The Struggles of Malaysian Women

By Siti Abdul-Muttalib

“Only boys are allowed to be Scouts!” This was the rule proclaimed after I asked permission to join the Scouts’ team when I was 13 years old, back in 1996. As more and more secondary schools granted female students the right to be part of a Scout team, I was startled with this decision which decreed that no girls were allowed to join and it struck me as discriminatory. For him, a Scout team is male-dominated and requires much physical strength. This so-called “unjust ruling” left me with the choice of joining either the Girl Guides or St. John Ambulance: I chose the latter. Since that life-changing event, I became more critical and defensive towards gender dynamics because, prior to this, I had always been made to believe that boys were superior and that undervaluing and belittling girls is correct to be commonly accepted. Likewise, I used to be convinced that in a male-centric field, women are supposed to passively accept what occurs around them. A woman cannot be as dominant, aggressive, competitive or outspoken as a man, and if she is, she will be stereotyped, scrutinised and discriminated against by others. But it is unexceptional if a man is any of these things.

I am neither a female chauvinist nor a sexist so to speak, but I believe in equality for all. I live in a country that has yet to give equal rights to women. Despite the fact that rapid steps to address Malaysian women’s issues are being taken, there is still a long way to go  most notably in areas where women are hindered in reaching high-ranking positions, and where equal political participation is concerned, women remain underrepresented. Discrimination; patriarchal attitudes and perpetuating stereotypes towards women; violation of women’s right; gendered constraints due to women’s reproductive roles; different retirement ages, such as in the case of female flight attendants on the National airline (MAS). These are merely some examples of a never-ending list of unequal practices.

Ironically, Malaysia celebrated its 57th Independence Day this year but, overall, the concerted efforts to address women’s issues are not proportional to women’s invaluable contribution and plethora of efforts to the nation’s accelerated economic growth and rapid development.

Nonetheless, what appeals to me most is how globalisation affects Malaysia and has implications from a gender perspective. Globalisation has different interpretations and meanings. It is crucial to consider the consequences globalisation will have on gender mainstreaming and policy formation. It is vital to identify globalisation and examine the qualitative changes that could affect women. And if globalisation does have a positive impact, why are Malaysian women still not equal to their male counterparts? Before dealing with the conditions of development, we must take into account the consequences and intricacies that this will bring to society in terms of gender. Any assessment of the merits and perilous effects of globalisation would be inadequate if differences between women and men are not taken into account. Gender-based differences are significant in the formulation of effective and efficient strategies and action plans. The alarming question that we have to ask ourselves is how can we utilise and re-design the forces of globalisation to further empower women? And how long will it take for Malaysian women to be accepted as first class citizens? It seems like the journey to victory is still impenetrable.

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