Sabah women under-representated in politics – IDS


Adeline Leong

KOTA KINABALU (Sept 14): Sabah can draw invaluable insights from nations like Pakistan and the Scandinavian countries to address women’s under-representation in politics, said Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) chairperson Datuk Adeline Leong.

She said the overall percentage of women who are involved in politics remains low, despite the fact that efforts to enhance their participation in parliament started in the early 1980s.

Adeline said only 43 out of the 447 candidates, or 9%, participating in the Sabah state elections were women in 2020.

Despite continued efforts to advance gender equality, she said the representation of women in Sabah’s political landscape remains significantly inadequate.

“In the Sabah State Legislative Assembly, including elected representatives, only seven out of 79 ADUNs, comprising a mere 8%, are women as of 2023. Moreover, only three out of 25 Sabah members of Parliament are women, constituting 12% of the total representation.

“These numbers are not just statistics as they represent a glaring gap in the representation of women in our political decision-making processes that we must confront head-on,” she said at a seminar on “Dialogue on Tackling Sabah’s Under-Representation of Women in Politics” at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort here on Thursday.

The dialogue organised by IDS Sabah and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) of Germany, aims to shed light on the disparities in female political representation, explore the reasons behind this gap, examine the limitations women face and identify the right approach and policy implementation for women in politics.

Adeline said several European countries have implemented gender quota systems to boost women’s representation in politics.

“Sweden has spearheaded this system since the early 1970s, requiring political parties to maintain equal numbers of male and female candidates on their electoral lists. This has resulted in a high level of gender parity in Swedish politics. Norway followed suit, imposing a 40% gender quota for political party candidate lists. This led to a substantial increase in female participation in Norwegian politics. France, in 2000, introduced a similar system for legislative elections, where parties must field an equal number of male and female candidates or face financial penalties,” she disclosed.

She said this measure had significantly increased female representation, especially in the French Parliament.

In Asian region, she said Pakistan’s policy for women in politics has evolved significantly from the 1940s to the 2000s. In the early years after independence in 1947, Pakistan established reserved seats for women in its legislative bodies to promote their participation. A pivotal development occurred in 2002 during the era of General Pervez Musharraf. Under his leadership, Pakistan made a substantial leap by increasing the number of reserved seats for women to 60 in the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies. These reserved seats were allocated based on proportional representation, ensuring that women had a more substantial and equitable role in shaping the nation’s politics.

In his speech, Community Development and People’s Wellbeing Minister Datuk James Ratib said that women have played an essential role in moulding the social and economic foundation of the nation. However, there was a noticeable imbalance in their political participation.

“I firmly believe that progress can only be achieved through collaborative efforts and a shared vision for the betterment of our government. Empowering women to take an active role in politics is not only a matter of justice but a necessity for our collective advancement. “We must not forget our history, which is rich with stories of women who have shaped our state’s identity. From the wisdom of bobohizan leaders to the influence of Menteri Babu and other prominent figures, women have been the bedrock of our society. Let us draw inspiration from these legacies and build a present and future that aligns with their spirit,” he said in his speech which was delivered by his assistant minister, Datuk Flovia Ng.

He pointed out that the late Toh Puan Rahimah Stephens, as the first woman candidate and minister in Sabah, holds a special place in Sabah’s history. Her accomplishments have paved the way for other women to actively participate in politics and government affairs. The lasting influence women can hold in positions of leadership is demonstrated by her history of service and unwavering commitment to our community.

“Datuk Ariah Tengku Ahmad, who created history as the first Sabahan woman Deputy Chief Minister in 1994, has shown us resilience and determination. Her trailblazing journey serves as a reminder of the potential for change that women leaders can bring to the forefront. Her historic appointment underscores the importance of diversity and inclusion in our political landscape,” he added.

In recognising the under-representation of women, he said the Sabah state government adheres to the principle of empowering women and continues to encourage them to take a more active interest in the state’s social, economic, and political domains.

“Supporting and empowering more women in Sabah to engage in politics is crucial because diversity fosters innovation, and varied viewpoints enhance the quality of decision-making. Women contribute distinct perspectives, life experiences, and priorities that hold the promise of transforming our policies and governance. We cannot afford to ignore this untapped potential,” he said.

Also present were IDS Sabah Chief Executive Officer Datuk Dr Ramzah Dambul and the director of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Malaysia, Miriam Fischer.