KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — Despite loud calls to increase women’s participation in key leadership positions in the past decade, there had been very little change, especially at senior levels.
However, within a year under the new administration of Pakatan Harapan (PH), the government is fulfilling its election pledge to place more women in decision-making positions, proving its seriousness in pushing for a gender-responsive agenda.
A stellar example is the appointment of Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the deputy prime minister — the country’s first woman appointed to the position.
Additionally, there are four female ministers in the cabinet today holding vital portfolios and four deputy ministers — more than ever previously.
On Thursday, Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat was named as the new Chief Justice, another defining moment in the country’s history as this is also the first time a woman has been appointed to head the judiciary.
She joins a list of new faces appointed to key positions since the new government was formed including Datuk Dr Noraini Ahmad as the Public Accounts Committee Chairman; Nik Amlizan Mohamed as the chief executive of Armed Forces Fund Board; Dr Hasnita Hashim as the Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) chairman; K. Saraswathy as the chairman of Skills Development Fund Corporation (PTPK); and Datuk Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin as the chairman of the Human Resources Development Fund.
This indicates that the government is paying attention, and the momentum of pushing gender equality must continue. The appointments also looked beyond placing women in policy making positions as part of the machinery, and not just as novelties or quota fillers.
“It is very encouraging that more women have been appointed to leadership positions with the change in government. This is a strong recognition of women’s abilities to lead while making a difference. It is also about recognising true merit, not only gender,” said chief executive officer of the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) Nurini Kassim.
Nurini, who assumed the post on January 1, 2019, also made history as the first woman to be appointed to head Bernama since it was set up 51 years ago.
Speaking to Bernama, Nurini said the merit-based appointment is clearly the case with the recent selection of Tengku Maimun as the Chief Justice — she is highly capable and well-qualified to the role given her years of experience.
Senior lecturer at the Faculty of Communication & Media Studies, Universiti Teknologi Mara Siti Najah Raihan Sakrani said the recent appointment of women into key policy-making positions was a courageous move by the government and should be emulated by the private and corporate sectors.
“I am sure that the private and corporate sectors also see this as a strong signal (to do the same). Many women are qualified based on merit. But merit alone isn’t enough as the government must be seen to be bold to take action and push the direction through,” she said.
Some of the other recent appointments of women to key decision-making positions include Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd’s (MAHB) appointment of Tan Sri Zainun Ali as chairman, Bursa Malaysia Bhd naming Datuk Shireen Ann Zaharah Muhiudeen as its public interest director and non-executive chairman and Datuk Zaiton Mohd Hassan who is now Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Bhd’s new chairman.
Najah said moving forward, the government needs to equip itself with the right capabilities and know-how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve goals set in its gender-equality agenda.
“Don’t focus too much on the barriers, just concentrate on the agenda,” she added.
Dr Wan Azizah had earlier pledged that the government would continue to be committed to increasing women’s participation at the leadership level.
In the public sector, the deputy prime minister said almost 36 per cent of those in the top management group were women.
However, as of last year, she said only 1,010 or 15.7 per cent of the total of 6,245 board seats in all public-listed companies were filled by women.
Among the initiatives undertaken to encourage more women to hold positions at the board of directors level include establishing the 30 per cent Club, a group of corporate chairpersons and business leaders working to provide various mentoring programmes to prepare women as board members. This was done with the vision of having 30 per cent of women as board members.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry would also continue to hold more engagement programmes such as the Women Directors’ Programme, to empower women so that they would be ready to carry out their responsibilities.
Ultimately, having more women at the helm isn’t just about equality — it’s good for business and good for the rakyat too. There are many women of substance that are ready to take on new challenges and they need to be given a chance. — Bernama