It’s tough for women in politics and here’s why, says Maria

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah speaks at a forum on gender and sexuality at Monash University.

SUBANG: Although women are making progress in the political arena, many still struggle to balance their duties with their responsibilities at home, says Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.

The first-term MP said many women had to take care of their families and households, which left them with little time for political activities.

“A lot of women tell us they cannot come for political meetings at 8pm, that they finish their housework at 9pm and then they have to pray and put their children to sleep.

“So they miss out on key decision-making in the political setting.”

Maria, who has three children herself, said it took women much more time and effort to participate in politics, adding that some of them lacked the resources to do so simply because they were housewives.

“And to some people, housewives are 10 grades down,” she said at a forum titled “Gender and Sexuality: Then, Now and Tomorrow” at Monash University here yesterday.

Maria, who used to chair electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0, said when people talk about women being involved in politics, many forget about the additional responsibilities they carry.

This meant that more men became candidates, as was seen in the May 9 general election.

“Some of the women just cannot cope,” she said, adding however that women candidates had done well in the polls in spite of the challenges.

“Despite the limited number of women who contested, we raised the bar to 32 women. For the past 20 years, we have had 20, 21 or 22 women as MPs, but now we have raised it to 32, from both the government and opposition.”

She cautioned however that this did not mean there was no discrimination or added responsibilities for women.

“We have to understand that for one, the kind of discrimination faced by women is very different from the discrimination faced by men. Women have additional housework and family responsibilities.

“For men, it would probably just be a case of being on the wrong side of the political divide. But for women, on top of being on the wrong side of the divide, they have to care for their families.

“This makes their entry into politics even more challenging,” she said.

Another persistent issue was that it was often the men who decided who became candidates in an election, she said.

“If you look at who decides on candidates in political parties, I can bet you 110% or more that it’s all the men. And when I lobby for some of the women, the men can turn around and say there are no seats.”

She said equality did not mean that women wanted to be like men.

“Definitely not. Equality simply means I want to enjoy the same thing as the men, and not be discriminated against because of my gender.”

Ivy Josiah.

Women’s rights activist Ivy Josiah, who was also present at the forum, said men should “interrogate” themselves on how much they helped out at home.

“Do you see housework as your mother’s or your sister’s work? You can ask Maria,” she said. “During ministry meetings, women are still the ones who arrange and clear up the plates, the cups and the saucers.

“It goes to show that this kind of work is still women-centric,” she said, adding that women’s work was not valued.

Instead of “talking over women”, Josiah said, men should do their part and understand that they are in a privileged position.

“I can tell you, I am 63 and I’m still being talked to like an idiot.

“Play your part. When a woman is trying to speak up but is not being heard, you can say, ‘I think she is trying to say something’.”