MP brings her baby to work, makes a point
KUALA LUMPUR: Opposition politician Teo Nie Ching became the first Malaysian MP to bring her four-month-old toddler Jinger to a Parliament session last Tuesday.
She was following in the footsteps of Ms Licia Ronzulli, an Italian Member of the European Parliament who two years ago shot to the headlines for bringing her baby girl to a plenary session of the European parliament.
Ms Teo's gesture highlighted the fact that the Malaysian parliament’s building did not have a single creche.
Ms Teo, a first-term MP, pointed out that only 71 child-care centres have been established in government agencies and far fewer in the private sector. “This is far from sufficient and is highly unsatisfactory. Even Parliament, the symbol of democracy and rights in our country, does not provide such facilities,” she said in a statement. It is, therefore, not surprising that many women leave their jobs in the midst of their careers once they have children because Malaysia’s workplaces are still not mother-friendly, she argued.
Malaysia wants to raise the participation of women in both public and private organisations to 55 per cent by 2015 but activists have pointed out that the numbers remain dismal.
While women helm some of the top organisations in Malaysia including Malaysia’s Central Bank and its Securities Commission, they only make up 10 and 11 per cent of the police force and parliament. The World Development Report 2011 on Gender Equality reported that the average participation of Malaysian women in the workforce last year (2011) was at 48 per cent, one of the lowest in the region. Women make up 71, 63 and 60 per cent of the workforce of Thailand, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam respectively.
“Women account for one-half of the potential workforce of a country and the productivity of workforce determines a country's competitiveness. Therefore, closing gender gaps is not only a matter of human rights and equity, it is also one of efficient use of resources,” Ms Yeo Bee Yin, a member of the opposition Democratic Action Party told The Straits Times.
There is only one woman in today’s 30-member federal cabinet - Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, who is also a senior leader of the one-million member Malaysian Chinese Association.
“Having such a small voice for half of the population is just counter-intuitive, even before we look at the success stories of more female in policy-making in Norway, India and France,” said Ms Yeo.
The chief of the Umno party women’s wing, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, was forced to resign on March 11 as Minister of Women, Family and Community Development after her family became embroiled in corruption allegations.
Women are half the country’s 29 million population but still fight a battle for respect. Numerous sexist comments have been leveled at them, including having their bodies likened to a leaky parliament roof by male MPs. That prompted the Parliament to table a Bill that outlawed sexist remarks last week.
In the national budget for the coming year, the government allocated RM50 million to support women’s dual roles of raising families and getting them into the workplace. The allocation includes training 500 women as board members under the government’s Women Directors’ Programme and providing entrepreneurship training to single mothers.
But local women’s groups like the Women’s Aid Organisation say what is needed is a more holistic approach to help women go to work without worrying about their children at the same time.
“Not every parent wants to bundle their children off to work,” said Ivy Josiah, executive director for WAO. She said besides putting child creches in public and private workplaces, housing laws must be changed to make child-care centres compulsory too.