TAN SRI DATUK SERI DR AISHAH GHANI
Tan Sri Datin Paduka Seri Dr. Aishah Ghani (lahir 15 Disember 1923) ialah Menteri Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia antara 1973 dan 1984, serta Ketua Pergerakan Wanita UMNO Malaysia antara tahun 1972 sehingga 1984.
Dilahirkan di Kampung Sungai Serai, Hulu Langat, Selangor, Aishah memperoleh pendidikan awalnya di Sekolah Melayu Bukit Raya, Cheras, Selangor dan menyertai sekolah menengah di Diniyah Puteri, Padang Panjang, Sumatera Barat, Indonesia, dari tahun 1936 hingga 1939. Pada tahun 1940 hingga 1943, beliau menyertai Maktab Perguruan Tinggi Islam di Padang, Sumatera Barat, dan kemudiannya pergi ke London pada April 1955 dan memperoleh ijazah kewartawanannya dari Politeknik Regent Street di London pada Disember 1958.
Penglibatan Aishah dalam bidang politik bermula sebaik sahaja Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM) ditubuhkan pada tahun 1945, dan beliau menjadi Ahli Jawatankuasa dan sekaligus mengetuai sayap wanita yang dipanggil Angkatan Wanita Sedar (AWAS). Ketika itu, beliau juga bertugas sebagai wartawan Pelita Malaya, lidah rasmi PKMM.
Aishah keluar daripada AWAS pada tahun 1946 (AWAS kemudian diharamkan oleh kerajaan pada tahun 1948) dan menyertai perhimpunan yang menuntut kemerdekaan di Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, Kuala Lumpur, pada Mac tahun yang sama. Beliau menyertai UMNO Kampung Baru pada tahun 1949 dan dilantik sebagai Setiausaha.
Sekembalinya Aishah dari kursusnya di London pada tahun 1959, beliau bertugas sekali lagi sebagai wartawan, kali ini untuk Berita Harian, serta sebagai penyunting di Kumpulan Akhbar New Straits Times. Beliau meletakkan kedua-dua jawatannya pada tahun 1963 apabila beliau menjadi Ahli Majlis Tertinggi UMNO serta Naib Ketua Wanita UMNO, dan dilantik sebagai aenator wanita yang pertama di Malaysia serta wakil wanita Malaysia yang pertama ke Perhimpunan Agung Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB). Dari tahun 1967 hingga 1972, Aishah menjadi wakil Malaysia ke Persidangan Suruhanjaya Taraf Wanita PBB. Beliau juga menyandang jawatan Setiausaha Pergerakan Wanita UMNO Negeri Selangor antara tahun 1960 hingga 1972.
Pada tahun 1972, Aishah dipilih menjadi Ketua Pergerakan Wanita UMNO Malaysia, satu pertubuhan yang beliau mengetuai selama 12 tahun sehingga 1984. Pada 1 Mac 1973, beliau dilantik sebagai Menteri Kebajikan Masyarakat selepas persaraan Tun Tan Sri Dr. Fatimah dan memegang jawatan ini selama 11 tahun sebelum menamatkan khidmatnya pada tahun 1984. Semasa menyandang jawatan Menteri Kebajikan Masyarakat, beliau melancarkan Yayasan Kebajikan Negara, sebuah pertubuhan yang masih berfungsi pada hari ini. Aishah ialah Pengerusi Tetap Pergerakan Wanita UMNO Malaysia sejak tahun 1986 hingga sekarang.
Selepas kerjaya politiknya, Aishah menyandang jawatan Pengerusi Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia (1985-1997), Ahli Jawatankuasa Yayasan Tun Abdul Razak, serta Pengerusi Pusat Perlindungan Wanita Darsaadah. Selain itu, beliau juga merupakan Pengerusi Koperasi Jaya Murni Wanita Berhad sejak penubuhannya pada tahun 1975.
Seakan-akan ini tidak mencukupi, Aishah juga menumpukan masanya dalam bidang perniagaan, dan merupakan pengerusi dan/atau pengarah untuk sekurang-kurang tujuh syarikat sendirian berhad.
