Archive for the ‘Gender Gap’ Category

Parliamentary committee on gender equality boosts reform efforts

Thursday, August 16th, 2018
THE formation of a parliamentary select committee is a promising move to reform Parliament. As you decide what parliamentary select committees (PSCs) to form, we urge you to establish a PSC on gender equality. (File pix)

THE formation of a parliamentary select committee is a promising move to reform Parliament.

As you decide what parliamentary select committees (PSCs) to form, we urge you to establish a PSC on gender equality.

The Pakatan Harapan manifesto includes a commitment to ensure “the legal system protects women’s rights and dignity”, including to “review all laws relating to gender equality to ensure that every woman enjoys legal equality”.

Achieving this requires a review and reform of the legal system, which the PSC on gender equality would facilitate.

Forming a PSC would demonstrate Parliament’s commitment to gender equality, especially after the failure of government to fulfil its commitment to 30 per cent women representation, in cabinet and state assemblies, except eventually Selangor

The Manifesto Wanita, a civil society 14th General Election initiative, also demanded a PSC on gender equality.

This manifesto was endorsed by 47 civil society organisations and 18 political candidates or politicians.

The manifesto includes a promise to “make our human rights record respected by the world”.

The previous government did not fare well in its review by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) earlier this year.

To improve, Cedaw informed the government about the “crucial role of the legislative power in ensuring the full implementation of the Convention (Cedaw)”, and urged Parliament to “take the necessary steps” to implement the observations.

Forming a PSC on gender equality would demonstrate the new government is making efforts to meet Cedaw’s recommendations.

Many other jurisdictions have parliamentary committees on gender equality and women’s rights.

In the United Kingdom, the PSC for Women and Equalities examines legislation, policy, and expenditure of the government in relation to gender equality issues.

The select committee can call upon experts and hold public conferences when investigating and auditing the government’s performance on these issues.

Other examples of parliamentary committees on gender include the Committee on the Empowerment of Women (India), the House Standing Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women (Cyprus), the Gender Equality Committee (Croatia), the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (European Parliament), Senate Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men (Belgium), and the Equity and Gender Committee (Mexico).

In the previous Dewan Rakyat, a women’s parliamentary caucus existed , but it was established without a resolution by Parliament.


‘E-commerce a boost to female entrepreneurs’

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

EWIDER AUDIENCE … Janie Lasimbang (sitting, centre) with the organiser and participants.

KOTA KINABALU: Digital technologies expand with huge promises for women empowerment and strengthening the development of online entrepreneurship in Sabah.

Assistant Minister of Law and Native Affairs, Janie Lasimbang said micro businesses are poised to become a major growth sector in the future.

With that in mind, e-commerce marketplace can unlock growth opportunities for local sellers.

“E-commerce can generate more potential female entrepreneurs and can assist them in challenging times, she said at the opening of a seminar held at the Kepayan Police Officers’ Mess yesterday.

Janie Lasimbang who is also assemblywoman for Kapayan, said the modern way of interacting and dealing with trade is becoming increasingly complex regardless of place and time with sophisticated technology.

“The Government also strives to enhance the country’s digital economy through the digital platform provided and facilitates the process of communication and business domestically or internationally.”

Hence, she emphasized that the purpose of the seminar is a valuable opportunity and exposure to participants. The seminar is one such effort because it equips women with skills and knowledge in social media, which they might not otherwise have access to.

“Also they will know better how to leverage the various online platforms makes good business sense and it provides access to an incredibly huge consumer base, and knowing how to utilise social media for business can help enhance women entrepreneurs’ business acumen as well as operations. This allows them to promote their products and services to a wider audience,” she said.

Held for two days, the seminar was organized by Consumer Front of Sabah (Cfos) which brought together about 50 women entrepreneurs for. Topics focused on enhancing digital technology, in broadening entrepreneur’s ability to do business within the globe value chain.

