Arrest decline in number of women in Penang local governments

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Why is Penang going backwards? What happened to the promised 40:40:20 representation [40% men, 40% women, and 20% men and women depending on capability]?

The Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) would like to record our disappointment at the declining number of women city councillors recently appointed to the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) and the Seberang Perai City Council, amounting to 19% (nine out of 48), a 4% reduction from the previous 2018/2019 appointments, which stood at 23% (11 out of 48).

We are also concerned because it is one thing not to meet the Penang state government’s declared goal of 40:40:20 in gender representation at all levels but quite another to be regressing.

While the low number of women keen to come forward and hold public office may be a contributing factor, we believe that the appointment process for city councillors itself needs to be reviewed to remove systemic barriers to women’s appointment to positions of leadership.

WCC has always supported efforts by the Penang state government towards fielding more women leaders as part of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto, and we applauded its setting up of a new portfolio, gender inclusiveness.

The Penang Women’s Development Corporation, under the leadership of Chong Eng, the state executive council member for women and family development, gender inclusiveness and religions other than Islam, has been tirelessly training women for leadership positions from its inception. Sadly, these numbers do not appear to be reflected in actual representation in decision-making.

The Penang state hovernment has acknowledged the importance of inclusion and diversity in its decision-making bodies and has been deservedly proud to have had two women as city mayors.

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It is worth reiterating the need for women’s representation in local government. The local governments affect directly and differently the lives of all people in Penang: men, women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, the rich and the poor. Women’s specific needs, like safety from snatch thieves, good public toilets, breastfeeding facilities, clean markets, and the availability of good and affordable childcare centres and kindergartens, just to name a few, are often overlooked without strong women’s representation in decision-making.

We urge the Penang state government to review its selection process and to include more capable women from outside the political party system to tap on their contributions for the good of the state. The state government should draw from a bigger pool of talent if they are serious about including women who make up half the population.

We need to arrest this decline before it gets worse. Thinking beyond party lines is crucial if we are to make real progress.

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