1971: Johan Mangku Negara (J.M.N.) oleh Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong
1978: Darjah Dato' Paduka Mahkota Selangor Kelas Kedua (D.P.M.S.) yang membawa gelaran 'Datin Paduka' oleh Kerajaan Selangor
1985: Panglima Mangku Negara (P.M.N.) yang membawa gelaran 'Tan Sri' oleh Sri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong
1986: Ijazah Kehormat Kedoktoran Undang-undang oleh Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)
1999: Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Selangor Kelas Pertama (S.P.M.S.) yang membawa gelaran 'Datin Paduka Seri' oleh DYMM Sultan Selangor
2002: Ijazah Kehormat Doktor Falsafah Sains Politik oleh Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
Hard road for visionary leader
Aishah Ghani: Never regretted her hard life in politics and fight for Malaysian independence. Picture: Bernama KUALA LUMPUR, 7 Mac -- WANITA BERHATI WAJA ... "Peranan kaum ibu dan orang lelaki sama," demikian kata tokoh politik veteran Tan Sri Aishah Ghani, 83, dalam wawancara dengan Bernama mengenai peranan kaum wanita dalam perjuangan menuntut kemerdekaan ketik
Melati Mohd AriffKUALA LUMPUR
Thursday, March 8, 2007
AT AGE 12, Aishah Ghani left her homeland to study in Sumatra. She went away with a heavy heart that day in 1935, but despite the tears at the receding image of her mother, there was a sense of satisfaction that she was doing the right thing."During that time, girls were married off young. They couldn't even think of continuing their studies," she says. "I learnt to be independent by 12, and from the outset I was inclined toward politics. It's only right that what we undergo becomes the catalyst to what we advocate," says Aishah, who turned 83 last December. She's not an idle senior citizen either. The Koperasi Jaya Murni Wanita Berhad chairman since 1974 makes it a point to come to office daily. It's her routine to be at her office from 9.30am to noon or evening. She has been active in politics for almost half a century. Her mind is still sharp when responding to questions on Merdeka and the fate of the Malays.Aishah was exposed to the true meaning of patriotism and nationalistic aspirations when she was studying at the all-girls religious school Diniyah Puteri in Padang Panjang. Indonesia, at the time, was under the Dutch and Aishah witnessed and felt the vigour of Indonesian nationalism and the fight for self-determination.Aishah recalls that the school's 700 students displayed high spirits though many had never seen their fathers who were banished by the Dutch."Many Indonesians were forced to become labourers as they could not afford the head tax imposed by the Dutch colonial government. From my school, I could see the Dutch army troops whipping the labourers."There were many freedom-fighters in Indonesia. We were often reminded that we would remain as long as we were still under Dutch rule. We were told to think of independence and participate in whatever movement to seek independence," continues Aishah, adding that she and her contemporaries were free to discuss politics and had access to many books on the subject.Aishah continued her education at the Islamic Teachers' Training College (1940-43) in Padang and then went on to London where she took up journalism at the Regent Street Polytechnic in 1955. At that time she was already married to Abdul Aziz Abu Hassan and had three children."I knew that we had to be equipped to succeed and learning English was important. To be prepared to fight for independence, I had to master English." Aishah was initially a teacher, serving in Lenggeng, Negri Sembilan during the Japanese Occupation. Once she had a very high fever and no medication. "I can't even describe how difficult the situation was then, you couldn't find rice, food, clothing and medicine. If you survived the Japanese Occupation you should count yourself lucky."However, her career as a journalist was more eventful. She started off with Pelita Malaya, the official publication of Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM). She was also a Berita Harian reporter from 1959 to 1963.On her involvement in politics, which began during Malaysia's road to independence, she says she has no regrets despite all kinds of tribulations. Aishah is a noted figure in the nation's political landscape, perhaps because there are not many Malay women during her days who can rival her achievement. Her involvement in Pergerakan Kaum Ibu (the precursor of Wanita Umno) was momentous.Prior to her distinguished role in Umno, Aishah was the head of Angkatan Wanita Sedar (Awas), the left wing of PKMM. In 1949, she joined Umno in Kampung Baru and was appointed secretary of Pergerakan Kaum Ibu Kuala Lumpur, which was interrupted when she took up journalism in London from 1955 to 1959.From 1960 to 1972, she was the deputy head of the Pergerakan Kaum Ibu and as the Secretary of Selangor Wanita Umno and also the only female member of the Umno Supreme Council. She took over the