16 April 2009

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 April 15, 2009
Cabinet needs more estrogen

Chile, and to a lesser extent, Bangladesh have led the way for more women to be given greater say in national affairs.

OPPORTUNITIES, as they say, don’t come very often. And when they do, one should always grab them with both hands.

Thus it was with our new Prime Minister and his Cabinet. It was an opportunity for a real makeover. But it was lost.

In 2006, for the first time in its history, Chile elected its first ever woman president, Michelle Bachelet.

That was the opportunity that the Chileans grabbed to do something different. It was indeed a landmark event because Chile is seen as the most conservative country in Latin America.

But as one news report put it, her election “reflected a profound socio-cultural change”. Indeed, on election night, hundreds of thousands of Chileans packed the streets of Santiago to celebrate her historic presidential victory.

Grandmothers could be seen throwing confetti from their balconies. Housewives with their entire families in tow could be heard screaming, “We’re going to clean up house.”

Ah… wouldn’t that have been nice here? Then Bachelet grabbed her own opportunity. She selected a 20-member Cabinet comprising 10 male Ministers and 10 female Ministers. It’s the first of its kind in the entire Western hemisphere.

“This Cabinet reflects the new style of government I’ve proposed,” Bachelet said, as she announced her choices. They included women in the key portfolios of economy and mining, as well as in her own two former ministries, health and defence.

Not that Chile is the only country to make such brave choices when it comes to selecting a Cabinet. Nearer home, Bangladesh has done pretty much the same, though not quite to the same extent.

Last December, Bangladesh held elections after almost two years of an interim government. The people voted in Sheikh Hasina Wazed as their prime minister, not for the first time in their history.

In turn, she appointed a 32-member Cabinet that included four women. Not many women, but still it is interesting what portfolios they were given: Foreign Affairs, Agricul- ture, Home Affairs and State Minister for Labour and Employment.

Sheikh Hasina herself will look after the Defence Ministry, Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, Establishment Ministry, Housing and Public Works Ministry, Religious Affairs Ministry and Women and Children Affairs Ministry.

So, without being wholly original, we could have been much more innovative. We could have improved on the last Cabinet’s three women Ministers by having more this time, not less.

Furthermore, although there are several women Deputy Ministers sprinkled among different Ministries, it would have been good and indeed courageous to have given women Ministers greater responsibilities in portfolios beyond the normal ones that women are given.

After all, if other developing countries can trust women with, say, Home Affairs and Defence, why can’t we? (And we could have done with a Gender Empowerment Ministry, to reflect better what needs to be done.)

Part of the problem is of course our women politicians themselves, who seem disinclined to demand greater participation, even saying they won’t lobby for any positions.

It seems odd when the Minister in charge of ensuring that Malaysia complies with its responsibilities under the Convention for the Eli- mination of Discrimination Against Women, which calls for a minimum of 30% female participation in decision-making, is herself coy about demanding enough and better positions for women.

That’s called not grabbing opportunities; definitely not a Michelle Bachelet in the making.

Overall, the new Cabinet is simply not interesting enough. When you have the facility to appoint people from outside by making them Senators, then actually the world is open for you to pick and choose from a much larger field.

There is as much abundance of talented women outside politics as there is a dearth of them within it, whether in the private sector, academia or NGOs.

But it depends on what the approach is for forming the Cabinet; to fulfil political requirements or to use the best talents. Whatever it is, there is no sizzle in it. (Having said that, Obama chose a Cabinet that has many old hands in it, too.)

Perhaps we should look at other advisory bodies for some spark. There is an Economic Advisory Com- mittee that is supposed to be formed. Perhaps there should be others on different issues where talent could be brought in.

There is the National Women’s Advisory Council that should be seriously revamped and made more independent.

There should be an Advisory Council on Young People, which should have nobody over the age of 30.

How about a total revamp in the way we approach the drug use issue, by taking it away from Home Affairs and putting it under Health, as Iran does?

Overall, this is a Cabinet that is over-testosteroned. We need more estrogen. I hear the Opposition is setting up a Shadow Cabinet. Let’s see if they trust women any better.