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Comprehensive policy, action plan needed

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At the end of a landmark conference on gender justice, a declaration calling for a comprehensive policy and action plan on gender was presented to the Penang Chief Minister.

Some of the organisers and participants of the gender mainstreaming conference in Penang

Declaration of the Conference on Gender Mainstreaming: Justice for All, 31 July -1 August 2010, Penang


We, the participants of the conference on Gender Mainstreaming: Justice for All, representing diverse experiences, perspectives and sectors, met in Penang, Malaysia, from 31 July to 1 August 2010 to discuss key issues related to women’s participation in society, including the extent to which gender mainstreaming has been utilised towards the empowerment of Malaysian women in general and women in Penang in particular. In accordance with the objectives of the conference, we hereby:

I. Recall that in 1995, Malaysia ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which obligates states to uphold principles of non-discrimination and substantive equality;

II. Affirm that the Malaysian government and the state government of Penang is bound by moral and legal obligations to implement gender main-streaming in the economic, political, and socio-cultural realms; and

III. Recognise the challenges faced by women and girls, especially marginalised and vulnerable groups, in all aspects of their lives and call attention to the urgent need to remove obstacles that hamper their ability to fully participate in the economic, political, and socio-cultural arenas.

Therefore, we hereby propose the following recommendations towards the empowerment of women in the context of good governance and gender equality:

A. Women and economic development

The population of Penang is estimated to be 1,609,000 for 2010 comprising 816,700 women and 793,200 men. Women have been consistently contributing to the economy as production and office workers as well as in the popular hawker industry of the state. Penang’s female labour force participation is much higher at 53.4 percent compared to the national average of 45.7 percent and is concentrated in low or semi-skilled positions in the manufacturing and services sectors. Primarily responsible for the care of their children, families, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled, women workers carry a greater burden of work. Many turn to the informal sector to generate additional income for their households. The shortage of accessible and affordable institutional support in terms of care facilities and services hinders women, especially the poor, in participating fully in the economy and society. Marginalised and vulnerable groups such as sex workers, transgendered communities, refugees, undocumented migrants, and migrant domestic workers face a higher risk of economic marginalisation. Sex disaggregated data as well as gender analyses of this data is largely absent and many measurements of society’s progress do not include women’s contribution in the care economy or their work in the informal sector.

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We strongly urge the state and local government of Penang to adopt the following recommendations in these areas:

1. Increasing women’s full and equitable participation in the economy by:

a) Mandating the collection, analyses, and dissemination of regular statistics on women’s status in the workforce, both formal and informal, and ensuring systematic updating and maintenance of these databases;

b) Providing the financial and political support for the completion of a comprehensive study on women’s participation in and contributions to the workforce, both paid and unpaid;

c) Ensuring that annual state budgets are gender-responsive and equitable; and

d) Promoting lifelong education and skills training to ensure opportunities for women especially the marginalised and vulnerable and those who seek to (re)enter the labour market.

2. Protecting and upholding rights of women workers by:

a) Ensuring that women’s rights in the workplace and the informal sector are upheld and protected, including rights relating to a living wage, trade union organising, improved reproductive health benefits, and equal employment opportunities; and

b) Implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the Code of Practice for the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace in public and private sectors.

3. Promoting gender-friendly, accessible and affordable care services and facilities by:

a) Investing in, developing and maintaining accessible and affordable facilities for children, disabled, and elderly persons; and

b) Providing adequate subsidies for poor households to offset the burden of care and ensure equitable standards of living as part of a social protection policy.

B. Women and good governance

Despite women making up 49.1 per cent of the Malaysian population, and accounting for approximately half of our eligible voters and workforce participants, only 10.8 per cent of MPs in the 12th Parliament and 8.0 per cent of State Legislators (Adunss) are women. In the case of Penang specifically, only one State Executive Committee (exco) member is a woman. This political under-representation is compounded by the fact that women leaders are often assigned gender-stereotyped positions or portfolios associated with a relative lack of political power.

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Economic barriers, societal and cultural constraints often hamper the ability of women to participate effectively in the political sphere. Existing mindsets in political parties result in the marginalisation of women who choose to work within these parties and, where elected, women representatives are sometimes insufficiently equipped with the requisite skills and capacities for political achievement.

We hereby strongly urge the state and local government of Penang to adopt the following recommendations in these areas:

1. Increasing women’s numbers in leadership and decision-making by:

a) Establishing and enforcing quotas of at least 30 per cent women in the State Assembly, State Executive Council and Local Council (as well as other local authority) levels and in the civil service in order to achieve gender parity; and

b) Identifying and nurturing potential women leaders, particularly the young.

2. Enhancing skills and capacity of existing women leaders and decision-makers by:

a) Providing financial support for the setting up of a gender caucus for both women State Assembly members (Aduns) and women Local Councillors;

b) Increasing capacity building and training programmes in key areas, including relevant laws and policies and the operation of local government and State Assemblies, for women State Assembly members (Aduns), women Local Councillors and women decision-makers in the civil service; and

c) Establishing a mentoring programme by senior women leaders.

3. Promoting gender sensitisation of leaders and their constituencies by:

a) Involving women and men in voter education to raise awareness of the need for substantive representation of women in political leadership and decision-making; and

b) Promoting education and training on critical areas of gender equality and good governance for State Assembly members (Aduns), Local Councillors, civil service decision-makers, and the public.

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C. Women and social policy

Some of the key social issues which concern women in Penang include gender-based violence (domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment), health (unwanted pregnancies, cancer and lack of reproductive health accessibility), the unavailability of affordable housing and efficient public transport and poverty.

Despite the existence of laws relating to gender-based violence, the numbers of victims are increasing and many are unable to access services sensitive to their rights and needs.

Many women, especially the poor, have little knowledge and/or access to health services especially reproductive health services.

In Penang, the incidence of poverty in female headed households (16 per cent) is higher compared to male-headed households (7 per cent).

We hereby strongly urge the state and local government of Penang to adopt the following recommendations in these areas:

1. Improving safety and eradicating violence against women by:

a) Leading a state-wide campaign to promote zero tolerance against gender-based violence; and

b) Conducting training to enhance the skills and knowledge of service providers from the welfare department, police and hospitals so that victims of sexual crimes receive adequate support and protection.

2. Improving health care for women by:

a) Ensuring that reproductive and mental health services are made accessible and available to all women, especially women who are vulnerable and/or margin-alised; and

b) Collecting sex disaggregated data on health issues affecting women and girls to work towards improving their health status.

3. Improving housing for women by:

a) Developing, implementing and monitoring affirmative action policies so that marginalised and vulnerable groups including single mothers and the disabled are given special allocations for quality affordable housing; and

b) Guarantee the provision of affordable quality housing with adequate living space, for lower and middle-income groups so that families have access to a healthy and safe living environment.

We, the participants of the Gender Mainstreaming: Justice for All conference, hereby urge the state government of Penang to incorporate these recommendations into a comprehensive gender policy and action plan for the people of Penang.

11 August 2010

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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