Young women angered by DPM’s stand on child marriage, survey shows

Vila Somiah, Iman's head of research, speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur August 30, 2018. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Vila Somiah, Iman's head of research, speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur August 30, 2018. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 — A majority of young Malaysian women surveyed by Iman Research disapprove of Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and found her stance on child marriage weak, contrasting with an earlier survey that saw her become the most popular of six ministers in the Pakatan Harapan government.

The view was widely held by both moderate and conservative Muslim women who felt the deputy prime minister had done little to address the issue while hiding behind “religious excuses”, the survey by think tank Iman found.

Young men in the same focus group had little to say about child marriage but also found the PKR leader unfit to be a deputy prime minister.

“Many of them felt she should have taken more action and be [leaning] more towards protecting child rights instead of saying religion allows for this or that,” Vila Somiah, Iman head of research, told a media briefing on the findings from the focus talks.

Dr Wan Azizah, who is also minister of women, children community development, was widely criticised over the way she handled a child marriage case in Kelantan involving an 11 year-old girl and a 41 year-old rubber tapper.

Critics felt the deputy prime minister did not make her position about the issue clear.

They said while she did condemn the marriage, the PKR leader gave mixed signals when she dismissed criticism towards the authorities for not separating the child from the man.

Most participants from the focus group also viewed her as politically weak, Iman noted.

Many saw Dr Wan Azizah as a political puppet or a seat warmer who is not serious about leading, but one who merely acts on the instruction of her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“She is seen as a puppet, a lot of her decisions are programmed/influenced by Anwar Ibrahim,” one of the interviewees were quoted as saying.

Other participants had different reasons for disapproving Dr Wan Azizah.

Some women, for example, felt she is “not a feminist” while others thought she was a poor choice as a minister likely because of her soft image, a perception generally held by many of her critics.

Yet there were also participants who expressed willingness to see her lead the country if she can be seen acting independently of her husband.

“Is Wan Azizah going to run the country? I don’t mind, I think she’s a great PM. But I want to know if that’s the plan,” one interviewee was quoted as saying.

The focus group discussion was held nationwide with up to seven participants aged between 21 to 35 in a session, the key demographic that helped put Pakatan Harapan in power at the 14th general election in May.

Iman researchers said the interviews were held to measure youth sentiment towards the new government in conjunction with PH’s 100th day in power.

The full report is expected to be released early September.

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