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Kota Kinabalu
Sabtu, Februari 24, 2024

Choose to Challenge Gender Inequality until We Succeed, says former DCM Liew

Datuk Christina Liew

KOTA KINABALU: This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme “Choose to Challenge Gender Inequality”, is most apt, says former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew.

In her IWD message, the Tawau MP said globally, women leaders and women’s rights groups are still struggling for attainment of gender equality which is a fundamental human right.

Liew said the continuous effort to fight gender inequality is reflected in the establishment of gender equality initiatives in countries throughout the world, enactment of laws promoting gender equality (examples, in Japan, India and Mongolia) and in the setting up of the Ministry of Gender Equality in South Korea and Namibia (Africa), among other nations.

“Malaysia is no exception. The Government is committed to achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 5 which is Gender Equality, that is, to achieve equality between men and women, and to empower all women and girls.” Although our nation has achieved some measure of success since independence in1963, whereby there is gender parity in terms of equal access to education and employment opportunities as well as career advancement, we are still striving for a higher level of equality between men and women in all spheres of development, particularly in political empowerment.

“Last year (2020), the then PH government was in the process of drafting a bill on gender equality (known as Gender Equality Bill). “In the Sabah context, the Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo) and Sabah Women’s Advisory Council (MPWS) have been actively advocating for and championing the practice of gender equality since their inception in 1986 and 1988, respectively.”We have to go on challenging gender inequality. I wish them continuing success in their persistent push for gender reforms towards achieving equality between men and women,” she said in a statement, here, Sunday.

Liew, who is also Api Api Assemblywoman, said the then PH government had set up a parliamentary select committee on gender equality. “Unfortunately, this committee was dissolved, following the change of government at the federal level in February last year,” she lamented.

While conceding that Malaysian women have achieved gender equality in public office (to a certain extent), and equal pay for equal work at least in the civil service, she contended that the same cannot be said of situations in the private sector where women employees still complain about unequal pay in their work environment. 

“Notably, we have had a lady deputy prime minister in the person of Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and many qualified women have held ministerial positions in the Federal Government. However, we have also read media reports on how some company employers have dismissed their employees for becoming pregnant, which is clearly discriminatory in nature,” Liew said.

At this juncture, the Tawau MP recalled how women civil servants in Sabah were discriminated against in the sixties and early seventies by virtue of their female gender as opposed to the male gender. “During that era, married women in the civil service were not accorded the permanent and pensionable (P&P) status; instead, they were categorised as temporary staff (probably misguided by the obsolete notion that a woman’s place is in the kitchen).”

Still, more than 50pc of Malaysian women have experienced at least one form of gender discrimination in the workplace, according to the “Voices of Malaysian Women on Discrimination & Harassment in the Workplace” survey, recently (conducted by the Women’s Aid Organisation).

According to Liew, Malaysian women were given a better deal, with the declaration of the United Nations (UN) Decade for Women (1976-1985), followed by the formulation of the National Policy on Women (NPW) in 1989.

In retrospect, she said the Malaysian delegation (led by the wife of the then Prime Minister) also made a commitment to achieve a 30pc target for women’s participation in decision-making roles in the public sector by 2000. “This took place at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995.”

The same year, (1995) she said, Malaysia became a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw). “It was a breakthrough for Malaysian women when Article 8 (2) of the Federal Constitution was amended in July 2001 to include ‘gender’ as a  basis for non-discrimination against citizens (in addition to the grounds of religion, race, descent, or place of birth).”

And by 2004, the Federal Government had formed a Cabinet Committee on Gender Equality. Two years later (2006), Malaysia established the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Institute for the Empowerment of Women (NIEW) to ensure women empowerment and achievement of gender equality.

Despite all those initiatives, the Tawau parliamentarian concurred with UN Women that there is still a long way to go “to achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women.”(Based in New York, UN Women is the UN entity working for gender equality and the empowerment of women. It was founded in 2010).

Liew emphasised the need for Malaysia to bolster its position in the Global Gender Gap Index, given its absence in the list of Asia’s 10 Most Gender Equal countries (as indicated in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2018). They were the Philippines, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia.

She singled out women’s glaring underrepresentation in the Malaysian Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies as one pressing issue that needs to be addressed. Citing the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020, she said the score for Malaysia is 68pc, ranking 104th out of 153 countries. 

“This makes Malaysia one of the lowest-ranking in the world in terms of female political empowerment, lagging behind their        male counterparts as heads of governments and in cabinet ministerial positions. And this is despite that fact that Malaysia is one of the 143 countries in the world that have guaranteed gender equality in their respective constitutions,” the Tawau MP pointed out, adding that presently, women’s representation in the Malaysian Parliament stands at 14.41pc only.

Liew said : “It is, therefore, a colossal challenge to attempt to close the gender gap (between women and men) in the four realms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment (based on the Global Gender Gap Index).

“We cannot fix the gender imbalance overnight. I am not trying to sound pessimistic but realistically speaking, we may not see the accomplishment of full gender equality and the elimination of gender discrimination in our lifetime.”In fact, there is one forecast that at the rate of progress we are going, it may take another century or so to eradicate the gender disparities in the economic sector and political arena.”

The World Economic Forum Report 2019 stated that it will take another 99.5 years to achieve global gender equality. “So, never call it a day but choose to challenge the issue of gender inequality until we succeed,” Liew concluded. 

Currently, the top 10 most gender equal countries in the world are Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda and Germany.

Meanwhile, the Tawau MP expressed support for Sawo’s call to reserve nominated seats for women in future elections by turning Sabah’s six nominated seats into Top-Up Women Only Additional Seats (TWOAS). “This is one positive strategy to attain the 30pc target for women’s representation in the State Legislative Assembly.

We cannot deny the fact that currently, women are grossly underrepresented in the Sabah State Assembly, with only seven assemblywomen out of 73 elected representatives (9.6pc).

“The number has since been reduced to six assemblywomen, following the demise of the Bugaya Assemblywoman in November last year,” Liew said.

Sawo President Winnie Yee had earlier called upon Sabah’s four women MPs and six assemblywomen to support and  advocate for the adoption of the TWOAS system for Sabah’s six nominated seats.She had thrown a challenge to the State to make Sabah the first state to implement TWOAS.

Yee’s contention is that if 18 or less women are elected in the next State elections, then all six nominated seats must be filled with women pre-nominated by the various political parties.