Its secretary-general Hashima Hasbullah Yahya said seminar was organised collaboratively by Pusat Khidmat DAP Penampang and Persatuan Keluarga Polis (PERKEP).

The seminar aimed to help businesswomen to establish their brands and their online presence by setting up and maintaining active websites and social media accounts as well as online business etiquette.


Read more @

More women needed in maritime sector

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018
Women comprise only four per cent of the maritime workforce in Asia and the Middle East, compared with 51 per cent for OECD countries and 24 per cent for Europe.

MARITIME shipping is an integral and vital part of the international trade chain and relies on various components for its smooth and safe functioning.

However, the increasing shortage of maritime talent in both operational and leadership roles threatens the sustainability of the sector. The International Chamber of Shipping’s Manpower Report 2015 estimates a shortage of 147,500 qualified and competent seafarers by 2025.

While women comprise 50 per cent of global talent, the International Transport Workers Federation estimates that they form only two per cent of the 1.25 million seafarers worldwide. Most women seafarers are employed in non-technical positions on passenger ships, while women shipmasters, chief engineers, and other officers are few.

Due to it being a traditionally male-dominated sector, women are either unaware of the diverse and rewarding career prospects within the maritime sector or are discouraged from participating because of entrenched social and cultural biases against them in maritime careers as well as gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Shipping companies are also reluctant to employ female seafarers due to practical obstacles, superstitions, and the perception that they are not as capable as men in handling the rigours of the maritime world. With such obstacles, it is no wonder that women receive little or no support from family and society for a career at sea.

The lack of women role models with long and successful maritime careers, in addition to inadequate access to maritime education and training, also make it more challenging for women to participate in the maritime sector, let alone strive towards leadership positions within it.

For the past 30 years, the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) global programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector has worked to address these challenges.

The programme focuses on improving access to maritime education and training for jobs at sea as well as careers in maritime administration, ports, and maritime training institutes.

It also supports the establishment of regional associations for women in the maritime sector across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands in creating a global platform to discuss gender issues, provide opportunities for mentoring, networking and continued professional development, as well as in spearheading the promotion of maritime careers at sea and onshore.

Currently, women comprise only four per cent of the maritime workforce in Asia and the Middle East compared to 51 per cent for OECD countries and 24 per cent for Europe.

The Marine Department Malaysia, with the support of the Ministry of Transport and the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, established the Women in Maritime Association (MyWIMA) in 2017 in response to the IMO’s call have stronger representation of women in the maritime sector in Asia.

MyWIMA serves as the National Chapter of Women in Maritime Associations to implement the IMO Integration of Women in Maritime programme in Malaysia. It also collaborates with regional associations for women in maritime through Women in Maritime Association for Asia (WIMA-Asia).

MyWIMA seeks to enhance the role of women in this sector by allowing greater access to a global network of support, sharing of experiences and expertise, and contribute to continued professional development.

It serves as a vehicle to harness their collective expertise and experience in contributing to the formulation of more effective maritime policies and in promoting Malaysia as a maritime nation. MyWIMA is open to Malaysian women involved in the maritime and marine sectors and encourages their participation in areas such as the marine environment and resources, administration, training, and in regulatory and decision-making roles.

Towards this end, MyWIMA will be hosting a Regional Conference on Women in Maritime Asia in Kuala Lumpur in November 2018. The conference aims to strengthen regional linkages among WIMA-Asia chapters and harmonise a regional work programme. It will be a platform for discussions on how women in maritime Asia can contribute towards better ocean governance in the region and globally.

More importantly, the conference offers the opportunity for women in the maritime world to identify role models and to establish support networks that are essential for realising their full potential.

MyWIMA, in collaboration with the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, is also developing a database of women in the maritime sector aimed at determining their demographics in the sector and in compiling a professional directory of women for promotion and networking.

By Amy Aai Sheau Ye.

Read more @

A lady of firsts

Sunday, June 24th, 2018
SHE walks in quickly, all smiles and no airs, and sits down, apologising as she does for not shaking our hands. Malaysia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister is a woman in a hurry. So much to do, so little time is the impression one gets.

