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PUBLISHED: Mar 28, 2014 6:55pm

Ready for Wan Azizah? She deserves to be Menteri Besar


Mohani Niza

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail's victory in Kajang has generated speculation that she will be the next Menteri Besar of Selangor. Many say she deserves the spot.

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By Mohani Niza

If she becomes Selangor menteri besar, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will make history in a country which has long been male-dominated.

Lembah Pantai Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah Anwar,  PKR Central Committee member Elizabeth Wong and Batu Gajah Member of Parliament Fong Po Kuan are just among several women politicians who have faced mudslinging and double standards.

Consider the breach of privacy towards Wong when photos of an intimate nature were circulated.

In a country which still considers women as first and foremost mothers and wives, their representation in Parliament has been disappointing.

Women in Malaysia make up about 10% of parliamentarians.  At the state level, 113 out of 1,322 candidates were women in 2013 — an increase of 31% from 2008 with 81 women running for state seats (for full statistics, see http://euc.empowermalaysia .org).

Women’s rights organisation Empower lends its support to Dr Wan Azizah.

“It would be groundbreaking for women’s political participation in Malaysia.  Such a move will break the assumption held by many that the position of Menteri Besar is only for men,” communications and media officer Yasmin Masidi says in an email.

Dr Wan Azizah had proven her “worth, integrity, and ability” when she became Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s first president, she added.

Dr Wan Azizah’s race for leadership is made tougher when you consider the double-bind of gender and religion. Patriarchal interpretation of the Quran has long silenced the voice of women, according to Islamic feminist scholars such as Amina Wadud.

Wadud has long argued in her books, Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam, that the Quran has been misinterpreted by those who sought to legitimise power.

True Quranic teachings, she says, advocates “horizontal reciprocity” (mutual respect of genders).

Progressive Islamic scholar Wan Ji At-ta’aduddi says that the backlash against Muslim women’s political leadership is rooted in the assumption that women are emotional and not as intellectually capable as men.

He says the framework of old political structures simply does not suit the needs and reality of today’s world.

If you dig deep into history, you will find examples of women leadership in Islam, he adds.

He cites the example of Queen Balqis — also known as Queen  Sheba — who is praised in the Quran for her superior leadership skills. And there was Ummu Salamah, a woman who was consulted by the Prophet on matters of leadership, he adds.

The challenge now is for such views to be translated to public policy. And for Malaysians to review their attitude towards women.

After all, Malaysia signed The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995.

The world has seen it’s share of Golda Meir and Hillary Clinton. What is stopping Malaysia from letting women rise to the fore?



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