helm of Wanita Umno in 1972 after defeating Tun Fatimah Hashim who had held the post for 16 years. Aishah remained the lynchpin of the organisation until 1984.In 1963, Aishah became the first woman to be appointed senator, and on March 1, 1973, was appointed the Welfare Minister. Aishah was also bestowed many awards and was conferred a "Tan Sri" title in 1985.Women have contributed significantly to Malaysia's independence. Aishah provided an example where, during the stand-off against the Malayan Union, 10 years before Merdeka, the women came out in full force to join in the demonstrations."The role played by the men and women are the same. The women were frightened by the bad experience they had to go through during the Japanese Occupation. If women had just sat at home, they wouldn't have contributed much."Therefore after the war, when invited to stand up against Malayan Union, they came out in full force despite difficulties. "They carried children on the hips, spent their money, walked for miles. The women folk were never left out in the fight for Merdeka. They were strong supporters of the male leaders." Aishah's life is full of trials and tribulations, beginning with her journey to seek knowledge, living through the British and Japanese Occupations and her involvement in the nation's politics.Therefore when asked how she feels as the nation will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary, she replied: "Definitely I'm thankful to Allah, moreover in this advanced age I'm still able to celebrate the nation's 50th Merdeka anniversary."I'm humbled because I will be among the citizens who will celebrate 50 years of nationhood. "Probably there are not many from my generation who have the opportunity to do so. As for me I have been around when the nation was conceived, born and emerged as a prosperous and developed nation." Aishah says the struggle for independence by the freedom-fighters of yesteryears was not wasted as it gave rise to a nation that promised a glorious future as long as the citizens stay united and provide support.Yet, despite the 50th Merdeka celebration euphoria and the satisfaction she derived from her involvement in politics and Umno, Aishah is sad because the Malays are yet to fully benefit from the independence."We are still left out from the 30 per cent Bumiputera equity target. It remains at 18 per cent. Our hopes of seeing the Malays being at par with the other races remain a dream though various policies in favour of them have been formulated by the succeeding leaders," she says.In Aishah's honest view, she attributes this shortcoming to the Malays' attitude and mentality."The new found luxuries and too much entertainment have made the Malays complacent and they are not aware of their responsibilities. "Their lifestyle is neither forward-looking nor well-planned," says Aishah earnestly. Bernama
Tan Sri Aishah Ghani /E-man.
Kuala Lumpur :Cipta Publishing,2007.
52 p. :ill. col. ;30 cm.
Cabinet officersMalaysiaBiographyPoliticiansMalaysiaBiographyAishah Haji Abdul Ghani,Tan Sri, Datin Paduka Hajah,1924-
RAC 959.505092 EMA
(International IDEA, 2002, Women in Parliament, Stockholm (http://www.idea.int). This is an English translation of Wan Azizah, “Perempuan dalam Politik: Refleksi dari Malaysia,” in International IDEA, 2002, Perempuan di Parlemen: Bukan Sekedar Jumlah,Stockholm: International IDEA, pp. 191-202. (This translation may vary slightly from the original text. If there are discrepancies in the meaning, the original Bahasa-Indonesia version is the definitive text).
Women in Politics: Reflections from Malaysia
W a n Az i z a h
Women constitute half of humanity, and it follows that any decision-making, whether at the personal, family, societal or public levels, should be mindful of and involve the participation of women in the making of those decisions. Women’s political, social and economic rights are an integral and inseparable part of their human rights. Democracy is an inclusive process, and therefore in a functioning democracy, the points of view of different interest groups must be taken into account in formulating any decision. The interest and opinions of men, women and minorities must be part of that decision-making process.
Yet far from being included in the decision-making process, women find themselves under-represented in political institutions. Numerous challenges confront women entering politics. Among them are lack of party support, family support and the "masculine model" of political life. Many feel that Malaysian society is still male dominated, and men are threatened by the idea of women holding senior posts. In the political sphere this is compounded by the high premium placed on political power. This makes some men even less willing to share power with women. Based on the Malaysian experience, this case study will explore some of the obstacles that hinder the participation of women in
parliament, and propose strategies that may be used to overcome them.