In some ways, things have come full circle, for it has been nearly two full decades since her husband was shockingly ejected from the Deputy Prime Minister’s chair.

Now he is free from jail, and she is in the thick of things in the new government.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail may be a symbol of the Reformasi movement, but she has no intention of being a symbolic appointmen

“This ministry is not just for women per se, I think it’s for all Malaysians in a way. Women hold up half the sky, and men are in the equation too. I want to focus and emphasise the family unit, and how it’s important for the roles of men and women to be complementary.”

She cites her mother as a role model.

“She was formerly an educator. But she brought us up with the idea that it is important to study, to have good manners, and plan for the future. Those are quiet values that shape who we are.”

Of course, not every plan of the Pakatan Harapan government has taken off without a hitch, she concedes.

“We wanted to do the EPF contributions but then there is Section 51 that we cannot go against, so we have to work around it.

“I even asked the Finance Minister, ‘Can we have just a volunteer section, about 30,000 husbands contributing for housewives?’ but it’s still not that easily done because it can incur costs.”

Then there is the women’s representation issue – Pakatan’s manifesto called for at least 30% of the country’s policy makers to be women but that has not happened in the state excos.

“It is a target that we talk about. I spoke to the PM yesterday; he did mention, he was thinking of how to get the cabinet balanced and how to consider different parties, and I looked at him and said ‘and women too’.

“There are some new phases and changes in the Cabinet coming, but I also want to add that we want women to be recruited based on capability and their qualification, not just because of gender.”

Dr Wan Azizah says that the global reaction to the #MeToo movement has brought fresh attention to the need for a sexual harassment act.

“Women do not like to be treated as sex subjects. You should treat us with dignity, and respect. At the moment, we as employees are protected at the workplace. But outside work, there is a gap.””

Dr Wan Azizah also moots the possibility of setting up a women empowerment and leadership institute.

“All of these things are on the cards – that we want to be something, make a change and difference in society.”

At the same time, Dr Wan Azizah says the public should take note of the Domestic Violence Act 2017, as among the amendments coming into effect this year, was the Emergency Protection Order, under which protection must be given to the victim within 24 hours.

Previously, victims were only able to seek protection under the interim protection order issued by the court. This meant that, in the past, victims weren’t able to seek protection during weekends.

According to Dr Wan Azizah, officers from the Social Welfare Department (JKM) will be placed on call 24/7 to assist victims.

“The victims will then be taken away from their aggressors and they will be removed from adverse situations and conditions,” she adds. She also points out the Penghunian Ekslusif Kediaman (Exclusive Residential Rights) as enshrined in the Act, where alleged aggressors must vacate the house of the victim, should he or she decides to return home.

“There’s at least something. Not many people know about that. If you have an abusive husband, he has to leave the premises.””

With the Women Ministry under her helm, Dr Wan Azizah says the Indira Ghandi custodial episode will not be forgotten, as she will be pushing for justice over the matter.

“You can’t interfere with the Federal Court. If the Federal Court has already made a decision, the parent has to give way,” she notes. On children’s safety, Dr Wan Azizah says the presence of a public child sex offenders’ database could prevent paedophile cases in the future.

“I think it’s important. Otherwise, we will go through again the painful episode of Richard Huckle,” she says, referring to a serial paedophile who preyed on impoverished Malaysian childen.

In noting that the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 was passed last year, Wan Azizah stresses that public awareness and understanding is imperative.

“A law is just a law. It is how people make use of it that will show its effectiveness. That is why awareness is very important.”

By Tarrence Tan
Read more @

We can boost women power

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

MALAYSIA’s commitment and dedication to the advancement of women is evident in many of its programmes and policies in the last three decades.

But, while there is progress, it is not fast enough. Many women have broken the glass ceiling, but in some cases, it is only a temporary effect.

Up to June last year, women accounted for just 17.9 per cent of the boards of directors in the top 100 listed companies on Bursa Malaysia.

