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Promoting women’s leadership in local government

A woman casts her vote under a gender-responsive budgeting project

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Women are a significant part of society, and they should share their experiences and perspectives in the political process, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.

Here’s a fact: Although women make up more than 50% of the world’s population, we are still sorely under-represented, especially in political matters and other decision-making aspects within our society.

Because of this, we simply have less influences over policies – in other words, men continue to dictate how we live and our choices.

Increasing the participation of women in politics will definitely bring about positive changes. Emphasising this within local government levels will have a greater and more direct impact on our communities. Think about the numerous social issues and local development issues that can be undertaken in a more balance and more equitable manner.

Here’s another fact: local government is the order of government that is closest to the people. That said, this is without a doubt, the best approach to create a more inclusive platform that involves both men and women in important decision-making processes.

The main goal of equal representation is to increase the quality of life. But if the opposite gender continues to be under-represented (which is regrettably the case for Malaysian society), social progress and communal development will come to a standstill.

There are several factors that contribute to limiting women’s participation – gender stereotypes, gender discrimination, and a variety of personal obstacles such as lack of confidence and lack of support from family members. Politics at all levels is often regarded as being a ‘boys club’ – a heavily male-dominated field – and how can people not think otherwise?

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Women have been conditioned by societal constraints and man-made cultural values, where we find ourselves underestimating our strengths and abilities. We’ve been conditioned to set aside our expertise in order to give way to the traditional male role of political activity. Ever heard of the term, ‘public male, private female’, well, such a term is highly reflective of the patriarchal values that are deeply rooted in our society, and this idea is counter-productive to progress.

We need to formulate methods that can create awareness surrounding gender issues and especially find strategic ways to encourage more women’s participation in local government. One of the barriers often faced by women is that we sometimes feel there is a lack of respect when compared to our male counterparts, as if our opinions carry less weight and our ideas are merely drivel.

There are ways to combat this; creating mentor programmes where prominent women (especially those in politics) can advocate and share their experiences with other women. Communities also need to support capacity-building (in particular skills – in listening, speaking, negotiating) pertaining to issues in local government to help create gender-sensitive working environments such as gender-responsive participatory budgeting as implemented by Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang in cooperation with the Penang Women’s Development Corporation.

Local government presents women one of the best ways of entering politics by enabling them to represent their local communities. According to the United Nations, there is indeed a need to meet the minimum 30% threshold to achieve progress and reforms pertaining to policies and existing legislative institutions.

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Although numbers can reflect certain relevance, they do not guarantee the success in our bid to uphold women’s rights. Changing the mindset of our already patriarchal society will be a long battle, but addressing the need to increase our presence can bring about the type of gender equality that can ensure more positive outcomes for women – and men, too.

Decision-making is always best when there is equal representation from both genders. Women are a significant part of society, and we should be considered to share our experiences and perspectives to the political process.

Politics is about how decisions are made, how conflicts can be resolved and how the people can benefit from the policies that have been imposed. Therefore to obtain the best results and best practices, there is great importance for local governments to understand gender roles, responsibilities as well as the need to identify factors that can affect gender relations.

After all, it is 2015 – don’t you think it is about time we saw more women get onboard?

Source: The Malaysian Insider

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