also want to add that we want women to be recruited based on capability and their qualification, not just because of gender.”
Malaysia may still not have a 30 per cent female representation in the government but five women full ministers is the first step. The first woman minister in Malaysia, Fatimah Hashim, was appointed 49 years ago in 1969. Since then, there have not been more than three women appointed as full ministers under one administration. Since then, only 13 other women have made it to Cabinet positions.
“It will take political will, but it can be done… We need to put our foot in the door and keep trying to open it. People will get used to women [in these roles] and then it’s no big deal,” Marina Mahathir said to Asian Correspondent.
“Get used to.” Exactly. How many Malaysian women out there had the aspirations to join politics? How many of these women are mothers or have commitments? A politician is a full-time job. Balancing a career, relationship and a family is often a struggle for a woman but it’s not impossible. We’ve asked countless women on how they do it — women who grew an idea into a full-fledged business, women with dreams who dared to chase them, women who hold high positions in a dynamic company.
These women inspired many others to believe in themselves. In the political scene, the number of women doing it is small, but their statements are big. In Hannah Yeoh’s words, “I have to make sure I survive first so that when people see that I can do it, they will think they can too.” She also told us that to attract more women into politics, the parties and the office have to be flexible, understand the needs of these women and their commitments, and learn to support them. “It must be a win-win.”
Because few thought it possible to join the political scene. Because few gained enough experience and know-how to qualify as a full minister on the Cabinet. Because times were different. But all this is beginning to shift. The interest, the passion, the will to act. Nine out of 50 today is a step up. Now is the time to step up.
The women in the new Cabinet of Malaysia
Minister of Women, Family and Community Development
Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail
Minister of Rural Development
Minister of Housing and Local Government
Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin
Primary Industries Minister
Energy, Green Technology, Science and Climate Change Minister
Yeo Bee Yin
Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development
Deputy Minister of Education
Teo Nie Ching
Deputy Minister of Energy, Green Technology, Science and Climate Change
Isnaraissah Munirah Majlilis
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Islamic Affairs)
Dr Fuziah Salleh
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