What is it that holds women back from contributing their full selves?

A study by the World Bank on Malaysian women participation in the workforce found a pattern that suggested Malaysian women older than 26 were more sensitive to life-cycle transitions as compared with other countries.

Married women, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas, participate the least in the workforce.

Malaysian women retire earlier than their male counterparts, which the World Bank attributes to women being caught in a double burden syndrome of managing the home and caring for their children, or the elderly, even if they hold full-time jobs.

Countries that offer paternity leave are the most successful in closing the wage gap between men and women. FILE PIC

Another contributing factor is that women who leave the workforce after the age of 26 will never return.

Sadly, not only is 26 the prime age to have children, it is also the prime age to build a career.

With a great number of women leaving the workforce to focus on family, the pool of women talent to fill top management jobs also shrinks.

It is also relevant to take into account that mothers, by default, are seen to be the primary, and sometimes only, caregiver, as per entrenched in our labour laws.

Women are entitled to 60 days of maternity leave under the law, but there is no provision for paternity leave.

Although certain private companies offer three to five days of paternity leave at their discretion, and government offices mostly offer seven to 14 days, this is insufficient for husbands to be a partner to their wives in raising their children.

There are, however, companies that offer one-month paternity leave.

The recommendations by the government to increase maternity leave to 90 days during the tabling of the 2018 Budget is laudable.

The Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (Serata) supports the recommendation by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and Malaysian Trades Union Congress to extend paternity leave to one month.

Studies done by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have shown that gender inequality in unpaid care work is the missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes, such as labour force participation, wages and job quality.

Serata believes that to achieve gender parity at work, we must first tackle the inequality in the labour law and workplace policies by including paternity leave.

It will reduce gender inequality in the home by encouraging men to be more active in childcare, as per a study of four OECD countries.


Read more @

Are you a Gen X, Gen Y or Gen Z at heart?

Friday, January 19th, 2018
A new generation has begun to enter the workforce today: Gen Z

A new generation has begun to enter the workforce today: Gen Z

You’ve read countless articles about “your generation” but every time you do, you stumble on some trait that just doesn’t seem quite right.
Well perhaps, it’s more than just clumps of years that differentiate Gen X, Y, and Z. Just like age is sometimes really just a number, let’s explore the traits of each generation to reveal your true one at heart.
Gen X - If your motto in life is work hard, play hard, you’re most likely a Gen X. You grew up in a society with elevating divorce rates pushing you to maturity at a young age. You’re sceptical, highly independent and have perfected the art of adulthood while still retaining childlike qualities at heart.
Gen Y – You’re a chameleon. You are one of the most adaptable generations. Take music for example. You embraced your parent’s records, you listened to cassettes (first on your radio and then on your Walkman), moved on to CDs and then to MP3s and now online streaming. You’re sophisticated, diverse and have an innate desire to change the world.
Gen Z- You have a personal, diverse, complicated and an inherent bond with the internet. Basically, you cannot live without it. You are a speed learner, constantly evolving along with technology and you grow up so fast, too fast at times.
Work Ethics
Gen X – As a member of one of the best-educated generations, you expect a job that not only offers work-life balance but also provides opportunities for individual advancement. Is the company stable? Am I satisfied with the daily tasks given to me? These are some of the questions you ask yourself about work.
Gen Y – With a confident demeanour, your aim is attaining an occupation that is meaningful. Knowing that you make a difference is important to you. You prefer immediate feedback, you always question what’s in it for you and are additionally happy if provided with a creative outlet at the workplace.
Gen Z – You love being your own boss. You have out-of-the-box ideas on how to bring in the moolah. You are a king, no, a God on social media and you use your skills to try and generate income from it. The perfect office for you is one that allows for flexible timing, across the board discussions and plenty of opportunities to present new ideas.
Usage of Technology
According to the 2017 Internet User’s survey conducted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, there are approximately 24.5 million internet users in Malaysia. Basically, only a quarter of the population remains unconnected and Gen X, Y and Z all have their own unique digital behaviour.
Gen X – You are connected but social media is not the centre of your life. You like and share the occasional post but you mostly use the internet for convenience. Your history tab includes the website for your favourite bank, your email and your Facebook page.
Gen Y – Your phone is an extension of your body. You wake up and immediately switch on your device. You use technology to read the latest news, to find the best online promotions, to research your next holiday, to listen to music, to post the occasional picture and to find that highly recommended new restaurant. Basically, technology is an important part of your life.
Gen Z – The notification “the internet is down” sends shivers down your spine. Life is social media. A typical day would not be complete without you posting an Insta story or a Snapchat. You love interacting with virtual friends and keep connected by posting videos, silly pictures and even live broadcasts of your life. If there’s something trending, you mostly would have been the reason why.
One thing’s for sure, having a seamless online experience is important for all generations.
This is why plans like the all-new UMI 36 prepaid plan by U Mobile is so attractive.
Existing U Mobile prepaid users only need to upgrade to the new plan costing RM1.20 a day and enjoy 7.5GB of high-speed data and another 7.5GB of data for video streaming on selected applications such as Netflix, iFlix and 23 Video-Onz partners.

