The women of Umno

In 1995 two thirds of the members of Umno were women. And as national statistics show, twice the number of women to men are graduating from universities. So if the ratio in UMNO has stayed, then there is high likelihood that the party is swamped by highly qualified women who are not commanding key positions in the party.

After all a fair number of constitutionally Malay women believe their fate is bawah tapak kaki suami. And in that extension they are probably quite comfortable being led by men, and keeping it that way.

I am more than willing to listen to analysis that tells me how women in Umno are pushing the glass ceiling in the party, and that there is unwillingness in Wanita Umno for a male dominated party.

It has not been lost in the consciousness of the male leaders of the party, which would mean almost all the leaders of the party, that the women’s wing was the re-branding of the Ibu wing.

Do Umno men, still think of their female members as women first, politicians second?

I’ve always maintained that the man in Umno are always happy with things that keep their position of power intact, and having the majority of their party members as non-threats in all types of elections in the party must be a real attraction.

Umno women have always intrigued me. I have seen Umno males take the pisser at all leaders and more so in times of great turmoil like in 87. Today, taking the mickey out of their leaders is common place. Yet the Umno women, well at least the ones I know keep a steady strong commitment to the party and stay loyal to the party and its leaders, all of them.

I ask myself then, a) are these women happy with this arrangement b) Are women selling themselves out by accepting subservience? c) What shall they do?


My gut feeling is no, but I’ve decided to suspend my own isolated think and look at Malaysia as it is, and what would be happiness.

Umno is a political party, and therefore only part of the political spectrum and more so only part of the various forms of human assembly. People do want to get together, many might just not want it to be political.

That seems to be an oversimplification. They have joined Umno, therefore the question of happiness still remains.

And if we factor more and more educated women are getting into the women wings (wanita and puteri) then it is likely they are equally ambitious in their politics.

But this ‘ambition’ is not a constant for everyone.

However I have a had time reconciling an ambition for these doctors, lawyers, managers to be limited to being supportive to men, just because they are women.


If happiness is in political potential fulfilled, then taking a backseat is subservience.

Slaves in cotton growing Texas before the civil war will be learning all types of agricultural skills, because they are involved in growing cotton.

So slaves don’t hate cotton growing, they hate being enslaved in order to grow the cotton for a human master.

Serving the party is fine, but serving it in order to keep the many males in the party strong and relevant is pseudo-slavery.


No change happens without ruffling others.

It is a tautology today, having women in the workplace, but chuck yourself back four decades in this country and most people in this country including women would have opposed women in the workplace. Husbands would not have been amused to have wives who have commitments other than their man and children.

And so on.

Every change that has led to women having the life they have today has irked a substantial number of people. This is the nature of human beings, of not wanting to lose out. And change makes someone always lose out.

I am not arguing for the women wings to dissolve. Even in the west there are caucuses and networks within political parties for minorities. The Democratic party has a women’s caucus and also a black caucus.

The difference between that and what occurs in Umno is that over there their membership in the caucus is not the basis of their membership.

A black man is black of course, but he is also a man, and he might be middle aged and he might be from California. All those are dimensions of him. His participation in the body politic must be direct, with his ethnicity being a special interest. Not that his participation in the body politic is through his ethnic special interest group.

He does have to talk about Californian environmental interests through the black caucus. He can speak it through the national and state forum.

The Ibu, now wanita and with puteri, the efforts seem to closet the women of Umno into compartments rather than letting them have a run for party management.

Things will only change when women push for equal opportunities in their party, not separate but equal arrangements, which of course fail. A smattering of women in the party supreme council and a few gal ministers in a bucket of crowded male ministers is not palatable at all.

Charles de Gaulle said that things can only change when people are determined to have those changes, and hope for those changes.

The wanita and now the puteri track is not that way. It only fosters more institutional chaining of these women into fixed support roles. Just because Rafidah Aziz shouts at people, does not mean the women are equal partners in the party.

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