The Malaysian Context
Malaysia is a federation of thirteen states and three federal territories. Nine of the states are headed by sultans, the other four by governors appointed by the king, known as Yang Dipertuan Agong (YDPA). The YDPA is elected from among the sultans by the Council of Rulers made up of the sultans themselves. The position is rotated among them for a fiveyear term. The YDPA rules with the advice of the prime minister and the sultans rule in their various states with the advice of their chief ministers. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy that follows a system of parliamentary democracy.
The prime minister and chief ministers are elected by the people through general elections held regularly every five years.
The current YDPA is the twelfth since the nation’s independence on 31 August 1957. At independence the nation was made up of eleven states1 and was called the Federation of Malaya. In 1963, Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation to form the Federation of Malaysia.
Women constitute over 50 percent of Malaysia’s 23 million people. Famed as a multi-ethnic country, rich in its variety of cultures, Malaysia’s population is made up of more than 30 ethnic groups2. Less than eight percent of the population was classified as living below poverty line before the 1997 economic crisis; the literacy rate is above 85 percent and life expectancy is comparable to developed countries. It has a bicameral parliamentary system composed of a lower house (Dewan Rakyat) and upper house (Dewan Negara). While members of the Dewan Rakyat are elected, members of the Dewan Negara are appointed either by the states or directly by the YDPA acting on the advice of the prime minister.
The National Front (Barisan Nasional or BN), a coalition of about fifteen political parties established in 1974 in the aftermath of 13 May 1969 racial riots, forms the government. BN’s core members, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), that earlier formed the Alliance Party (1955-1974), have been at the helm of the government since the country’s independence. While BN dominates Malaysian mainstream politics and the parliament with an almost unbroken record of two-thirds majority or more, the nation has credible opposition parties, including the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) and since 1999, Parti keADILan Nasional (keADILan).
Women in Malaysian Politics
In 2002, Malaysia had three women in full ministerial positions: the Minister of Women and Family Development, the Minister of International Trade and Industry and the Minister of Welfare and National Unity. In addition, women occupy other significant governmental posts that include deputy ministers, political secretaries, diplomats, senior civil servants, elected members of various state assemblies, and senators in the Dewan Negara. In the Dewan Rakyat, there are now 20 women members of parliament, out of 193 total members. If the number of elected women MPs is an indicator, there has been a slow improvement in the status and position of women in Malaysian politics.
Nevertheless, the presence of women in Malaysia’s decision making process is still far from satisfactory. Some women leaders have talked of gender parity in this context. And for the time being, women still find themselves underrepresented in Malaysian political institutions.
Table 1: Women Members of Parliament in Malaysia from 1955 to 1999
Election Year 1955 1959 1964 1969 1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 1995 1999
Seats 52 104 104 144 154 154 154 177 180 192 193
Women MPs 1 3 3 2 5 7 8 7 11 15 20
% 2.00 2.90 2.90 1.38 3.25 4.54 5.19 3.95 6.11 7.80 10.36
Source: Rashila Ramli. 2000. "Modernisasi Politik: Ke Arah Keseimbangan Gender dalam Penyertaan Politik?” In Abdul
Rahman Embong (ed.), Negara, Pasaran dan Pemodenan Malaysia. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, pp. 198-
There are at least five factors that form obstacles to Malaysian women’s
active participation in politics: subliminal discrimination against women; time
constraints; the notion that “a woman’s place is at home”; natural apathy and
aversion to political involvement and lack of adequate resources.
According to Rashila and Saliha3 there are at least five common factors which form obstacles to Malaysian women’s
active participation in politics. They classify the factors as, social discrimination against women’s roles in the public
domain, time constraints due to career and domestic demands, cultural and religious arguments that a woman’s place is
in the home, structural constraints within each political party that do not allow women to advance beyond a certain
level, and lack of adequate resources in terms of organizational support, personal influence and finance. Contrary to
popular misperceptions, an understanding of Islamic concepts leads one to appreciate the liberating possibilities afforded
by the teachings of the religion. In many cases, religion has empowered and enabled women to reach their full potential
and capabilities just as much as men. The experience of Malay women at the turn of the last century is a case in point.
