Is it okay there still aren’t 30pct women in cabinet?


Is it okay there still aren’t 30pct women in cabinet?
By Zan Azlee

Alright! The full list of the cabinet is finally done! We have our line of ministers and deputy ministers.

Well done! It’s a good lineup. Basically, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has utilised the same spirit of pragmatism and political strategy to establish the team to form the deputy ministers’ lineup.

You may read read about what I wrote last week so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself here.

Now that we have formed a full government, I think it’s time for them to really start doing work. So far, Anwar has said all the right things that made many Malaysians happy (well, for those who voted for Pakatan Harapan and can support the new government coalition anyway).

Now let’s put all those words into practice and hopefully, we can move forward.

As they start their work, I would like to pull everyone’s attention to an element that is being discussed very heavily in my home – gender equality and the percentage of women’s representation in the government.

To give you context, the composition in my family stands at 60 percent women to 40 percent men. So of course, gender issues are discussed quite vocally. My son and I usually just nod our heads in agreement.

In our new cabinet, it is 23 percent women to 77 percent men. This is not what the Harapan coalition promised in their manifesto during the last general election in 2018. They had promised 30 percent women representation.

When they formed the government then, they did not fulfil the promise. The percentage was only in the mid-teens. All hell broke loose in my home!

Now back to this government that has been formed after the general election on Nov 19. As I have mentioned, women’s representation in the cabinet, both ministers and deputy ministers only comes up to 23 percent.

Looks like Harapan did not fulfil its 2018 promise this time around either. Oh, man! I was dreading the dinner conversation that was going to happen at home.

“Anwar announced the list of deputy ministers last night,” said Sheril, my wife and the matriarch of the BustAzlee (Bustaman-Azlee) family.

I started to sweat, “Err… yes. I know. They still didn’t fulfil the 30 percent representation.”

“Actually, it’s quite okay because the percentage is a significant improvement from before. It would seem that they are working towards it,” she said.

I sighed with relief because it would mean we could watch our normal Netflix series after the kids had gone to bed and then slowly fall asleep peacefully – as opposed to having a heated social debate about gender inequality in the toxic patriarchal society – that is Malaysia. Phew!

Here’s the explanation. As long as things seem to be moving forward progressively, then it should be okay. It is too idealistic to expect things to turn things around at the snap of a finger.

But if there is an indication of a positive trend, even two steps forward and one step back can be considered progress. I believe that this is a very pragmatic and realistic perspective of things.

Of course, things can be much better. In order for there to be more women representation in the government, there need to be more women in politics.

We have to realise that in a government coalition like the one we have now, the strategy to appoint cabinet members is a delicate process that would play an important role in strengthening the bind of the coalition.

So, if each party in the coalition has a significant number of women leaders, then it makes it much easier to concoct the right balance and to fulfil the 30 percent quota, or even exceed it.

Diversity is key to stability

As it is, this latest general election already saw a high number of women candidates contesting, and also winning. So 23 percent was possible as compared to the previous one.

In the next polls, the hope is that there will be even more women contesting, and hopefully winning, thus making it even easier to have higher women representation in cabinet, and the government as a whole.

Basically, the more options we have, the easier it becomes. And we must strive to ensure an environment that can make it easy.

It is obvious that diversity is key to stability. When you have strong representation from all layers of society, from Malays to non-Malays, West Malaysians to East Malaysians, all these perspectives will be heard.

Of course, this depends on how strong-willed the government is in addressing equality. The diversity in gender where there are equal perspectives from men and women is equally as important.

How is my wife pacified by women’s representation in this new government (it is important to note that being pacified doesn’t mean being satisfied because she is still striving for it to be better)?

It could be because of how our prime minister has been handling things. Like I said at the top of this article, Anwar has been saying all the right things so far, for the most part.

So it is now time to act on everything that has been said. Put your money where your mouth is. Walk the talk. Cakap serupa bikin.

The new government has filled many Malaysians with hope, probably more so than in 2018. Maybe because it isn’t so fairytale-like and is quite pragmatic and real.

So they better follow through, because if they don’t, Malaysians are going to take it much worse than before.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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