PETALING JAYA: An activist has called for all state governments to appoint women to their respective legislative assemblies to ensure greater female representation.
In 2021, Penang introduced an initiative called “Top-Up Women-Only Additional Seats”, which chief minister Chow Kon Yeow said will be implemented if less than 12 women were elected to its state assembly.
Despite only four women winning seats in the Aug 12 state election, the new Penang government has yet to carry through the measure.
Sisters In Islam (SIS) executive director Rozana Isa said Penang should lead the way by implementing its initiative immediately so that more women will become involved in policymaking.
“When it comes to representation, the target is to have at least 30% of women participating in decision-making, be it in politics, government, or corporate.
“Even after decades of discussions, there is still resistance to the idea of women in leadership or decision-making positions,” Rozana told FMT.
This comes after former Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin expressed concern over the lack of female representation in the newly formed executive councils (excos) in six states following the recent elections.
Negeri Sembilan’s exco comprises three women, followed by Kedah and Selangor with two each, and Penang and Kelantan with one each. No woman sits on the exco in Terengganu.
Rozana said the 30% goal is harder to achieve with political parties fielding far fewer women than men as candidates in elections.
In the Aug 12 state polls, Pakatan Harapan’s slate of 137 candidates included only 26 women, a mere 19% representation.
Perikatan Nasional had 19 women among its 245 candidates, equivalent to 8%, while Barisan Nasional’s 108 candidates included 12 women, or 11%.
“Right from the start, political parties need to invest in efforts on the ground, remove obstacles within their own (party) structures and in society, enhance skills, and offer the needed support for women to become strong candidates who can win when nominated,” Rozana said.
She called for state governments not to limit women to roles and portfolios involving social welfare and vulnerable communities.
“While these responsibilities are undoubtedly important, this pattern indicates that women are not being given broader and more diverse portfolios,” Rozana said.
Activist Maryam Lee agreed, pointing out that even at federal level, women politicians are rarely considered for senior or prominent roles in government.
She said the existing political system was structured in such a way that women are inadvertently restricted, citing the existence of a women’s wing in political parties as an example.
“Eventually, over the years, we accept this practice as a culture, normalising the perception that women are not capable of (occupying) these offices.
“That is why we see what we see today: the low participation of women in public office, so low to the point where a man has taken on the women’s affairs portfolio in Terengganu,” she said.