May 21, 2018 / 11:19 AM / a year ago

Women sidelined in new Malaysian government, despite campaign promises

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Malaysia’s new government is failing to ensure women hold a third of its policy-making positions, despite pledges during the campaign leading up to historic elections this month, campaigners said on Monday.

An opposition alliance led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad scored a shock victory at the May 9 poll, heralding the first change of government since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.

Campaigning on a platform for change, the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) promised a wide range of reforms, including ensuring at least 30 percent of policy makers are women.

But activists are angered over the low number who have so far been appointed to national and state governments run by the Alliance, with none meeting the target.

“We are holding the government accountable to its promise. We want an inclusive society,” said Angela Kuga Thas, executive director of the group Empower.

She led a small rally outside the national palace in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where protestors held placards that read: “Women are ready to govern” and “We vote for change”.

Thas said female perspectives must be included in decision making on issues from fighting climate change to pushing for greater women’s and children’s rights.

Without women’s input, Malaysia risks enacting policies that are “conventional and patriarchal”, she said.

Of the 14-member federal cabinet, three are women including the first female deputy premier. Women are also being sidelined from positions in states like Johor, where only one of 11 state cabinet ministers is female.

A record 32 women were elected into Malaysia’s 222-seat parliament at the recent poll, up from 23 in the last term according to Empower.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks Malaysia 155 out of 188 nations in terms of women’s representation in national legislatures, below less developed Southeast Asian nations such as East Timor, Vietnam and Laos.

“It is disappointing,” said Yu Ren Chung from the non-profit Women’s Aid Organization, adding women ministers have previously spearheaded law reforms on domestic violence and sexual crimes.

“We must ensure at least 30 percent of women so they will be at the table when decisions are being made,” he said.

Malaysia was ranked 104 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap Index after scoring poorly on political empowerment.

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Jared Ferrie; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

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