GE13: What Women Want

Posted on 18 April 2013

Read the article in The Star


Thursday April 18, 2013

GE13: What women want



Vilashini SomiahVilashini Somiah

WOMEN make up half of the 12 million registered voters and 46% of the workforce, but there are only 22 women MPs out of 222 in the last administration.

There has been much talk lately about the government valuing women’s contribution, and improving their lot. These are some of the women issues that need to be addressed urgently:

> To amend the Federal Constitution to define “discrimination”;

> To amend national laws that still permit child marriage;

> To amend laws to allow Malaysian mothers married to foreign men to automatically confer citizenship on their children born overseas (which Malaysian fathers can do), and to enable their foreign spouses to apply for Malaysian citizenship;

> To amend laws to ensure that Muslim women enjoy the same rights and protection in marriage and family as women of other faiths.

On the ground, women’s concerns mostly centre around their families, and they share with us the hopes they pin on their elected representatives this general elections.

All the same

I have always been uncomfortable with public service announcements reminding us to be kind and respectful to one another despite our differences. This is the greatest fallacy indoctrinated into Malaysians – the constant reminder that we are in fact different.

Can’t we be reminded we are very much the same?

As a result, we do not practise equal opportunity towards women, people with different sexual orientations and the poor due to our inability to see one another as equals. Malaysia began as a country of many different people coming together to make it work. Five decades on and 12 general elections later, we need to stop reminding ourselves of our differences. – Vilashini Somiah, 30, post-graduate student

Inclusive education

I wish our education system is more creative in its approach; that it generates thinking skills and embraces all children, including those with learning challenges, in the same classrooms. Let our nation’s focus not be on getting ahead (with As being the focus) but on developing children who are strong in character, who can relate and give back to people.

I want the government to spend on teachers. Give them vocational scholarships (including for special needs education), open up exchange programmes so they can embrace new and fresh ideas.

I am also concerned that early detection of children with speech, language and communication issues is improving but still isn’t vigorous enough, and that help for parents is limited. Provide enough funds to develop early intervention programmes of a high standard for children at risk or diagnosed difficulties.

Include children with mild special needs into the school system according to their skills level, not age or physical dexterity. Allow and empower each school to have the flexibility to dare to be different so that needs can be met. – Pamela Thomas Joseph, 36 , speech therapist

Emphasis on English

I’d like better, more caring teachers – teachers who actually sit in class and teach, and not attend seminars that take them away from the classroom. I want more emphasis on English. To remain competitive, our future generation needs to be proficient in English so they can access knowledge through reading books and articles on the Internet without the need for translations, and converse well with foreigners. – Jasmin Choy, mother-of-two in her 40s, homemaker and administrator of a Facebook parenting page

More women representation

Women’s issues are continuously sidelined and only raised for expediency reasons. We need more women representation at the Parliament and state legislature who can help reform laws that still discriminate against women, ensure the implementation of progressive laws that can truly improve the lives of millions of women. Political parties must nominate more women candidates at winnable seats for GE13. Unless women-sensitive leaders are chosen, women’s issues will remain a low priority for political parties.

The issues that elected leaders should address are:

> Improving the quality of lives of the poor, especially the thousands of single mothers who have to fend for themselves and their children;

> Providing better childcare facilities for working women who have to cope with the dual responsibility of child-rearing/family and their work;

> Better trained enforcement officers to support victims of violence, like domestic violence and rape, when they go to report. The psychological and emotional impact suffered from such a traumatic incident affects her, her family members and the community long-term. – Loh Cheng Kooi, 57, Penang Women’s Centre for Change executive director

Improve quality of life

Racial polarisation is the biggest threat to our country. Just look at our schools that have become so racially divided. I grew up at a time when we never spoke about someone’s race in school. Our children and our schools should not be part of the game of politics.

The quality of education in schools also concerns me because our children are not being prepared for a global environment.

We also need a better quality of life and that means providing more quality green spaces for people to relax and spend family time. We really need more parks, not shopping malls. But there is a lot more money to be made in building shopping malls.

I am also an animal lover and I think the local councils should be trained properly to treat animals, especially dogs, in a much more humane manner. – Faridah Hameed, 48, international speaker and trainer

To be safe

I have been working against violence against women (VAW) for 30 years and, sadly, safety in the home, street and workplace is still a critical issue. Crimes against women are rising – we do not feel safe and we are not confident that all efforts are being made to reduce VAW.

VAW is a cross-partisan issue – unite and lead. We need intelligent and non-sexist leaders who want to understand the issue and commit to implementing strategies in all their constituencies to prevent VAW. There should a be a mandatory status report of VAW every year in parliament and state assemblies to review statistics and effectiveness of laws and policies. – Ivy Josiah, 58, executive Director of the Women’s Aid Organisation

Tackle crimes

As a woman, I’m most concerned about safety. There are separate coaches in trains and designated parking spaces in shopping malls for women, but there is still not enough done to ensure the safety of women.

I was robbed and sexually assaulted, but the police seemed to take my case lightly.

I want my elected leaders to take solving crimes seriously. – Thillaga Mohan, 27, physiotherapy graduate

Cheaper healthcare

My husband is bedridden because of diabetes and kidney failure. I am also diabetic and have high blood pressure but I am the sole breadwinner in my family.

My two sons are married and though they help us out, they have families of their own to support.

I have been working as a maid for the past 40 years but cleaning jobs are becoming scarce nowadays as many households have maids. I earn about RM1,500 a month, of which I spend RM300 on utility bills, RM500 on groceries and at least RM700 on medication. Even though we go to government hospitals, the cost of diabetic medicine is high. We barely have enough money at the end of each month.

My main concern is our medical bills. Each time we go to the hospital, we have to take a taxi and that adds to our cost. What I want is free or subsidised health care. – Rani Karrupiah, 50, maid

Better public transportation

I’d like my elected leaders to put themselves in the shoes of the elderly rakyat, whose needs are practical and basic. We’d like some independence and freedom to be self-sufficient without having to rely on our children to take us to hospitals for monthly check-ups and to the banks to pick up our pension. Easier access to transportation would be welcome. The bus stop at University Hospital, for instance, is located on the Federal Highway. The elderly and infirm can’t manage the climb up the stairs, so we are forced to spend on taxis. Better facilities for basic needs is not too much to ask for. It just takes some thought and planning. – Ruth Campbell, 75, retiree

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