The Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo) hosted the first International Women’s Day virtual rally in Sabah on 8 March 2021 from 8pm to 9:30pm with the theme #ChooseToChallenge.
The rally was organised to call out the longstanding poor representation of women in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly and to adopt the “top-up women-only additional seats” (TWOAS) concept.
The virtual rally drew 78 participants over Zoom and 549 views on Sawo’s Facebook livestream at 9.30pm. The rally was also attended by representatives from various political parties, and individuals from civil society organisations and the public who whole-heartedly supported the demands of the rally.
These demands are for
- the Sabah state government to support TWOAS and its adoption in the state legislative assembly
- the state opposition to support the adoption of TWOAS in the state legislative assembly, or if nothing happens, promise it in their manifestos for the next state election
- the state legislative assembly to set up a select committee to study the adoption of TWOAS in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly
In this rally, the concept of TWOAS drewd support from all attendees, notably the various representatives from political parties such Jannie Lasimbang (DAP, N19 Kapayan), NorAzlinah Arif (Warisan, N63 Kunak), and DSP Madius Tangau (Upko, P170 Tuaran). Muda, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), PKR, Umno and Star were also present and declared their support.
The rally began with representative speakers sharing their perspectives on women in politics and leadership from different communities.
A representative for the local communities from Sawo, Jollify Daniel, spoke about how the concept of leadership is still a male-dominated role in villages.
Jannie Lasimbang then spoke about the role of the government and political parties in increasing the level of participation of women in politics.
Karen Lai from the TWOAS working group under the Penang state government shared their experiences in initiating TWOAS and of their recent success in implementing it at the end of 2020.
Finally, a youth representative, Mahirah Marzuki from UNDISabah shared her support for TWOAS and the need to widely share the information on TWOAS to the youths and public.
Slogan-cheering and poetry recitals peppered the event. Rally participants showed their support by cheering in unison, demanding that more women be given a place in the state assembly.
During the virtual rally declaration, the audience showed their support by raising their right hand and shouting “I support!”
It was agreed by all that there is an underrepresentation of women in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly which impedes and delays the overall sustainable development of the state. It reveals a systemic and structural barrier which prevents women from being in important decision-making positions in the state. This highlights the need for new and bold approaches to speed up the political empowerment of women.
The Sabah State Legislative Assembly should be a platform for the voices of all Sabahans, but sadly this is not the case today, 58 years after becoming a nation. As the primary administrator of the state, the state government must play a pivotal and active role in spearheading substantive changes towards more meaningful representation of women in the state assembly.
We believe the state government has the capacity to provide for such circumstances, and we remain steadfast in our stance that a day wasted not remedying this degenerative problem is a day lost in the progress for a better Sabah.
The presence of so many different political parties with different ideologies and concepts in the rally shows how our differences do not stop us from uniting towards a common goal, which is to increase women’s participation in politics and leadership.