WAO and AOD urge PM to create safer political spaces for women, minority group

ADVOCACY groups Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Architects of Diversity (AOD) have jointly issued a strong condemnation of Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s recent response to a young female student during the ‘Temu Anwar’ session on Aug 5.

The incident has ignited a debate on gender equality, freedom of expression and political representation in the country.

The exchange occurred when the student whose identity remains undisclosed, sought to discuss the topic of quotas in public institutions and voiced concerns about meritocracy during the session.

However, her question was abruptly interrupted, sparking criticism from advocacy groups for perpetuating condescension and curbing freedom of expression in interactions with women in political forums.

“It brings concern that the ‘Reformasi‘ government requires serious reflection and improvement in including the voices of women and minority groups in political spaces,” stated WAO and AOD in a joint press release.

According to WAO and AOD, women’s representation in the political sphere has long been a point of contention. They highlighted that women face significant barriers, often exacerbated by factors such as socio-economic background, ethnicity and age.

“Women make up close to 50% of the population and yet we only have 13.6% representation at the Malaysian Parliament. In that, there is insufficient representation from minority and indigenous communities,” claimed the advocacy groups.

Moreover, criticism has also been aimed at Anwar’s previous encounters with women in political forums.

In June, he faced backlash for an inappropriate response to another young woman at a dialogue at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.

“Equal participation and representation in public life is crucial for a thriving democracy,” stressed WOA and AOD, citing Malaysia’s commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995.

Besides, Article 7 of CEDAW emphasises the need to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life.

“The incident on Aug 5 highlights the power dynamics between leader and citizen that were antagonistic and signals that political forums are not safe spaces for women to voice out. It could result in further pushing women out of public participation,” the advocacy groups added.

Beyond the tone of the PM’s response, advocates highlighted the failure to address intersectionality in Malaysia’s political discourse. Challenges faced by various segments of society, including women, rural communities, ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged, require more open discussions to be effectively tackled.

“The dismissal of grievances among minority groups and women contradicts the Madani government’s commitment to compassion among all citizens,” stated WOA and AOD, urging the government to acknowledge the participation of women and minority groups in policy and political discussions.

Furthermore, as Malaysia approaches hotly-contested state polls, WAO and AOD are calling on the government to fulfil its promises outlined in the Harapan Action Plan. This plan includes the elimination of gender inequality and the overall improvement of citizens’ lives.

The PM’s Office has yet to release an official statement addressing the concerns raised by the advocacy groups. The incident has sparked broader discussions about gender equality, political representation, and freedom of expression in the country. – Aug 9, 2023


Main photo credit: The Rakyat Post

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