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Collaboration With Diverse Groups the Way to Champion Women’s Rights

Malaysia has regressed in the realm of womens’ rights with child marriages still being legalized, and female genital mutilation being accepted as part of our culture, among other pressing issues.

Despite the Pakatan Harapan government placing far more women in key decision making positions than the previous administration, and having a woman deputy prime minister double up as the minister of women’s affairs, the country is still not able to move forward effectively.

Malaysia is placed 131st out of 145 countries on the World Economic Forum gender gap, an undesirable position for a high middle income country, said Musawah executive director and Sisters In Islam (SIS) founding director Zainah Anwar.

“It’s really not enough, I don’t think we’ve reached the 30% quota and certainly not for women in politics,” she said.

“The numbers are important because at 30% you have critical mass and that’s when change beings to happen. So women still have a long way to go.”

Zainah was speaking at a forum titled ‘Contextualisation of Our Changing Environment’ at the International conference ‘Islam Unsurrendered: Women Rising Against Extremism’ in Kuala Lumpur, organised by SIS.
“The fact remains that we are still living in a patriarchal society and women who are in power are afraid to rock the boat, and still need to strike bargains with the men who hold authority,” she said.
Zainah isolates the problem to be the combination of religion with state authority. Where the state gives full force and coercive power to religious authorities to impose religion on the rest of society which in turn institutionalises how religion is understood and practiced. That is where polarization begins.

“This authority is very often a male authoritative patriarchal conservative intolerant authority. You really can’t expect those who are privileged, who have benefited most from the privileges and the entitlements that they have to lead change.”

“Those in authority are not going to hand change to us on a silver platter. We cannot depend on them to make the changes we want.

She added that the challenge for those in the women’s movement is mobilizing on the ground.

“How do we mobilise the public voice, public anger, how do we make it safe for these women who responded to SIS’ National Survey, about the concerns and frustrations they have? How do we make it safe for them to speak out in public, to verbalise and make visible their anger and frustrations?”

“We really need to get diverse voices, to organize, mobilise and get the numbers out there, and make these people in authority realise that there is a political cost.

Ending patriarchy is a huge struggle and a slow process, but Zainah remains positive, and refers to the success of the Bersih movement and the support of the Group of 25 as they types of mutually beneficial civil society organisations that women’s rights groups should band together with.