In their campaigning leading up to the 14th General Election, one of Pakatan Harapan’s promises was to have 30% female representation in politics. 30% female representation is internationally accepted as a standard to aim for. But as Hannah Yeoh said, having women make up 30% of politicians is not an end goal, but a starting point. Equal gender representation matters, especially when it comes to making policies that affect all citizens, men and women alike.
Other non-government organisations and women’s rights groups have chimed in as well to urge the government to keep their promises:
“If women’s issues aren’t more actively and aggressively prioritised at the parliamentary level… then I feel women and their rights will be left far behind. What we’re asking for is just the minimum 30%.” – Sisters In Islam Executive Director, Rozana Isa
“If it doesn’t even reach 30% of women in Cabinet, when we know that women make up 50% in the country, do you think we’re getting the best? Not likely.” – Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) acting director Ren Chung Yu
And of course the cabinet isn’t everything– representation in the Parliament and at all other levels matters too, although the ruling government can only control who gets put forward in their own coalition..
So putting aside the composition of the Parliament for the moment, let’s look at the highest level of political administration– the cabinet. 30% representation means that out of the 13 ministries in the new cabinet that have been sworn in so far, 4 should be led by women. (Well, 3.9 to be exact, but that’s not possible.)
Let’s see how they’ve done.
1. Deputy Prime Minister and Women and Family Development Minister: Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail
Our first ever female Deputy Prime Minister! Dr Wan Azizah has had a long medical career in her own right as an ophthalmology (eye) specialist , until she was thrust into the political spotlight as the wife of Anwar Ibrahim. In 1999 after the arrest of her husband, she founded the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and served as its President ever since. She also has years of experience in the Parliament as the Member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh (a role that also belonged to Anwar Ibrahim, and now held by her daughter Nurul Izzah) and as the leader of the Opposition.
In addition to being the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Wan Azizah also holds the position of the Women and Family Development Minister within the new cabinet.
2. Housing and Local Government Minister: Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin
Previously the PKR Women chief, Datuk Zuraida is no stranger to politics. With a degrees in Social Science, Sales, and Marketing, Datuk Zuraida has served as the Member of Parliament for Ampang for the last 10 years. She will oversee housing policies in her new role as Housing and Local Government Minister, with a focus on providing safe housing for minorities, aboriginal groups, and non-citizens. She has expressed a wish to see reforms from a safe and gender-friendly urban service perspective, as well as to implement professional, international-class government management at a municipal and local level.
“Now, I have a chance to look at the policies and implementation of the ministry in great detail. I believe many substantive improvements and suggestions can be implemented,” she said in a statement. “Issues like balanced housing for bumiputras in large urban areas, and the rights of minorities, indigenous people and other citizens should be addressed in order for them to live comfortably.”
3. Rural Development Minister: Rina Harun
Our new Rural Development Minister Rina Harun worked in finance for 8 years before she made her move to politics, serving as the head of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s women’s wing and then as the deputy women’s chief of Pakatan Harapan. Although her cabinet nomination was unexpected, surprising even herself, she is ready to take on the challenge. She has already made plans to meet with ministry officials to familiarise herself with the policies, legislation and programmes in rural development.
“I need to gather information from ministry officers and understand the issues before I come up with my plan and programmes,” she said. “I hope to empower the rural sector and look into ways to enhance rural development. I will make sure that whatever programmes we implement they will reach the rakyat and benefit those who need them most.”
So for now, with 3 female cabinet ministers and 4 ministries led by women, Pakatan Harapan hasn’t fallen too far from their promise. More ministries are expected to be announced and sworn in in stages, so we’ll keep watching.
“We congratulate Pakatan for putting three women in Cabinet already, but we want to make sure when the next 10 to 15 appointments are made, that the Government fulfils its promise to people, which include 30% (women) policy-makers in this country,” added WAO’s Ren Cheng Yu.