Muslim Women and ‘Reformasi’
In the past, Malay women have been active in the public sphere. Che Siti Wan Kembang was a female ruler of the state
of Kelantan on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia in the seventeenth century. History tells us that Malay women were
also rulers of the kingdom of Aceh.4 For example, Ratu Shafiuddin, the daughter of Sultan Iskandar Thani, ascended to
the throne after the death of her husband, Sultan Iskandar Muda. In fact, Aceh was ruled by a succession of queens for
the next fifty years. On the islands of Maluku and Sulawesi, there were other Malay women rulers.
A century ago, Muslim reformers like Syed Sheikh Al Hadi, Sheikh Tahir Jalaluddin and their contemporaries in the
progressive Islamic movement - popularly known as the Kaum Muda - spread the idea that Malay Muslim girls should
receive the best of modern education along with the boys.5 Although initially these ideas encountered some opposition
from the more conservative minded, Malay society in general embraced this suggestion with open arms. Thus, even
before independence, Malay Muslim society adopted this liberal attitude towards its women and an open atmosphere
which encouraged education and the role of women in the public sphere. Since then, we have had women in the civil
service and in the corporate sector who have attained senior positions.
Therefore, unlike other societies, there does not appear to be confusion or significant conflict in terms of the roles
played by women in Malaysia. Our society has been fortunate in that we had these visionary scholars and intellectuals
who opened up avenues for women more than a century ago. In many cases, Islam has empowered and enabled women
to reach their full potential and capabilities just as much as men. In fact, in Malaysia the most politicized and politically
active group of women has always been the Malay Muslims.6
After independence, the first Malaysian woman to become a minister was Fatimah Haji Hashim, who was appointed
to be Minister for Welfare by the country’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Since then, women have tended
to be assigned either to ministries seen as “suitable” to their roles, such as the Ministry of Welfare or the Ministry of
Women and Family Development, or to junior ministries such as Culture, Youth and Sports, now realigned to become
the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Arts.7
The only woman who has been given a senior ministerial post is Rafidah Aziz who was appointed Minister of
International Trade and Industry in 1987. Even now, the proportion of women ministers or deputies, compared to men,
is very small, and still far behind the developed world.8
There is no quota system in Malaysia to increase women's political representation. At the party level, women are only
beginning to take up important positions. In the ruling party UMNO, there is only one elected woman member out of
the about forty members on its supreme council, while Parti keADILan has eight women elected its leadership council.
Besides the eight women leaders elected to the policymaking body of keADILan (including the president and the
treasurer), two keADILan state committees (in Sabah and Sarawak) are also headed by women.9
However, what is more important is that the dual political and economic crises of September 1998,10 acted as a
catalyst in galvanizing the latent public mood for reform (reformasi). These events also helped sensitize women to take a
more active interest in the country’s social, economic and political domains. This is proven by the active role of women
in the reformasi movement since that year. Women have clearly played at least an equal role with men in activating
programs carried out in the quest for change.
Women played an important and active role in the reform movement,
sensitizing them to become more active in participating in the country’s social,
economic and political issues.
Over the past three years, we can see the continuing role played by women in sustaining the endeavors for a more open,
just, and equitable society. The vigor with which they are carrying out these efforts disproves the often quoted cliché
that women are fickle and easily swayed. The sheer perseverance and tenacity of women in this struggle has in fact
resulted in a very natural bonding or synergy in generating strength and enthusiasm to work towards a fairer and more
just society and government in Malaysia.
As part of this effort, it is necessary to establish an alternative agenda that includes enabling women to maximize their
potential in contributing to their personal well-being and to the development of their society. It is necessary to create an
alternative forum that goes beyond tokenism that does not just use women as an accessory of the political machinery to
bring in the votes during elections. If women are enabled to maximize their potential, they will be able to contribute to
the empowerment of all citizens in society. This can happen without denigrating the social, cultural or religious
obligations that are part of every woman’s life.
