Sabah: Appoint women as nominated assembly members to fix gender imbalance

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Women at the workplace face discrimination and harassment - Photograph: Christina Morillo/Pexels

Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo) and Rakyat is Bos urge all parties commit to, upon forming the government, use their power to appoint women as nominated assembly members to remedy the gender imbalance.

Article 14 of the Constitution of the state of Sabah allows the state government to recommend the appointment of no more than six nominated members to the Sabah Legislative Assembly by the Governor. The last government had appointed five such members but all were men.

We are not surprised that in 2020 still not a single party contesting in the upcoming Sabah state election has met the international benchmark to nominate at least 30% women as candidates. In fact, only eight of the 20 parties contesting have nominated 10% or more as women candidates: Human Rights Party (20.0%), PKR (14.3%), the DAP (14.3%), Warisan (13.0%), LDP (13.0%), Star (12.5%), PCS (11.0%) and Usno (10.6%).

This results in only 43 women candidates out of 447 or 9.6%. More so, only voters from 32 constituencies have the chance to vote for a woman candidate.

The two main blocs vying for state power, Warisan Plus and Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (Barisan Nasional, Perikatan Nasional and PBS) have nominated women candidates in only 13 constituencies.

The distribution of women candidates in the 2020 Sabah state election

Contestation pattern

N,

Constituencies

N, Women

Candidates

Constituencies with two or more women candidates

At least one from Warisan Plus or Gagasan Rakyat Sabah

4

8

All from third parties and independents

6

13

Constituencies with only one woman candidate

From Warisan Plus or Gagasan Rakyat Sabah

9

9

From third parties and independents

13

13

Total

32

43

Unless voters are willing to consider quality women candidates from third parties or from among the independents, the number of women assembly members would be at most 13 or 17.8% of Sabah Legislative Assembly. This means a minimum gap of 12.2% or nine assembly members or more from the 30% international benchmark.

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If six women nominated assembly members are added to 13, then the women’s percentage in the assembly would rise to 24.1%. However, if six more men were to be nominated, the women’s percentage would drop to 16.5%.

The need to have more women in the legislative assembly does not only support gender equality or benefit only women. We believe that having more women in the political sphere would promote empowerment of women in decision-making in the family and community, in the workplace and ultimately in higher positions such as legislators. Strong women leaders often build strong communities and benefit society as a whole in the long run.

In a democratic system, legislators must come from various backgrounds to enable a wide array of issues to be brought to the table for discussion, consideration and for proposal.

As a progressive state proud of diversity and inclusion, it is a shame that Sabah is far behind in reaching at least 30% women’s participation in decision-making positions as targeted by the Malaysian government in the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010.

Sabah must therefore stand out from being part of the sorry state of women’s under-representation in Malaysia, which ranks 140th in 192 countries surveyed for women’s representation in the national parliament/lower house with a pathetic 14.4%.

Sabah must strive to be on par with countries like Australia (30.0%), Germany (30.9%) and Latvia (31.0%), if not higher like Sweden (47.3%), South Africa (42.7%) and Finland (41.5%) – rather than being same league as Cyprus (17.9%), Gabon (17.9%) and Turkey (17.4%).

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Women’s empowerment should be an integral part of Sabah’s regional identity as conservative forces are pushing Malaysia backwards.

This is why Sawo and Rakyat is Bos strongly urges parties to commit to appointing only women for nominated members after their blunders of nominating less than 20% of candidates as women.

We should not disregard the fact that minority groups’ interests and priorities are often shaped by their respective economic, social and ethnic differences.

Without the participation of women, the legislative system in Sabah will lack diverse backgrounds and life experiences which would enable legislators to shape policies for the advancement of these minority groups.

Last but not least, we also believe that having women involved in legislative decision-making would have an enormous impact as it creates a means to reform and revise discriminatory laws against girls and women. We should not forget that women’s and children’s rights have never been the main concern of the state.

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