Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) Research and Advocacy officer Anis Farid said the move will make a difference when it comes to championing women’s rights.
She also pointed to the fact that over the last 10 years, 131 countries have passed 274 legal reforms in support of gender equality mainly due to female legislators.
“This number coincides with the increasing numbers of female legislators around the world. When we include women, we are saying their voices and opinions matter. The inclusion of women in political decision-making is vital to represent the nuanced lived realities of women in Malaysia which will contribute to more meaningful impact and solutions that address the needs of communities holistically.
“It matters for Malaysian women to feel represented in politics and to hear voices championing their concerns. This is what will make Malaysia a better country for women,” she told GoodNews in an exclusive interview.
Women’s representation is necessary to ensure democracy functions as effectively as possible, said Anis.
She added that women are not a minority and in fact make up half the population.
“Despite that, women only hold 14.9% of parliamentary seats here – 33 out of 222. It is also important for there to be women MPs of caliber and who truly want to address the concerns of the rakyat.
“We need to elect women MPs who are willing to step up against Sexual Harassment and any form of violence against women and girls. One thing that is easily forgotten is that women are not a monolith – each woman has different needs and the more women present in the room, the more likely these different issues and needs will be represented, defended and spoken for.
“There will be diverse representation as well as perspectives in addressing issues and this will translate into more meaningful gender-responsive solutions and impact in society.
“Most importantly, having a female politician speak up and stand strong, has the power of inspiring the next generation of girls and women to break genders stereotypes and venture into politics or leadership roles. It is necessary to create a more just, open, fair, and equitable society,” she said.
It was likely that the increased number of female MPs would make an impact because women will legislate with better understanding and focus on gender-based violence, Anis said.
“They will likely be more gender-sensitive and responsive and will be committed to the empowerment of all Malaysian women.
“Having more female lawmakers would change male-centric debate and curb sexism in Malaysian politics, there would likely be more resistance against that. It would also mean acknowledging that women are not limited to ‘women-centered’ issues.
“There is much to be gained in addressing healthcare, education, and gender sensitive budgeting amongst other things,” she added.
Women can also inspire boys and men who will benefit from strong female role models.
“Malaysia has many industrious women leaders, however, we must push for cultural change and political awareness to normalise seeing women in this respect. When we empower women, we empower society.”
The Case of Ain Husniza
The rights of protecting children are our responsibility, Anis said when asked about the recent case of Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam.
Ain grabbe national headlines after the video she posted on social media, described how her teacher who had been explaining sexual harassment in class also made inappropriate jokes about the topic. Ain has since made numerous police reports including one against her male schoolmates who sent her rape threats, after she exposed the teacher. After the 17-year-old called out the male teacher for making “rape jokes” in her class last month, her father also came out to say that many female teachers have reached out to him with stories of sexual harassment in schools.
Anis said that as adults, we must ensure that any environment a child is in, is conducive for its growth and is secure, safe and nurturing.
“This means that lawmakers have to fulfil their responsibilities to ensure that policies and laws are in place to protect women and children from harmful action. In situations such as Ain’s, especially in Malaysia where rape culture is entrenched in the system, legal mechanisms protecting children are important to keep them safe.
“This should extend to anyone who may be subject to sexual harassment or forms of violence. Whilst we advocate for children, we must also recognize that children have their own rights and when they use their voice to speak up for themselves, we must do everything in our power to listen to them.
“We must learn to believe our boys and girls, not shut them down. They deserve the right to agency, safety and security,” she said.
It’s deeply upsetting to think that because of the courage and strength Ain had displayed, she has received threats to her safety, she added.
“The fact that these threats are from adult men posting lewd comments and sexual innuendos to silence her, shows us how society has failed to protect our children.
“MPs and lawmakers must take seriously their promise to protect them, so that children will always have the courage to speak against injustices without fear of repercussion, they are our future.”
Malaysia’s Laws Are Lacking
It’s not just the laws, but also enforcement that are lacking, claims Anis.
“We need laws that are more cognizant of the inequalities and violence faced by women and children. This doesn’t just refer to physical violence, but also the lack of safe spaces – both online and offline, the lack of secure reporting mechanisms or even something as simple as empowering women by believing them.
“Given the past months events, we urgently need the Sexual Harassment Bill to be tabled as promised, this would allow survivors to seek legal recourse and justice.
“We need legal reform to ensure the justice system will protect and support survivors. Beyond the laws, there needs to be change in the mindset and beliefs of those who uphold the law and general society.
“Laws can only go so far if we ourselves do not challenge perpetrator protecting behaviours like victim-blaming, gender stereotyping, the normalisation of violence against women.”
For this, we need to work actively towards the goal of 50% parliamentary representation, she said.
“More importantly, we need to elect effective and capable women who believe in gender equality and in upholding Malaysia’s commitment to international agreements on equality such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).”