While women’s positions in politics are one aspect contributing to development, it is important to remember the role
women play in other sectors of society. Malaysia’s experience has shown that any discussion on the role of women in
politics cannot be confined to only representation in formal institutions. A great number of women, after having pursued
their education to tertiary levels, choose to become homemakers. Although they may not be occupying formal positions
commensurate with their training, they are also contributing to the development of society by bringing up their children
and family in a more enlightened environment.
The common definitions of democracy and politics generally do not lend themselves to a woman-friendly approach.
The linking of ideas of democracy and gender is still an arena that needs to be further explored.
Obstacles Faced by Women in Parliament
The numerous problems facing women who enter politics in Malaysia deters many from political involvement.
Women themselves are less assertive and often have to shoulder additional burdens, juggling domestic responsibilities
and career concerns thereby making it hard for any but the most determined to succeed. However, a more relaxed
attitude is discernable among the younger generation and men now appear to be more willing to see women as partners
in both the domestic and professional spheres. Since political leaders tend to be middle-aged, it will perhaps be some
years before this change is reflected at the highest levels of politics.
The nature of political parties also hinders the political involvement of women. In general, it can perhaps be observed
that the comfortably entrenched parties tend to adhere to more conservative attitudes, failing to see and adapt to the
fairly radical changes taking place in society. It is the more dynamic alternative or opposition parties that have on the
whole given greater opportunity to women. Also, many political parties have few resources to devote to training and
education, including for women, because of the multiple pressures applied by those in authority.
Deterring Environment for Women
It is sad to note that female MPs and women representatives in the various state assemblies still face sexual harassment in
the form of disparaging remarks and offensive jokes made during parliamentary or state assembly sessions. There has
been no effective action taken to ameliorate such abusive practices and both female and male members of parliament
have not been successful in making any concerted effort to change the situation. Another reason keeping women away
from politics is that they often consider it as a male realm, and are often daunted by the hypocrisy and "dirty game" of
Strategies to Open Access for Women in Politics
Considering the conditions above, it is necessary to explore the strategies that women employ to access the public sphere
in the context of a patriarchal socio-political system. There are women who have been successful in subverting the
boundaries of gender, and in operating in a very aggressive male-dominated sphere. Could other women learn from this
example? It is important to note that many of the women who have been successful come from a background in the
political elite. Their background and class is perhaps the most important factor in their successful inclusion into the
political system. We can, however, examine whether socio-political movements provide opportunities for women to use
certain strategies that might be able to subvert the gender hierarchy in politics.
Certain forms of support within the society are important for the development of women’s role in politics, and there
are already many success stories of this type.
The most important is political awareness. Muslim women who had until recently been relatively invisible in the
public sphere are suddenly filling up meeting halls and organising campaigns for women’s rights, civil rights, human
rights, and for democracy. Prominent among them were women from the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM),
Jemaah Islah Malaysia (JIM) and various civil society NGOs like Tenaganita and Suaram.
The second is education, which provides the core of informed and competent female opinion. Thirdly, there are now
many women holding senior positions in the country’s civil service. This has ensured women’s input in the planning and
implementation of government policy.
Many of the NGOs aligned themselves with keADILan, and by extension, the Alternative Front (Barisan Alternatif or
BA), which is a coalition of opposition parties -keADILan, PAS, DAP and PRM - in the fiercely contested 1999 general
elections. Hajjah Zainon Jaafar (ABIM), Fuziah Salleh (JIM), Irene Fernandez (Tenaganita) and Zaiton Kasim
(Women’s Candidacy Initiative) were picked to contest on the BA platform. Such alignment between civil society
activists and political parties has come to be regarded as a feature of “new politics” in Malaysia post-1998.
It is also important to remember that we should look beyond the often
asked question of how to increase the numbers of women in parliament, and
move towards presenting examples and experiences of how women can
impact on the political process while working through a parliamentary
Malaysia, like any other country, needs to have balanced male/female representation in the public sphere, including
politics, so that women can participate in high-level decision-making. Having women at the highest levels of decisionmaking
not only means the articulation of issues generally perceived to be women’s issues, but ensures that the interests
and needs of women, who are half of the population, are given due weight and consideration. Beyond that, the presence
of women at these levels will mean that women’s perspectives will be easier to hear and more highly valued in national
discussions, in the direction of creating a more just, open, fair and equitable society. Without a sufficiently visible, if not
proportionate, presence in the political system - i.e. "threshold representation" - a group's ability to influence either
policy-making, or indeed the framing of political culture, is limited.
