Sunday, February 28, 2010

Malaysian Women on top

THERE is an old German phrase, "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche" to describe the role and place of women in society in the 19th century. "Children, kitchen, church" were all women were good for. But times have changed, and the use of such a phrase would be anathema to the 21st century. So, when concern was expressed about there being more women than men in the civil service, one wondered whether Malaysia had fallen into a time-tunnel going backwards.

Cuepacs secretary-general Ahmad Shah Mohd Zin was worried the "dominance" of women in the civil service would have long-term implications on the development of the country. He even went so far as to redefine the government's 30 per cent policy on women in the civil service, saying that women were only supposed to make up that amount, and not more. But he mistook this quota for a maximum allotment. The policy is meant as an enabling and positive discrimination, to encourage the participation of more women. It was never meant to be a disabling policy to put a limit on how many women can be involved in government.

Such blinkeredness can blind leaders to the real gender-gap problems in this country. For the truth is that women are far behind in being equal to men. Women are seriously under-represented in leadership and policy-making positions. True, there may be a swarm of female clerks and secretaries and teachers, but there are only two female secretary-generals out of 24 ministries, 12 female director-generals out of 70 departments, and 11 female chief executives out of 71 federal statutory bodies.

In the judiciary, none of the top-four positions is held by a female. Out of seven Federal Court judges, only one is female. Out of 21 Court of Appeal judges, only two are female. And out of 44 High Court judges, only 15 are female. There are as yet no female judges in the syariah courts. And in the Executive, there are only two female federal cabinet ministers out of 29 positions, and only eight female deputy ministers out of 40 positions. In the Legislature, there are only 22 female members of parliament out of 222. Women make up half of this country's population. Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution may say women and men are equal in law, but this should be reflected in real life, too. Editorial, New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

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