A New Malaysia: Where do Women and Politics Come In?

Share on WhatsApp Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

With election fever still lingering on, have you been noticing more Malaysians talking about politics than ever before?

And against the backdrop of a Malaysia with a brand new government, why should more women get more political? What does it mean for Malaysian women if they get more involved in politics – do they necessarily have to join a political party, for example?

Women and Political Awakening

The very essence of politics is about challenging the concentration of power. Challenging  this power is through the  constant negotiation and action to redistribute that power. Trailblazing pre-Independence Malaysian women are no strangers to this concept and action, as the Sejarah Wanita Project haven shown.  

Shamsiah Fakeh (1924-2008) who fought for Malaysia’s independence with the political party Malay Nationalist Party (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya). Image Credit: Sejarah Wanita

The Personal is Political

Politics and the lives of women are not separate. Until 30 years ago, domestic violence was a ‘personal family matter’ in  Malaysia. When a woman reported domestic violence to the authorities, there were no laws or protocol to help women who needed to get away from their abusive husbands. Some were even told to go back home.

It took the work of women, banding together with the late Minister of National Unity and Social Development, Napsiah Omar, to push for the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1994.  This historical feat was driven by women, and not men, because it is women who face the lived realities of gender based violence. It is thus also women who recognise the need for society to acknowledge and legislate against this heinous violation.

Politics Impact Our Lives

There are many more areas in which larger political events affect Malaysian women’s lives. One glaring area is the lack of childcare support that leaves the responsibility of care to women. This results in women exiting the labour force.   It is important that  national policies and legislations support women in order to provide ‘real’ choices of leaving the workforce. Countries such as Sweden and Australia that have laws and policies to support both parents have also shown an overall improvement in the well-being of the family.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality reminding parliamentarians to “keep to their promise” after the 2008 elections. Photo credit: TV Smith

No Woman or Man Is Ever Too Insignificant In Politics

Yes, we need to increase women’s representation in politics.  This is the best way to ensure women’s rights and welfare are better championed and protected. Nevertheless, taking political action need not be just about changing laws solely concerning women. It can also be about child-centred issues, such as education, or our shared environment such as protecting a park, planting more trees, or even producing zero waste. These political acts  can be done through awareness raising and/or changing the way our families live.

Have you ever voted, or signed a petition? Have you attended a rally, participated in a parent-teacher association? How about writing a letter to the editor to voice your opinion, handing out leaflets, or volunteering at the neighbourhood gotong royong? Well guess what? You are already taking charge and effecting change. You are already participating in power redistribution.

The point is that in a process where groups of people come together, there is no voice or act that is ever too insignificant. Even in a daunting sea of 13.3 million voters, your one vote, your conscious choice of what you want for your future in this country is an important act of asserting your significance.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
― Howard Zinn

The Crucial Ingredient for Married Women To “Do” Politics?

Throughout my differing levels of political participation,  I had one crucial ingredient – my partner. He understands that for me to be politically active, I need his support and encouragement. This was especially important when we started a family whilst both of us were holding demanding jobs.  He cooks and watches the kids when I had late nights, weekend meetings and workshops. He read my writings and provided clear feedback. Once we even organised a ‘day care’ with him in charge, to enable my friends with children to participate in a 48-hour national clean up.

I suppose then that for those who are able to choose to marry and choose their partner, this choice is also a political statement. It is a conscious action of finding a partner who believes in your values, just as you do in theirs. It is the coming together of values that will create a partnership that helps strive to make this world a little better for everyone.


Tze Yeng worked in advertising and made a leap to work in the non-profit sector. Fourteen years later she is contemplating her next chapter. She does this as her two boys, eight and six, raise her with their daily lessons in love and laughter within their organised chaos.