It is generally acknowledged that women, who constitute about half of Malaysia’s population, have a significant role to play in nation-building.
However, the political rhetoric that calls for more women’s involvement in various sectors of the economy does not quite match with the realities on the ground, especially in breaking the glass ceiling in a male-dominated setting.
While Malaysian women have made inroads into certain sectors in society, their numbers are inadequate or not representative of their demographic strength, as there is still gender discrimination in our society.
The recent promotion of Rohana Jupri as a first admiral in the Royal Malaysian Navy is a step in the right direction and an achievement that deserves our admiration and accolades, given that she’s the first woman to be promoted to the rank in the navy’s long history. The Rohanas of this world would help to demystify in Malaysia the belief that the so-called male bastions should remain.
However, as intimated above, the progress made by Malaysian women is not necessarily linear, as there are hiccups along the way, to which we must always be alert. For example, the change of government in March saw capable women heads of government-linked companies and other agencies replaced by male politicians.
While some may not consider this as a major rollback of women’s professional advancement, it is at the very least demoralising and a cause for concern. This is most unfortunate, as these women are said to have occupied these high positions based on their impressive qualifications and long experience, which are sorely needed by these establishments for their survival, progress and financial success.
In politics, we see not only a bloated federal cabinet in the Perikatan Nasional government, but also a distinctly decreased percentage of women in leadership.
Women have been denied more active participation in politics at the leadership level on both sides of the divide, given that there is a reservoir of capable women politicians, particularly among the younger generation, who can lead our nation into a future that is theirs.
The pool of talented Malaysian women is much wider if we care to look at the achievements of those who emigrated to other countries that seem to provide a conducive environment for women to bloom.
We tend to claim pride in their achievements in foreign lands, knowing fully well that the latter’s gain is our shameful loss. Jocelyn Yow, of Chinese Malaysian-Vietnamese descent, who was recently appointed mayor of Eastvale in California, comes to mind.
It is most regrettable and unjust that women – as well as their male counterparts – who have taken up citizenship in their adopted countries, were deprived of the opportunities to harness their potential and make significant contributions to our nation’s wellbeing because of the toxic politics of race and religion.
There are also other reasons for their emigration: a lack of freedom and of deep commitment to professionalism and meritocracy of respectable degree in our society, which are crucial ingredients for the building of a nation that cherishes progress, artistic creativity, justice, dissent, diversity and prosperity.
For Malaysian women in general, the spectre of patriarchy in our society still haunts them and poses an obstacle to their advancement. Patriarchy survives for as long as it serves as a convenient cover for the insecurity of some men.
There are obviously many challenges confronting our nation-building efforts that need to be tackled prudently and professionally, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
Women obviously must not play second fiddle in this context.
Source: The Malaysian Insight