In history it is said, the first parliaments started as early as the Middle Ages. Given that Malaysia is a part of the Commonwealth, our parliamentary system is based on the Westminster system. A bicameral system incorporating Dewan Rakyat (equivalent to House of Commons in the UK) and Dewan Negara (equivalent to House of Lords in the UK) with Yang di-Pertuan Agong as Head of State.
Snippets of parliament all over the world often consist of brawls and hostile environments, but why is that so? Having a room full of people with power, discussing new laws, examining current government policies, the ‘power’ they hold must have an effect on the discussion. In a male dominated career, as of February 2019, women represent only 24.3 percent of all national parliamentarians in the world.
Let’s bring this issue closer to home and unravel this topic even further.
In Malaysia, as of 2019, women account for only 14.4 percent in the parliament, the highest since 1997 (7.81 percent). There was a slightly above 3 percent increase in 2018 (10.36 percent in 2017 to 13.90 percent in 2018), but until now, women in Malaysia remain sidelined in the political arena. This phenomenon of women being underrepresented unfortunately is still occurring despite proving their abilities as leaders and as a force of change.
Women around the world continue to be greatly marginalized especially in the position of leadership and politics due to multiple reasons including discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effects of poverty on women.
In a patriarchal society, women are expected to be listeners, and stay in the background. To smile more because your frown does not look right on the office floor, to speak softly because it is rude to raise your voice, to be blamed for the way you dress for the actions made by the opposite gender.
What exactly happens when women hold the same position as their counterparts?
The remarks made by Baling Member of Parliament(MP), Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim towards DAP’s Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto on July 14th, 2020 is a ‘good’ case in point to further discuss this topic. The former not only shouted “gelap tak nampak” (so dark cannot see) towards Batu Kawan MP, Kasthuriraani, when it was her turn to speak, he further commented that she should put on some makeup to improve the situation. The public was enraged over this sexist remark made by the stated MP. On top of this, the first day of parliament amidst Covid-19 this year was a menagerie of shouting and hostility amongst members of the parliament was indeed a disappointment especially to the youth of Malaysia. The videos of parliamentary discussion were brought over Twitter where youth discussed their frustration over MPs’ behavior and immaturity. Please also note that the first parliament day happened after Parlimen Digital, organized by youth organisations; Undi18, Challenger Malaysia, Liga Rakyat Demokratik and UNAM Youth. This event was held not only to prove the feasibility of a virtual Parliamentary sitting, Parlimen Digital’s objectives included:
Parlimen Digital served as non-partisan, received a lot of praisings across social platforms on the efforts on behalf of the organizer and 222 participants who made research and debated maturely and efficiently through a virtual platform. This can also serve as one of evidences that there are youths in Malaysia who are passionate and exceptionally capable to take part in creating public policies and nation building efforts, once the door to politics towards this demographic is opened wider.
How do you go about attacking someone’s God-given feature when it has nothing and should have nothing to do with someone’s capability in speaking their mind?
If the role was reversed, I kindly ask men, how do you feel if someone says that your opinions are irrelevant because you are short?
Remember earlier this year when Malaysia’s Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development uploaded "Kebahagian Rumahtangga" poster series on social media and angered women from different ages and walk of lives? Imagine having the Women Ministry telling you that your requests for help to your husband will only be taken seriously if you ask in using Doraemon’s tone and giggling. For a ministry that was supposed to be a role model towards women, family and community, this campaign is an irresponsible act.
Women advocates across Malaysia responded immediately to this careless campaign:
This is one of many pieces of evidence that depicts how women are viewed in our society most of the time. It's the year 2020, and we still think that women should only do the listening and obey without questioning?
At an early age, we were taught that ‘boys will be boys’ when they are being mischievous, but God forbids if girls do the same thing. Leave your dirty plates in the sink, your sister will wash it for you. Let your mother and wife prepare, cook and serve meals when they too come back from 9-5 jobs. You just need to wash your hands and leave once you pick up the last grain of rice on your plate.
Disappointingly, some men still use religion to justify sexism and misogyny. Taking out some parts of religious scriptures while ignoring others to also justify male superiority and making laws based on autonomy over women. Do we disregard the parts where religion is also about equality, compassion and mutual love?
Colourism carries the definition of prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Linked with the history of colonialism and its beauty standards, colourism is still sadly taught to children from an early age through folktales and they grow up bombarded with a plethora of beauty advertisements on skin bleaching products.
Dayang Senandung is one Malay folktale that remains as a controversial discussion. In short, this folklore tells a story about a lady who was burned ‘cursed’ with a black skin, but blessed with angelic voice. Her ‘curse’ was removed once she gave birth to a King’s child. In 2017, Watsons, a personal care store, received huge backlash after uploading a 15-minute video depicting similar anecdotes, ending with “Only at Watson’s you’ll be beautiful” once her ‘curse’ is lifted. On one hand, society condemned a movie remake of this folklore this year, when the actress Tiktok video made its way across the world for the usage of blackface. On the opposing side, some defended the folktale as a literary heritage.
One question I have is, stressing on the point that having a darker skin is considered as a curse, should this folklore deserve to be defended to this day?Having advertisements and society telling you that having dark skin is an undesirable feature, does serious damage to one’s mental and emotional health and could have long-term effects across several generations. At what cost do we protect folklore, one that clearly goes against the values hold dear by the society?
Taking everything into account, I hope that this small piece of article manages to shed a light on this topic. Dear women,my dear sisters, internalized misogyny is very much real and it does take time to break from this years of generational indoctrinate manacles, but you have so much power and so much to offer to society. Dream bigger, fly higher and be ‘bossy’ for wanting a better future for ourselves and generations to come. Society would not exist without you and you hold so much power than you think. To men, it is time to come down from your high horses and stand in solidarity with us women, your friends, sisters and mothers. Hold yourself accountable for the things you committed and stop blaming others on your actions. Respect should always come in both ways. Representing MSGA, we believe in gender equality,women empowerment, and diversity and inclusivity, something we are trying to implement externally and internally.
By: Nur Ain Shafiqah Mohd Yasim
Assistant Vice President of Advocacy 2019/2020