Read more @

End violence against women

Saturday, November 25th, 2017
The recent emergence of reports detailing sexual harassment in the workplace from many organisations and institutions worldwide shows how pervasive this form of sexual violence is.

EVERY woman and every girl has the right to a life free of violence. Yet, this rupture of human rights occurs in a variety of ways in every community.

It particularly affects those who are most marginalised and most vulnerable.

Around the world, more than one in three women face violence throughout their lifetime; 750 million women were married before the age of 18, and more than 250 million have undergone female genital mutilation.

Women’s rights activists are being targeted at alarming levels.

And, violence against women politicians impedes progress on women’s civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.

Women who run for office are more likely to encounter violence than men; women human rights defenders are at greater risk; and horrifying sexual violence in conflict shows no sign of abating.

There is increasing recognition that violence against women is a major barrier to the fulfillment of human rights, and a direct challenge to women’s inclusion and participation in sustainable development and sustaining peace.

There is also increasing evidence that violence against women and girls is linked to other attacks, including violent extremism and even terrorism.

This violence, the most visible sign of pervasive patriarchy and chauvinism, directly impacts women’s physical and psychological health.

It affects whole families, communities and societies. While it continues, we will not achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The recent emergence of reports detailing sexual harassment in the workplace from many organisations and institutions worldwide shows how pervasive this form of sexual violence is.

I have stressed a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment at the United Nations (UN).

The Under-Secretary-General for Management, Jan Beagle, will follow up by chairing an Interagency Task Force that will examine our policies and look at strengthening our capacities to investigate reports and to support victims

Attacks on women are common to developed and developing countries.

Despite attempts to cover them up, they are a daily reality for many women and girls around the world.

Family violence, especially against women is a serious issue. Governments should take measures to reduce and prevent it.

It is time to further our collective action to end violence against women and girls — for good.

That takes all of us working together in our own countries, regions and communities, at the same time, towards the same goal.

The UN is committed to addressing violence against women in all its forms.

First, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against women has been funding civil society organisations for 20 years.

It has successfully awarded US$129 million (RM531 million) to 463 initiatives across 139 countries and territories.

Second, we recently launched the “Spotlight Initiative”, a large-scale effort by the UN and the European Union to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

By connecting our efforts with those of national governments and civil society, this initiative aims to strengthen action on laws and policies, prevention, and services for survivors.

Third, the UN Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Initiative is leading to a comprehensive programme to end sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces.

And fourth, earlier this year, I launched a new, victim-centred approach to sexual exploitation and abuse committed by those serving under the UN. I am determined to prevent and end these crimes, which cause such lasting damage to the people and to the institution itself.

These initiatives should help us deliver transformative changes.

But, much more needs to be done.

