A woman’s wish list for GE13

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After 56 years, women have to make it better than it was. Their vote should go towards a government that places the rakyat first before their personal fortunes and agenda, asserts Sheila Santharamohana.

Activists walk from Perlis to Sabah to campaign against violence to women and girls
Activists walk from Perlis to Sabah to campaign against violence to women and girls

On 3 April 2013, the PM announced the dissolution of Parliament and Malaysians will go to the polls in the closest battle ever for the seat of power in Malaysia.

Six million voters are women and for too long now, women have been ignored despite making up half the Malaysian population. The ruling party has historically designated women a secondary and supporting role to men. Even after 56 years, our society, religious discourse, laws, culture and politics have been characterised by misogyny and sexism. The inaction by a paralysed government, devoid of morals and respect, has made this so pervasive and ingrained that women’s status has become subservient to men: their rights dismissed or worse, belittled.

Only 22 out of the 222 parliamentarians are women. This GE13, we women should vote for a progressive party which fields strong women candidates. It is heartening to note that energetic, dedicated and educated professionals are joining the ranks of the Pakatan Rakyat – women who are champions of the voiceless and not afraid to challenge sexism in parliament. Also of note is the rising swell of women in NGOs who demand migrant rights, documentation for Malaysians without citizenship and fair play in democracy. These women heroes give hope to daughters everywhere in Malaysia with their integrity and courage.

What we do not want are the dregs – women politicians who demonstrate a complete disregard towards ethics and the law and yet plead ignorance of the deed when caught. Neither do we need bejewelled wives of politicians who proudly portray themselves as subservient to their husbands in speeches to poor women folk in the Felda kampungs. And we definitely do not need a man to be the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, especially not the one with his history with/of women.

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After 56 years, women have to make it better than it was. Our vote should go towards a government that places the rakyat first before their personal fortunes and agenda.

We want the government to:

Lower the crime rate
Every woman I know has been a victim of crimes of opportunity. Not many though have faith in the police to protect or help them. Rolling out ‘Unit Ronda Bermotosikal’ will not help solve the problem if the PDRM do not start working proactively. As a woman, I’d like to see a new government courageous enough to weed out corruption in the force and have the law applied fairly to everyone regardless of status. Raising wages, managing immigration and according welfare to those in need will lower crime rates and contribute toward security. Women’s votes should go towards a party that places security of all the rakyat foremost.

Grant equitable work hours, wages and benefits
It is telling that only 46 per cent of the workforce are women (The Star, 27 March 2013). Women are working harder, working two or more jobs and raising families, sometimes on their own. Families are the bedrock of any society. As such, our elected representatives should demand flexi-hours, childcare facilities and benefits, better pay and longer maternity leave for mothers. Men who shirk their responsibilities and leave wives to support the family should be brought to book. A government that promotes family-friendly policies is one that cares for the future.

End custodial rape and deaths

If we cannot feel secure in the arms of the law, then we are a failed state. When women are raped, assaulted or abused while in police custody, then all of us, men and children are vulnerable to the same treatment with impunity. When sons and fathers are beaten or shot to death or assaulted to an inch of their lives, it is the widows, wives, daughters and sisters who pick up the pieces to go on. When a government allows such cases to go unpunished or make the pathetic pretence of justice or interfere in the course of justice, we know that such a government does not respect the rakyat. This GE, choose a government that will be accountable to the rakyat – a government of laws, not of men.

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Recognise the LGBT community
When a government selectively impugns the rights of a marginalised community and seeks to demonise it in propaganda, it is a fascist government. There is no place for prejudice and discrimination in governance. The LGBT community, who make up our families, friends and co-workers, do not seek the government’s approval of their lifestyle nor do they need our validation. Their rights are our rights. Hence, women should vote for a progressive government which does not stoop so low as to denigrate a segment of the rakyat and deny them their constitutional rights under Article 8(1).

Promote equality under the law
The government has to enforce laws against domestic violence and review laws on underage marriage, guardianship and custody of children. While increasing numbers of women bear the emotional and financial brunt of failed marriages, men are allowed to go scot-free. As progressive as the ruling government would like us to believe it is, polygamy, paedophilia, incest and domestic rape are rampant as perpetrators are let off lightly. Voting women should keep this in mind when they cast their ballots.

Women’s rights are human rights. A government which protects its most vulnerable is one which puts people first in action not words.

Sheila Santharamohana is an Aliran member based in the Klang Valley.

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