01 March 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday February 27, 2008
Still a man’s world, politically

THE election season is upon us in full force, and since the day Parliament was dissolved, nomination lists have been scrutinised and re-scrutinised, with several dramatic drop-outs and resurrections. It’s a soap opera almost worth prolonging.

But nomination day finally arrived and microscopes were out, poring over each and every candidate to see who’s who.

So far the most remarked on fact seems to be the numbers of sons, daughters, sons- and daughters-in-law, nephews, brothers (but not sisters) that have been fielded.

Which rather makes you wonder if we are becoming like some countries where electoral seats are passed down within families.

My interest is, of course, in how many women candidates have been fielded this time. A rough count has yielded me at least 85 names that I recognise as female (the difficulty is that there are some names whose gender is difficult to ascertain), which is an impressive number.

Most of them are in state seats, and my impression is that the Opposition has fielded more women candidates than the Barisan Nasional. Which is rather interesting, given that at least one of the Opposition parties has always seemed rather women-unfriendly.

I would certainly like to know why political parties have fielded more women this time. Did they heed the call of various women’s NGOs and the Women’s Ministry to have more female candidates?

If so, their response is far from universal, since Perlis has fielded no women candidates at all. To add insult to injury, they had picked one woman candidate for a parliamentary seat only to take it away from her after a few hours.

Another woman, an incumbent, lost her seat to her own brother, which leads you to wonder why they couldn’t have just found him another seat instead of taking hers away?

Three women won their seats uncontested. At least one of them won due to the incompetence of her potential rival; but it would have been good to know what the mettle of the other women actually are, gauged through an actual election battle.

Several women candidates are pitted against other women candidates, leading us to wonder if the sex of the candidate is a factor at all. In any case, we should celebrate anyway since, win or lose, we will have a woman representative in.

Some people have asked why it is necessary to be concerned about the numbers of women elected representatives. Why, they ask, can’t we just choose people based on ability, rather than sex?

The thing is, politics by and large is a man’s game. It is stacked against women in every way, from the finances needed to run for office, to the long hours, to the types of issues that are promoted.

When women come in, they are pressured to not push for any women’s issues because these are seen as “discriminatory” against men. They are supposed to be “gender-neutral” instead.

But gender-neutrality is not the same as gender equality when the playing field between men and women is not level.

When the head of the state-level Wanita branch can be denied a seat because someone’s brother wants it, it makes for a strong argument to have seats reserved for women.

Otherwise everybody’s brother, son, son-in-law or nephew will elbow out every single woman candidate available, especially when the one who has the final say is a man.

Still, having more women representatives does not necessarily mean better representation. But the higher numbers are more likely to yield more quality representatives than low numbers of women.

Besides, women are less likely to make quips about leaks and tunnels, already a bonus in itself.

We are supposed to be aiming for 30% female representation in elected bodies. That’s below the actual proportion of women in the population. Yet, there are people who think this is too much.

Worse still, there are women who are in the position to make this happen who think that we should go slowly on this. As if waiting 50 years isn’t slow enough.

There are going to be women representatives who will make blunders because of lack of experience. They will be judged far more harshly than male representatives of similar ilk. It will be seen as a far greater weakness than male incompetence.

Sexism prevails, unless the women themselves want to change it and will unite, regardless of party affiliation. For that too, they need the numbers in order to be strong.

If more women win seats this time, they will gain the confidence to stand up for their rights, or at least for greater respect in the House.

Meantime, we need to decide whom to vote for, and get out there and vote. No excuses this time. It’s too important.