We need strong political will, increased resources and coordinated action.


Read more @

Malaysia well on its way to overcome gender bias

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

THE year draws to a close. Bottom lines, performance evaluations, and hopefully, some salary negotiations are to be scheduled soon. Where does Malaysia stand in regards to fair treatment for women in the workplace?

Of course we are, once again, talking about gender wage gap. Google “wage gap” or “pay gap” and you may find more information than you care to read about, on a global as well as national level.

Two years to go before Malaysia reaches the planned high-income nation status in 2020. Surely such archaic notions as different pay, or different value and appreciation, for the same work between male and female employees can’t be a realistic concept in this day and age anymore.

Regrettably, the subject is much more complex than just figures on a payslip. Some will insist that yes, unfortunately, women in Malaysia and everywhere else have a long way to go until they achieve equality in remuneration. All the while, others will argue just as convincingly that the gender wage gap is nothing more than a tenacious myth.

Both claims are true.

Numbers show a clear picture, or so we think. According to the official portal of the Department of Statistics Malaysia for 2016, the mean monthly salaries show a four per cent wage gap in favour of male employees, while the median figures show a difference of just under three per cent, again in favour of men. In view of these numbers, some will claim that the difference is really not that significant. Others will be of the opinion that even a small difference is still not justifiable.

But figures, and statistics in particular, can be misleading. Looking at average wages for all levels and age groups in the entire workforce of a country compares to painting a canvas with a very large paintbrush. Thus, a detailed picture would require a brush fine enough to compare each position separately.

Such an endeavour would grossly exceed the size of this commentary. It is interesting to note, however, that in average, Malaysian women in the age bracket of 25 to 34 earn more than their male counterparts. This seems to indicate that the real problem lies in Malaysian women’s need for maternity leave. A career break of a mere two to three years severely impacts their further earning opportunities, as the imbalance of paid wages after the age of 35 far surpasses the aforementioned three to four per cent.

While younger employees of both genders are quite comparable as far as skills, experience and preferences go, a clear-cut and fair comparison in the age bracket of 35 to 65 becomes excessively complex. If it were that simple, and women really do the same work for less pay, no employer in his right mind would ever consider hiring a man.

Discrimination within the labour force is still a fact, however. Mothers are perceived as less dedicated to their work, less willing or available to work overtime, to travel for business, to pursue high-impact careers. It stands to reason that the discrimination against women is rooted in long-standing social concepts, rather than in the context of the modern workplace.

The perception of men doing the “hard” work of hunting, fighting, building, thus being associated with rationality and reason, dates back to the archaic era of cave men. In contrast, women rearing children and caring for the social wellbeing of the community were and still are linked to emotional and instinctive “soft” qualities.

Even without the intention to discriminate against a female job applicant, a human resource manager will inevitably have a different set of expectations towards her. Sadly, this is even true for female HR recruiters. Too many women rejoining the labour force after a maternity break will play right into that stereotype themselves as well.

Such prejudice is not only sad, it is also not realistic. Many foreigners getting an insight into the Malaysian public and private top echelon are pleasantly surprised to find more women represented than they expected.


Read more @

More efforts needed to achieve 30pct target of women on companies’ board

Monday, October 16th, 2017
(File pix) Executive co-founding chairman Anne Abraham said only 95 out of 928 companies have achieved the target of having 30 per cent of women represented on the companies’ board. (pix by SALHANI IBRAHIM)

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Chapter of the 30% Club today has called on the corporate sector to increase effort to include more women at the decision-making level to at least 30 per cent by 2020.

To date, its executive co-founding chairman Anne Abraham said only 95 out of 928 companies have achieved the target of having 30 per cent of women represented on the companies’ board.

Out of the remaining 833 companies, 372 have no women on their boards.

She said at a round-table session held recently with the corporate sector, several issues were raised which included the difficulties of sourcing for board-ready women directors or those with specific skills, and the limited profiling of potential women directors.

