In December 2019, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) organised a consultation for the inclusion of young women’s voices in the electoral reform processes in Malaysia. During the consultation, it was clear that young women participants were keen to be part of a dynamic and thriving democracy, with this is mind, here are our recommendations in increasing women’s political participation in the country’s electoral process.

“The concept of democracy will have real and dynamic meaning and lasting effect only when political decision-making is shared by women and men and takes equal account of the interests of both”[1].

Women’s equal participation in political and electoral processes is not being taken seriously. The gaps in women’s participation in political and public life mean that laws, policies, structures and decisions adopted do not have the benefit of fuller and more inclusive human experiences as a basis; are not able to reflect the entire electorate; and may even undermine the “legitimacy of democratic bodies”[2].   

1. THE GAPS

  • Half of the Malaysian electorate are women but, as of 2019, there are 14.9% women in Parliament, 17.8% women Ministers, 14.8% women Deputy Ministers and 16.4% women in Cabinet.
  • Women make up 50.58% of registered voters, but for GE 14, male candidates far outnumbered female candidates: 612 men to 75 women (10.92%) candidates for the Federal seats; 1470 men to 176 women (10.69%) for State seats[3].
  • Women are mainly excluded from the party nomination process and for preselection women appear to have to contend with a patronage-based system[4]. The Electoral Reform Committee and the Parliamentary Select Committee on Elections have only 10.5% and 14.3% of women respectively in their committees.

2. THE CHALLENGES / BARRIERS

  • Societal values around stereotyped gendered roles and responsibilities continue to inhibit women’s full and effective participation in political and public life. Such beliefs limit women’s confidence in their own abilities and also prejudice others to believe women are not suited for such public roles.
  • Adopting a gender-neutral approach effectively sidelines any analysis, perspectives or responses based on gender. Not dealing with gender in this context is being gender blind and condoning the perpetuation of gender discrimination and inequality. The 2018 Report of the Electoral Reform Roundatable recommendations does not include a gender perspective on the glaring issue of the low participation of women in political and public life.
  • Hostile and sexist environment / spaces continue to deter women’s participation. This creates an antagonistic and intimidating environment for women.
  • Rules or practices that are discriminatory from a gender perspective. For example, the high cost of election deposits is sometimes identified as a factor behind the low level of women’s political participation.
  • The lack of an inclusive or intersectional approach to ensure women from different categories are engaged and included in political and electoral processes. For example, hearing the voices of young women, Orang Asli women, women with disabilities, etc.

3. THE GOVERNMENT’S COMMITMENTS

  • The government of Malaysia has committed to “eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country”[5]. It has also committed to the actions and goals of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals towards women’s full and effective participation in political and public life.
  • Under CEDAW, there is an obligation to adopt measures, including temporary special measures to accelerate the full and equal participation of women at all levels. Such measures include recruiting, financial assistance, training, amending electoral procedures, setting numerical goals and quotas, etc[6]. The government is expected to report on this in its next periodic report to the CEDAW Committee.

4. RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on the above, maintaining a gender-neutral approach to the electoral reform process further contributes to the gender gap, perpetuation of gender stereotypes and discriminatory outcomes for women. The following are recommendations towards achieving gender equality within the electoral process.

Institutional

  • It should be part of the Election Commission’s mission, charter and work scope to incorporate a gender perspective into the election processes and structures with the aim of achieving gender equality in this context. This will give the Election Commission the mandate and obligation to pursue both broad and targetted interventions towards the goal of gender equality.
  • The electoral reform process that is ongoing must incorporate a gender perspective into its analysis of issues and challenges, and not merely review the election processes and structures from a gender-neutral perspective.
  • Women must have equal participation within key institutions and processes related to the electoral process and any electoral reform process.

Social and cultural

  • The Election Commission needs to run awareness raising campaigns to debunk gender stereotypes and prejudices against women’s political participation, in partnership with civil society and media.
  • The Election Commission needs to monitor and ensure equal and non-sexist media coverage for women prior to and during elections.

 Laws / regulations/ policies

  • Introduce a temporary special measure to reserve at least 30% of nominations to party positions, municipal council seats, state and parliamentary elections to guarantee and accelerate women’s participation at all these levels. To ensure different categories of women are also represented and have opportunities to participate.
  • Develop a concrete timeline for the achievement of at least 30% quota of women in decision-making positions in the public sector.
  • Recommendations from the electoral reform process must incorporate a gender perspective so as to ensure gender is mainstreamed in any reforms that are being introduced to the electoral system and process. This includes proposed reforms of moving away from the first-past-the-post system towards a more proportional system as well as reintroducing municipal council elections.

ABOUT EMPOWER 

EMPOWER is a non-profit, non-partisan, women’s rights organisation that believes in advancing women’s political equality towards justice and democracy centred on feminist and human rights principles. 

EMPOWER believes that women’s political participation (WPP) is a prerequisite for the full realisation of women’s rights in both the public and private spheres. In a functioning democracy, WPP allows for women’s direct engagement in public decision-making and is a means of ensuring better accountability to women by the State and Non-State actors. 

Additional Reference:

The Status of Women’s Human Rights: 24 Years of CEDAW in Malaysia. Women’s Aid Organisation, 2019

[1] CEDAW General Recommendation 23: Political and Public Life

[2] Norris, Pippa. Electoral Engineering: voting rules and political behaviour. Cambridge University Press, 2004, p 179.

[3] https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2018/05/09/all-you-need-to-know-about-ge14-in-numbers/1628878

[4] Izharuddin, Alicia. The 30% Hope: Securing the Electoral Success of Women in Malaysia Baharu. New Mandala, 2019

[5] CEDAW Convention, Article 7

[6] CEDAW General Recommendation 23: Political and Public Life

[7] www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/66/130

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