When giving women wings is no good

Photo: Bloomberg
Young women in Malaysia are yearning for a different role model. Photo: Reuters
Published: 3:59 AM, March 8, 2013
Updated: 8:30 PM, March 8, 2013
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If women’s rights activist Marina Mahathir had her way, political parties would do away with their “wings” — no more of these “old-fashioned” arms dedicated to the interests of groups like women or youth, for the “real power” lies in the main party.

“I personally don’t believe we should have wings at all, anymore. Wings are really old-fashioned,” she said over the phone from across the Causeway last week as I sought her thoughts on women in politics, her role as a woman leader in a Muslim country and the importance of flexible work arrangements.

Wings in political parties are “just a way of putting people in playpens and (saying), okay, we’ll give you this little playpen, you play there. But that’s not where real power is. Real power is in the main party and the main party is all men,” she continued.

Such are the structures in place today that stand in the way of women assuming a bigger role in politics — becoming Prime Minister, for example. In light of South Korea last month swearing in its first female President, Ms Park Geun Hye, I asked Ms Marina — daughter of Malaysia’s fourth and longest-serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad — if she felt Singapore and Malaysia were ready to have a female Premier.

Both countries are ready for any woman who is capable, “but the system won’t allow it”, she replied. “The system is that the leader of the majority party becomes Prime Minister. And so, a woman has to go to a point where, in Malaysia, she would be leading UMNO … to become Prime Minister and I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” she said.

“Technically, anyone can stand for president of the party but it’s extremely difficult because you have to get everybody on board to vote for you. And the guys are not going to give up their position,” said Ms Marina, 55, a social activist and long-time campaigner for groups discriminated against, including those with AIDS and HIV.

In place of a women’s wing, caucuses could be held instead, she said. “Women’s wings really create a barrier between that and the main party.”


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