By Sherilyn Pang
INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day (IWD) falls on March 8 every year. It is a day to mark the global call to action to accelerate women’s equality and to champion their social, economic, cultural and political achievements.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) announced the IWD 2021 theme as ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World’.
Without a doubt, the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities as women face greater risks of infection and death, a loss of livelihood, and increased violence.
In Malaysia, the national gender equality level has deteriorated to 70.9 per cent as shown in the latest statistics released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) in December 2020, with political empowerment having the lowest score.
In addressing the concern, state executive councillor for women empowerment and family Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud said the Selangor government has allocated RM71.3 million to oversee and spend on the welfare and development of women in the state this year.
For a start, she said entities spearheading women’s development will be introduced under the Selangor Women Development Committee during the state-level Women’s Day celebration on March 8.
“We will officiate entities to oversee women’s development under the Selangor Women Development Committee during the pre-launch of the Ekspo Hasil Suri Selangor (HaSSel) Hybrid 2021,” said Dr Siti Mariah in a recent email interview with Selangor Journal.
HaSSel is an expo that showcases products made by housewives in Selangor. The state’s approach to women’s welfare is heavily guided by the Selangor Women’s Policy and Action Plan 2017- 2020. The policy outlines specific steps and action to create a more inclusive society for women.
Its goals include promoting gender sensitivity, uplifting women’s socio-economic status, accelerating women’s representation and decision-making in public and political life, improving women’s health and ensuring that women can be free from violence and fear, as well as have their talents appreciated by society, among others.
“We are the first state in Malaysia to implement a gender mainstreaming (GM) initiative in line with the Selangor Women’s Policy. We are promoting a gender-sensitive development framework,” she said.
The GM initiative works to assess implications for women and men at all stages and levels of policies, programmes and project implementations.
Dr Siti Mariah said GM is currently executed within the portfolios of the State Housing and Urban Wellbeing, and Entrepreneur Development; the Public Health, Unity, Women Empowerment and Family; and the Youth, Sports Development and Human Resource Development.
“Hence, ‘Capacity Building and Gender Audit’ will be carried out accordingly and a ‘Gender Action Plan’ (GAP) will be the outcome for each respective agency to institutionalise as part of the state’s administrative system. “GM ensures that the implementation of projects, programmes and activities will be based on the gender lense so as to ensure inclusivity for all communities in Selangor,” she explained.
Dr Siti Mariah said the state is also translating its commitment to empowering women via various initiatives such as the Kasih Ibu Smart Selangor (KISS) initiative, the establishment of the Selangor Women’s Empowerment Institute (IWB) and Women’s Empowerment Centres (PWB) that were set up in all 56 state constituencies.
“On top of that, we have a target to push for 30 per cent of women at decision-making levels within the administration in five to 10 years’ time. One of the actively running programmes is called the Women Leadership Academy (AKW) and it has been running since 2019 to achieve this purpose,” she said.
The academy, she said, runs mentoring sessions where participants work with selected female MPs and state representatives to build their leadership skills. “So far, 200 participants have enrolled in the academy,” said Dr Siti Mariah.
State Housing and Urban Wellbeing, and Entrepreneur Development executive councillor Rodziah Ismail said while the de jure and the de facto situation still shows a gap that needs to be narrowed down, the state government is focused on improving women’s quality of life.
“We are definitely working on higher female participation in all sectors. Presently, there are 20 per cent of females in the state executive councils, 23 per cent are people’s representatives in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly and 27 per cent are local councillors.
“In the entrepreneurship sector, Selangor nears the nation’s 55 per cent female workforce participation while women-owned businesses constitute 20 per cent of the total small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Selangor, which tantamounts to 20,000 female entrepreneurs out of the estimated total of 100,000 entrepreneurs or companies in Selangor,” she told Selangor Journal.
As Selangor gears towards its smart state ambition by 2025, key denominators towards achieving gender equality in all aspects will be the efficiency and effectiveness of state policies.
Rodziah, who is passionate about the exemplary establishment of a women-friendly city by the Subang Jaya City Council (MPSJ), said apart from building the strength and independence of women through economic-centric policies and programmes such as Niaga Darul Ehsan (NaDI) that enables female breadwinners to set up small businesses and the KISS initiative for low-income families of married women or single mothers, the state also establishes the Institut Wanita Berdaya (IWB), a think-tank, that drafts new and monitors existing policies to champion women’s rights and gender causes.
“The IWB runs internal courses for state civil servants to understand gender issues and outcomes, justice and equality,” she explains, adding that she is building a suitable environment for the progress of women by reducing poverty and increasing access to housing.
“My team and the Selangor Property and Housing Board (LPHS) are also preparing a new policy for affordable housing in Selangor. That policy is an improvement from the current Selangorku House Policy 2.0 (RSKU 2.0) where I am analysing all aspects related to women’s needs. It is slated to be launched in the second quarter of this year.
“Meanwhile, a suitable environment for female entrepreneurs means providing an adequate ecosystem for them to succeed and thrive. For the past three years, we focused our efforts on the food and beverage (F&B) segment because a majority of them run F&B micro-businesses. “I have also begun looking into (female participation in) the arts and handicraft spaces and am collaborating with other departments, agencies, non-governmental organisations as well as the Federal government to close any gaps or loopholes to provide a better future for our women especially in entrepreneurship,” Rodziah said.
She added that despite the financial constraints for entrepreneur development, the state administration’s ambitions for the women of Selangor will not be deterred.
“It is my aim to achieve that 30 per cent quota for women leadership in all levels of the state’s public and private sectors and for any form of harassment or violence towards women to be eliminated,” she added.
This article first appeared in the Selangor Journal monthly March edition, published on March 1, 2021.