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Gender Gap Index improved: A step closer to gender equality

The Malaysia Gender Gap Index 2019 was recently released by the Department of Statistic Malaysia which showed that our country’s Gender Gap Index has improved from 0.607 in 2017 to 0.711 in 2018, where 1 means parity. It is a good sign and I am proud to say that increased women empowerment in politics is the greatest contributor to this better score. This is a strong indication that under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, our country has advanced a step closer to achieving gender equality.

Indeed, women’s participation in politics has long been recognized as an important measurement of the status of women. Currently, women have stamped their mark in the Cabinet, the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara. Besides, it is a breakthrough as we currently have a first woman Deputy Prime Minister in Malaysia.

Looking at the statistics specifically in the domain of political empowerment, the score has increased from 0.697 in 2017 to 0.711 last year. Nonetheless, over the years it has been repetitively shown that although our country has achieved gender parity in education and health, women are behind in economic participation and political empowerment. Hence, it is encouraging to see such improvement in political empowerment. In fact, women in minister positions have increased by 8.6% to 17.9%, which is an increment rate of two times. Thus, it is a good signal that the trend for women to run for political positions and holding office is gaining momentum.

However, I would also like to reiterate that while such advancement is positive but still inadequate. More effort is needed. In fact, there are valid reasons that we need to increase more women’s participation in politics. United Nations (UN) Women have stated that women’s political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy. The participation of women in all areas of public life is essential for the full development and advancement of women. Women’s participation in politics helps advance gender equality and affects both the range of policy issues ad types of solutions that are proposed. Besides, the Center for the Study of Democracy Institutions stated that whether a legislator is a male or female has a distinct impact on their policy priorities. There is also strong evidence that as more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in policymaking that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families and women.

Besides, the fifth goal under the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has specifically addressed to need to achieve gender equality. Advancing women’s political participation is crucial in delivering on the SDGs. According to Australian Human Rights Commission, supporting women’s full participation in economic, social and political life is a key factor in reducing poverty, increasing the wellbeing of women and creating fair, safe and secure communities. Hence, it is also important to note that women’s involvement is not limited to engagement around only women related issues, such as childcare and family development, but also community development. I am glad that currently we have women who hold cabinet positions such as the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Housing and Local Government, Minister of Rural Development, Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment, and Minister of Primary Industries.

Nevertheless, I call for more effort to increase women’s participation in politics. Create more platforms and opportunities for women. Of course, increasing the rate of women’s participation is not, nor should it be, just merely in numbers. Increasing women’s participation in public life will help in dismantling harmful stereotypes and assumptions that impede women’s ability to play a central role in public life. Together, men and women to ensure that women are able to participate in leadership roles and decision making positions and that their rights, needs, and interests are taken into consideration.