GE15: Of Women and Independence in the Political Arena

Women attending an educational programme organised by Wanita MIC. Photo courtesy of Wanita MIC FB.
By Bhavani Krishna Iyer

WHERE have all the women in MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) gone? The list of GE15 candidates’ name list came around and there was only one name in – out of the 10 fielded for Parliamentary seats.

An almost all-male camp? Does the party really lack women of calibre to be on the roll in politics or are the women themselves shying away from politics. It cannot be the latter as 10 women had given their names.

It may not be totally off the mark to say, from past observations, women in MIC are often regarded as showpieces, only to be seen and not to be heard. Isn’t it high time to change this mindset, especially when the winds of change are blowing all around.

Perhaps independence is what women need. To speak for themselves as nobody will and MIC Wanita, by the look of it, need to present a stronger case for themselves to the leader.

Often women end up working harder than their male counterparts to prove their mettle. The courageous ones sometimes make it but this often come with the price of being tagged as rude or arrogant, and the regular put downs from both women and men sharing the same political space.

But if women want to be heard, and they want to be heard in the political arena, they must push on, whatever names they get tagged with. They must take the steady walk, with their capabilities, knowledge and drop the shy and coy gazes, and instead take on their male opponents, rivals in the political force with grit. Only women can represent women well in many fronts, including politics. Especially in politics. They have to also be rid of the need for approval. One woman who seems to be doing this very well is lawyer and activist Siti Zabedah Kasim who will be contesting as an independent candidate for the Batu parliamentary seat in the 15th General Election.

Known for not giving two hoots about what anyone has to say about her, Siti says she is ready to serve the people and judging from the stand she takes on many social issues – and not just before election – she is one woman who is bound to get strong support.

Perhaps the disappointed women in MIC might want to think outside of the box on this matter. This, however, will be major shift for anyone. There is this business called loyalty to party (highly questionable these days), no matter where it is heading, and the understandable attachments to party sentiments. But, considering the short response given by the Deputy President of MIC that there were “limited seats” to a question on whether the party did not have enough women of calibre to be fielded as candidates for election, a shift in thinking may be more than necessary.

One or two questions that may help in the thinking process will be: “Is it about the party, or is about the people I want to serve? Can I effect changes within the party or am I comfortable being relegated to making tea at board meetings, because I am the only woman around?

If there is commitment to be inclusive, to put new faces, seat limitation cannot be the limiting factor in the selection of candidates. There must be a well balanced representation and parties must be brave enough to put new faces, and women. This applies to all political parties across the country.

A senior editor in a Tamil daily agrees that MIC is a party dominated by males and women are included only to perform peripheral (read menial) jobs at events and functions.

“It is a mindset issue with MIC and gender discrimination has been rife then and even now.” She also held the view that during Tun Samy Vellu’s time as the president, capable women had better chances of rising to the top but not with the current fleet of leaders.

Asked on why the women from Wanita MIC were not speaking up, she said they were also contributing to the situation. Many a times, when some women speak up, they tend to do it only for themselves and not in the interest of women at large, she opined.  

Meanwhile, a MIC division chairman thinks the seat allocation is fair. “We have only 10 seats and we had to made sure the senior portfolio holders from MIC are given a seat each and in that sense the Wanita Head also got a seat,” he said.

Nonetheless, he also expressed that Wanita MIC women should also not rest on their laurels. “They must fight for Vice Presidency roles within MIC, which will give them further advantage as potential candidates in general elections. Wanita MIC Head Mohana Muniandy meanwhile declined to comment when asked on the seat allocation.

How are other parties faring? According to a GAP Malaysia report, UMNO, the lead party in the Barisan Nasional compenent, has 10 percent women in its line-up, while MCA and PKR are better represented with 16 percent and 19.4 percent respectively.

The underrepresentation of women in political leadership is a global issue and this is inevitably linked to progress or the lack of it towards gender equality on many fronts. For the 15th GE, many non-governmental organisations and individuals have raised the issue of the small number of women candidates, made worse by some strong female politicians being dropped from the race altogether.

Perhaps the women who are in the running, might be able to change this course of poor representation of women by not only winning their seats, but winning them with a high majority. This might just raise the volume of their voice to speak for all women.