Here’s how to ensure gender equality, women’s group tells govt

The rally to mark International Women’s Day on March 9. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has given Pakatan Harapan (PH) three items for its to-do list if it is determined to ensure gender equality in the country.

Speaking to FMT, WAO executive director Sumitra Visvanathan said the government must honour its promise to enact laws to recognise and protect women’s rights, ensure that all its policies benefit men and women equally, and recognise diversity among women.

“First, the government has to follow through on its legislative commitments,” she said, adding that this would entail enacting laws on gender equality, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and the like.

“Second, the government has to mainstream gender into all policies.” She said Putrajaya must ensure that women would benefit as much as men from any government policy or programme in all fields.

She added that gender equality should concern all government agencies and not just the women, family and community development ministry.

She explained her third recommendation – recognition of women’s diversity – as meaning the upholding of women’s rights regardless of racial origin, religious persuasion or sexual orientation.

She said the government must work harder to ensure space for all women to participate in safety and with equality in society.

Sumitra said these measures were in line with the recommendations made to Malaysia by a committee of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

She acknowledged that PH had achieved “quite a bit” when it came to helping and empowering women.

She listed the i-Suri incentive scheme for housewives, the recently launched Child Sex Offenders Registry and Putrajaya’s response to the case of a medical specialist accused of harassing house officers.

Apart from these, the government has placed women in several key appointments, such as the deputy prime minister’s post and that of the chief justice, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the head of national news agency Bernama.

Also, there are now four women ministers and four deputy ministers, more than before.

Foreign ministry secretary-general Ramlan Ibrahim said last November that Malaysia had succeeded in having at least 30% women representation in policymaking as PH promised in its GE14 manifesto. At the time of Ramlan’s announcement, women in decision-making positions in the public sector accounted for 35.8%

Rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said these appointments were a clear indication that under the PH administration, women were starting to be acknowledged for what they know “instead of who they know”.

But the communications chief for SIS, Majidah Hashim, told FMT the government could have done better when it came to having at least 30% women representation in politics.

“It is absolutely critical that the voices of women are sufficiently represented in the conceptualisation of laws and policies that affect all Malaysians,” she said.

Slightly more than 14% of MPs are women.