Lipstick, stilettos and policies
|Praba Ganesan is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Social Media Strategist. He wants to engage with you, and learn from your viewpoints. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan|
MAY 31 — “Why do young women generally shun Malaysian politics?”
The focus group was uncertain on how to answer. For them it was not the question that was puzzling, but rather the need to ask it.
After all, they were called in to shape some online strategies. I thought the question was central to any strategy, online or otherwise.
However to the collection of young activists from the party that day it did not strike anyone odd that all of them were males. There were 15 men in a room, talking about a country which is not made out of only 28 million males.
How do you win the votes of half your population, women, if they are not in the room where the discussions happen?
Narrowing closer within the female population eligible to vote, I’d like to talk about the band of those between 21 and 30 who have attended higher education. A substantial segment with its own leanings which has been generally under-serviced. And they cut across all the parliamentary seats in the country.
They are not just voters. They can be your campaign workers. Having the “most-liveliest” of both genders can turn a political centre vibrant and energetic, drawing others in. They can be your campaign manifesto shapers.
In politics you offer your policies in exchange for votes, having a more inclusive planning team would render your document far more comprehensive. They can be your candidates, providing the nation a better quota of those excelling in other fields already.
They should be your leaders. Malaysian leadership must be about Malaysians leading, all Malaysians leading.
But all that pales to the killer reply some who attended the focus group, that women, especially women do not care much about their country.
He said they did not care about politics, but saying you don’t care about politics is pretty much saying that you don’t care about the country.
But do these women care?
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It is a yes and no when examined. Let’s look at some things.
The cultural shifts over the last 20 years are key indicators about this group. While university entry was already favouring females in the early ‘90s — “The Spice Girls” generation — fast forward to the present, the chasm has grown even more pronounced.
When anyone speaks of fresh graduates being unemployed, they are speaking about a group made up in the majority by women.
But at the same time, of those who have found jobs, the majority are women too.
Our brain base, especially from those under 40 is women, regardless if they are unemployed.
There is also a by-product: The disparity of educational qualifications between them and males coupled with cultural norms losing orthodoxy has resulted in more single brown females.
The “no” that I mentioned earlier is related to the various hurdles existing within the system for bright young women. The women don’t begrudge the hurdles, for they pre-date the men in charge now, however they are completely entitled to loathe the lack of will to actively remove the obstacles or talk about them in the public space.
For example, in corporations, civil service and political parties most of the fast-tracking happens for those anointed by senior leaders.
These prized positions of special officers and CEO’s office staff, for instance, are gobbled up by males, as men are seen to have careers and women as those who can work.
Much more can be analysed about this, the whats and hows, but the summary effect of the practice is that though many women get themselves to the starting line of this life “marathon” they can already see a group of men running a mile ahead already. It convinces some that there are limitations, and others that caring is silly.
And then there is the “Ibu” (Mother) mentality in party leaders still. Not just that the women’s wing dismembers them from the main party debate, but that the men are convinced the party has a glass ceiling for women as a matter of purpose. That keeping women secondary is a pillar of the party, mothers who spare time to help with their husbands’ political work.
This pushes young smart women away from active politics here.
Then there is the machismo which has over-dominated national politics. Though the unnecessary roughness is often seen at events, it is on display online all the time. Any sense of decorum dissipates as cheap shots crowd the landscape. I’m fairly uncouth when the lads get together for a “boys do”, but the language and directness of the cyber-troopers defy madness. They are running amok.
All it does is it turns off many of the young female professionals. The fact some of these unsavoury characters are welcomed by parties on both sides of the divide is a poor decision I concede. Though they are providing mileage, whatever we gain from them, the opportunity lost vastly overwhelms it.
Plainly put, no party in Malaysia can claim outright they have the support of these white-collared females. There are enough proclamations by the expected agents, and the thing is, the agents are males.
Everyone is speaking on their behalf, telling the rest of us how they would vote, without having enough of a grasp of the larger part of that group. We have not heard enough from the group to know where they do stand.
I’d make another admission. Umno might have a clearer grasp of the segment through Puteri (Young women’s wing). As inane as the wing might be, it is active. An active unit is a valid unit even if the views are found lacking. Democracy is about participation and through their own way they have achieved the participating for x-number of people in that group.
The final issue I’d point out as affecting the state of mind for the young women with degrees community is moral policing. There are enough proponents of policing on both sides of the political divide on religious grounds. The women generally are not opposed to religion, but the male controlled process of policing. This is a tricky theme, but as in any debate about civil liberties, the lack of input in the implementation not necessarily the dogma in which the curtailment is built on, unnerves young empowered women.
They see it as a culmination of the over-politicisation of religion in the polling booths, and therefore a reminder yet to them not to bother with the situation any further.
They are at the end, in view of the political present, caught with the expectations of the past and their own expectations of the future.
They don’t see politics as the bridge to the future, they deem it as the problem of the present.
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So for party strategists, a voting group is there to be courted. Look at your manifestos about to come out, how much are they geared to these women, who are more specific in their needs.
As for the women themselves, though a fair number of them have trekked up the unfriendly hill which is Malaysian politics, the rest have to ask themselves if it is worth it.
That is for them to decide. But as they have probably learnt, expecting the boys to change and pave a way is naive. They better opt to getting stuck-in and getting their share of national leadership, as they do in most things.
The short-term idea should be to get more young women to vote, the real one is to get them to do more, for themselves in Malaysian politics.
I’ll settle for the vote, but I think the whole country will be better off if more of the best able women of their generation get into the business of nation building. They’d likely not be appreciated as much as they should be but they will change the country immeasurably.
Which is what I told the focus group. How can they show interest, when you never engage them? I said that ignore this group at your own peril, they’ll teach you a lesson at the polling booth.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.