A Political Credo
On a personal note, I would like to end by mentioning that I never aspired nor dreamed that I would be occupying my
current position, in helping to bring about change in society. Some commentators have mentioned that it is a unique
position, borne out of exceptional circumstances that befell the country when the cataclysmic events of 1998 gave rise to
a public outcry for reform.
The experience in Malaysia has shown that women tend to take a greater interest in politics in times of crisis.
Certainly, Malaysian women have responded strongly to the events surrounding the political persecution of leaders of the
opposition. One of the most gratifying aspects of keADILan’s popularity is that a substantial proportion of its supporters
are women. As daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, they could readily empathize with the victims of abuses. As an
“accidental” politician, I share the view that the struggle for justice must be continued even outside the sanctioned
perimeters of elections held once every five years.
The cause of justice must be fought for vigorously at all times so as to create ultimately a government and society that
is not only just but that provides dignity to the people. Although my journey into politics was not a deliberate and
concerted plan, everyone has the right to use the arena of electoral politics to promote their cause. My cause is justice,
especially for women, and for the disenfranchised and other marginalized groups in society. I sincerely believe in what
the great sages have said throughout history, that the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. A Chinese
proverb has it that a mountain is made up of many pebbles and that the ocean consists of millions of drops of water. In
short, whatever the adversities and obstacles placed in our paths, Malaysia’s women will answer with the universal chorus
of common humanity: we shall overcome.
1. The states are Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu
2. 61 percent are indigenous Malay (bumiputra), i.e. 50 percent Malays on peninsular Malaysia who are Muslims while
the other 11 percent are Malays from Sabah and Sarawak, of whom some are Muslim but many are Christians and
animist. Thirty percent are Chinese, nine percent are Indians and other mainly non-Muslim.
3. Rashila Ramli and Saliha Hassan. 1998. "Trends and Forms of Women's Participation in Politics." In Sharifah
Zaleha Syed Hassan (ed.), Malaysian Women In The Wake Of Change. Kuala Lumpur: Gender Studies Programme,
Universiti Malaya. Pp. 88-104.
4. Aceh is now part of Indonesia, on the island of Sumatra, but was a powerful Malay state before the colonial period.
5. These men were notable religious scholars and modernist intellectuals who had received their education at the
prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo. While they were in Cairo, they came into contact with the reformist and
universalist ideas of, among others, Muhammed Abduh, Rashid Ridha and Jamaluddin al-Afghani.
6. In the period leading to national independence in 1957 these included Shamsiah Fakeh who led the Angkatan
Wanita Sedar (AWAS) towards the end of the Japanese Occupation until it was proscribed by the British in 1948,
and others in UMNO’s women’s wing such as Khatijah Sidek, Ibu Zain, Aishah Ghani and Fatimah Hj Hashim.
Fatimah was the first woman minister in independent Malaya.
7. The ministers are: Welfare - Fatimah Hj. Hashim, Aishah Ghani, Napsiah Omar (Deputy Minister); Ministry of
Women and Family Development - Shahrizat Jalil; Culture, Youth and Sports - Rosemary Chong – Deputy
Minister, which has now realigned to become the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Arts - Ng Yen Yen – Deputy
8. It also appears that the women appointed to executive positions in the government are seen as having been rewarded
for securing the support of women voters. In other words, the appointment of some women is not seen as based on
their personal qualities or professional capabilities.
9. Dato’ Hafsah Harun (a former State Minister) and Datin Saidatul Badru (the daughter of a former Chief Minister and Governor) are the leaders for keADILan in Sarawak and Sabah respectively.
10. This includes Anwar Ibrahim’s abrupt dismissal from his position as deputy minister, and his physical assault two
weeks later by the Inspector General of Police, while he was blindfolded and had his hands handcuffed behind his
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