Anne however believed the target was within reach especially with the government’s help and encouraging participation of public and private learning institutions, corporate boards’ commitment and the availability of qualified women candidates.

“There is a need to bridge the supply and demand of women directors and our club has been setting up partner programmes such as women development and mentorship projects since its inception in May 2015,”

Club Advisory co-chairman Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsudin said all parties should encourage diversity and move towards the nation’s target of having more women in the boardroom.

“We are pleased to have the participation of chairmen of boards and nomination committees such as Genting Berhad Tan Sri Datuk Dr Lin See-Yan and Boustead Heavy Industries Bhd Tan Sri Datuk Seri Ramli Mohd Nor, who are willing to openly discuss with us, their specific challenges in engaging women directors and explore avenues for resolving them.” she said.


Read more @

Key moment in Singapore’s history

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Months later, Singapore held its first legislative assembly election. Of the 75 candidates who ran in 1955, only two were women. Both were Chinese, and both lost their contests. And of the 25 men elected, just three were Malay.

What were the odds, then, that a Malay girl, born in August 1954, could one day set foot in Parliament, become Speaker and ultimately be elected Singapore’s president? Very long odds, indeed.

When Halimah was sworn in as president last Thursday, history was made.

It is important to acknowledge the controversy: There is a sizeable segment for whom an election reserved for candidates of one race is fundamentally flawed. The lack of a contest compounded the issue for this group.

The changes to the elected presidency, and the timing of the changes, have been debated. The Government has explained the need for the change. The debates will continue for a while longer.

But none of this should take anything away from the momentous nature of Halimah’s election and her remarkable journey.

Imagine a country that makes it through the qualifiers of the football World Cup for the first time in history. Defying all predictions, it then goes all the way to the final.

In the final, after 90 minutes of nail-biting play without a goal, the referee, in the games dying seconds, awards that country a penalty kick, in a 50-50 call that could have gone either way. The team scores. It lifts the World Cup in its maiden outing.

The contention over the penalty will not go away easily. Pundits will argue its merits, maybe for years. But such discussions do not detract from the remarkable World Cup run achieved by that country.

And so it is with Halimah’s historic election. The changes to the presidency were hotly debated, but they were also somewhat beyond her control. Indeed, she knew of the risk to her own reputation, given how some disagreed with the changes, but she chose to step forward anyway.

Halimah has faced formidable obstacles at every stage of her life. She worked hard to overcome them. Any number of things could have led to a different outcome. She could have dropped out of school to supplement the income of her widowed mother, who sold nasi padang to raise five children on her own.

As a woman lawyer in a labour movement dominated by blue-collar men, she could have been taken less than seriously. As a headscarf-donning Muslim politician, she could have found it harder to connect with the non-Muslim majority. As Speaker of Parliament, she could have shunned the public scrutiny of a presidential run.

At each stage, her unique qualities saw her through. These included her determined nature, her personal warmth, her genuine concern for the weak and her heart to serve the public.

In a parallel universe, Halimah could so easily have not become president. But she has.

Not a long time ago as recently as 2012 there was no woman in Cabinet. Today, there are two: Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Josephine Teo. Now, there is also President Halimah Yacob.

As we pause to reflect on the import of this moment, we should, as a nation, challenge ourselves further: How long do we have to wait for a woman to be prime minister, or for someone from a minority race to be prime minister?

When that day comes, every child boy, girl, Malay, Indian, Chinese, or of any race can grow up believing that anything is possible under the Singapore sky.

Meanwhile, the fight to shatter glass ceilings continues.The fight involves individuals waking up each morning and doing their best to realise their potential. But the fight also involves ensuring a level playing field.

The reserved election is at times framed as a compromise of meritocracy in order to advance multiracialism. But if one accepts that the nature of Singapore’s elections is unmeritocratic to begin with, because voters systematically discriminate against minority candidates, then affirmative action is not a compromise of meritocracy. It is in fact a desirable and necessary move to enable a truer meritocracy.

Read more @