Women in Malaysia ( Past Writings)

This is from Prodigy magazine, back in 2003 I believe. another backread.

A few hours ago my mother sat in the car and waited for me while I got down and walked to a store to get some instructions to find this peculiar road where my peculiar relatives lived. This was far away from where we lived and my mother is pretty foreign to that part of town, and this realisation made me think, what would she do if I were not to return to the car?

At 11pm at night she would be a fifty year old with no idea what to do. She can’t pick up the mobile phone in the car and call someone she knew because she does not know how to work it, and neither can she drive the car home. My mom was and is dependent on me. It must be hard for her, I sometimes forget that.

That is not to say she is incapacitated. She is amazing. She gets along with all people, I mean with a second grade Tamil Nadu education, and married at 16, she could live in a Chinese squatter area with her children needing her and husband at work, and communicate and get along with all the Chinese speakers in the area. People like her kindness, and her work rate is just phenomenal, she still manages the house without a maid or with extensive creature comforts.

It is her I think mostly, always made me think of women being equals and never second best. To tell the truth, I was probably leaning towards them being better than men, while I was growing up


Then there is my sister. Associate Manager and all at the Multinational, driving her car and drinking tea in places of plenty. Which is wonderful, and does embellish the fact that women here have come a long way, and I say that not in the Neanderthal and patronising way of a male bred wholly in the barn of patriarchal Malaysia.

There is much to be done still to improve the lot of women. I used to be a little defensive when I saw the marching band of a particular Melbourne feminist group. These college girls would go for the jugular if you even remotely went to suggest the inability of a woman. The typical issues of language and debate about the sort of male powered language patterns the world is burdened with. It did seem to be a little too finicky to me. As much as I believe over zealousness clouds the principle issues in the long run, women in Malaysia may benefit from some ruffling of the societal hierarchy.

Women as a whole take the second class citizenry in Malaysia with open arms and I would actually like many to write back and attack the integrity of what I had just said.

Life as an undergraduate in UKM did waken my senses a little too strongly. At the annual campus elections, irrespective of the parties that the candidates stood for, the women were the bigger vote winners. Yet at the end of the day, when the student cabinet is announced, women are placed in less crucial positions like secretary and head of women’s affairs. Almost all projects except for those specifically for women is headed by men.

Half of me was amazed and the other half of me perplexed. The campus was filled with women, and the university registrar would prove exactly that. Why would they not bargain for more and if they are a little more ambitious plan for female initiatives to get more seats through their own candidacies?

Which brings me back to my mom in the car. There are personal developments that she was deprived of and therefore her accessibility would always be reduced in modern Malaysia, but what about all these women, educated and primed for success, what was their fear? It is not ability, for they have loads of it, then it must be confidence and institutionalisation of our societal pyramid that keeps women at bay.

I coach a University debating team, and the scholastic record of the female debaters is far better than the males in the squad. However it would take a lengthy time to get an opinion on average from the female debater. She is smart and she obviously thinks about the world she lives in, but social conditioning restrict her. As if she has to be absolutely certain before she can even say something about anything. Therefore it always amuses me when I have any of my girls tell an obnoxious male to shove it!

What to do then?

Fight the fear and institutionalisation. A fight that both genders should try to participate in, for it is wrong that women have been stigmatised by a history that has been dictated by male characters.

For example in cosy Malaysia, the removal of the Wanita Wings in all the political parties, in the main coalition or not. There is no logical reason for it. It is true fifty years ago, most women lived at home as housewives, that they had less education than men, and had little intellectual input because of the maladies. That is not to say there were no smart women then, it is just to say things as they were then made a Wanita wing, or Ibu as they were known then, understandable.

Today the demographic shifts do justify a full integration of women into the political structure. In UMNO there is involvement for women through membership in the Supreme Council, but it does not rid off the point that a sub-specification for women in Malaysian political parties does institutionalise and marginalise them in the political structure.

I think that is for the intelligentsia within the powerful women circle at upper echelon of our society to decide. Young women around the country await for the moral courage of these women to tell them it is okay to want more and to be as ambitious as the boys. Parity is not an unfair demand to make in any civilised society, in fact we can only be civilised if we seek for parity within our society.

At the grass-root level families can play their role to emancipate their female members. Parents are responsible in ensuring that their daughters do not become too afraid to live, and think that if anything was to happen to them, it is their own doing. It does happen. Parents who worried about the physical discrepancies between girls and boys, keep their girls close to home to save them from the evils the world unleashes. It is prudent to be safe and cautious, but to bar their daughters from so many activities because of the fear of things going wrong, will only reduce the chances for their daughter to learn more about herself and gain life experiences.

The mannerism at home also affects in subtle form. When the male children are referred to as potential breadwinners, what are the daughters to think of their own capacities? Or when the opinion of a son is preferred over the daughter’s? These things occur and most of us do nothing about it. It is not that the female child is to be preferred over the male, just that allowing the female child to have some self-esteem is not a bad thing at all.

Looking at the fate of my mother and sister, I look forward to the life of the female generation to follow in my family. In a world that is becoming more and more desperate and violent, the role of women to determine the future of the globe is pivotal. The Lysistrata’s spirit that resides in all women is a wonderful component that the world could do more with.

But in the end of it all, the improvement of women has nothing to do with what it can bring society, but should be powered by moral property. It is the right thing to do, to help provide parity to women all around this country, whether all of them are seeking for a more active role or not.

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