We, the undersigned, strongly urge all political parties to uphold their commitment to at least 30% women’s political participation through fielding proportional numbers of women candidates for elections.
Political parties play a significant role in deciding which candidates to field; this is pivotal in the recognition of women’s right to equally contribute to nation-building as agents of change.
Malaysian women deserve recognition [in the face] of the barriers they face to political empowerment. They also deserve opportunities and support to take up political leadership, in light of not only their calibre but also extensive reach to the community.
Malaysia also has one of the lowest women’s representation in Parliament in Southeast Asia, where 14% of seats are held by women compared to the regional average of 20%.
Our women’s entry to and participation in politics remains limited, due to patriarchal sociocultural barriers and political institutions.
They have to contend with public distrust towards their capabilities as political leaders, as well as unrealistic expectations to possess a balance of ‘feminine’ (eg collaborative, nurturing) and ‘masculine’ (eg assertive, risk-taking) traits of leadership.
They also face obstacles such as obtaining campaign resources and fundraising due to lesser political influence, as well as having less time due to care responsibilities – all of which can compromise their electoral competitiveness.
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The effort by political parties to fulfil the 30% target is thus an important step towards creating a gender-equal political arena for our women and as an indicator of our willingness to uphold gender equality.
Despite the constraints faced, our women politicians are as competitive as their male counterparts. Research on the gender gap in electability in the 2018 general election revealed that, with the exception of Pas, women candidates performed better than male candidates at the federal level.
Furthermore, 90.6% of women policymakers emerged from mixed gender contests with a 50% winning rate during the 2018 election, with the victory rate rising after the elimination of ineffective candidates, most of whom were male.
Equally important, over the years, women politicians have played an instrumental role in bringing Malaysian women’s interests onto the political agenda and instituting policy change to address their needs.
Women-friendly legislation – such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill – are the culmination of cooperation between women policymakers who are critical actors in championing gender equality, such as Maria Chin Abdullah, Hannah Yeoh, Azalina Othman and Kasthuri Patto, and women’s rights groups.
It is also our women MPs who have competently and actively participated in parliamentary debates on critical issues affecting women and families, such as unequal citizenship rights, childcare centres, single mothers, the criminalising of stalking, maternity leave, as well as women’s position in the public and private sectors.
In the current political environment where patriarchal norms and sexism remain prevalent, achieving a critical mass of at least 30% is a crucial step forward in precipitating substantive representation of women in policymaking.
Fulfilling the at least 30% target goes beyond improving our political empowerment index or upholding our commitment to cornerstones such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and the sustainable development goals. As women constitute half of the national population, it is a necessity for inclusive development, and ultimately for a Malaysia that is truly prosperous for all.
Endorsed by the following member organisations of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality:
- All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
- Persatuan Kebajikan Sokongan Keluarga Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Kryss Network
- Justice for Sisters
- Sarawak Women for Women Society
- Association of Women Lawyers
- Perak Women for Women Society
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is a coalition of 14 women’s rights organisations in the peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak. Since 1985, we have been advocating for gender equality and social justice in Malaysia within a feminist framework. We leverage on our diverse expertise and amplify women’s voices to raise public awareness and advocate for law reform. We uphold international human rights standards in promoting justice, equality, and non-discrimination