Appoint women into state assembly to fix gender imbalance, groups urge Sabah poll victors

Party flags are seen in the run-up to the Sabah state election in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah September 20, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Party flags are seen in the run-up to the Sabah state election in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah September 20, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — Two Sabahan groups have today urged the eventual winners of the upcoming state election to appoint women as nominated members of the state legislative assembly in order to remedy gender imbalance in decision-making there. 

The Sabah Women's Action Resource Group and advocacy group Rakyat is Bos said the need to have more women in the legislative assembly not only supports gender equality but will also promote women empowerment in decision-making in the political sphere.

They also said having women involved in the legislative decision-making process has an enormous impact as it provided a means to reform and revise discriminatory laws against girls and women.

“Strong women leaders often build strong communities and benefit the society as a whole in the long run.

“In a democratic system, legislators must come from various backgrounds to enable a wide array of issues brought to the table for discussion, consideration and for proposal accordingly. 

“As a progressive state proud of diversity and inclusion, it is a shame that Sabah is far behind in reaching at least 30 per cent women participation in decision-making positions as targeted by the Malaysian government in the 9th Malaysia Plan 2006-2010,” they said in a statement here.

According to Article 14 of the Sabah state constitution, the Yang di-Pertua Negri may appoint up to six nominated members to the legislative assembly on recommendations by the state government.

The group also said they were not surprised that not a single political entity contesting in the ongoing state election has met the international benchmark to nominate at least 30 per cent women candidates. 

They further pointed out that there were only 43 women candidates out of 447 candidates in total (9.6 per cent) and only voters from 32 constituencies out of 73 being contested have a chance to vote for a woman candidate.

“The two main blocs vying for state power, Warisan Plus and Gagasan Rakyat Sabah nominate women candidates only in 13 constituencies.

“Unless voters are willing to consider quality women candidates from the third parties or amongst the independents, the number of women assemblypersons would be at most 13 or 17.8 per cent of Sabah assembly. 

“This means a minimum gap of 12.2 per cent or nine assemblypersons or more from meeting the 30 per cent international benchmark,” they said.

The groups also cited a 2019 report compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization of national parliaments, which showed Malaysia’s ranking of 140 out of 192 countries (14.4 per cent) surveyed for women representation in the national parliament or lower house.

“Sabah must strive to be on par with countries like Australia (30.0 per cent), Germany (30.9 per cent) and Latvia (31.0 per cent) if not higher like Sweden (47.3 per cent), South Africa (42.7 per cent) and Finland (41.5 per cent) and not in the league of Cyprus (17.9 per cent), Gabon (17.9 per cent) and Turkey (17.4 per cent). 

“Women empowerment should be an integral part of Sabah’s regional identity as conservative

forces are pushing Malaysia backward,” they said, adding that Sabah must therefore stand out from being part of the sorry state of women under-representation in Malaysia. 

Last but not least, the groups also stressed that minority groups’ interests and priorities are often shaped by their respective economic, social and ethnic differences. 

“Without the participation of women, the legislative system in Sabah is lacking the diverse backgrounds and life experiences which enable the legislators to shape policies for the advancement of these minority groups,” they added.

Polling for the Sabah election is on September 26.

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