Archive for the ‘Gender Gap’ Category

Key moment in Singapore’s history

Sunday, September 17th, 2017
President-elect Halimah Yacob (C), Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (2-R) and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon enter the state room before the presidential inauguration ceremony at the Istana Presidential Palace in Singapore. AFPpic

President-elect Halimah Yacob (C), Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (2-R) and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon enter the state room before the presidential inauguration ceremony at the Istana Presidential Palace in Singapore. AFPpic

IN August 1954, a girl was born in her family home in Queen Street. She was named Halimah Yacob.

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.

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Women progress to higher levels in Malaysia

Saturday, July 1st, 2017
Noor Huda Roslan (left) and Nenney Shuhaidah Shamsuddin congratulating each other after being appointed as Syariah High Court judges last year. (File pix)

HISTORICALLY, discrimination against women is not peculiar. It happened globally and in almost all civilisations. Women were often treated as their husbands’ properties. They were denied the right to own property or to exercise any civil or public positions.

There are many examples of such deprivation across Europe and Asia. For instance, during the 16th to 18th centuries, women in England were denied the right to cast their votes in elections, let alone to contest a seat in Parliament or representative councils.

In Asia, the Arab Jahiliyyah in the pre-Islamic era witnessed a most oppressive form of infanticide, where newborn baby girls were buried alive fearing that they will bring hardship and poverty to the family.

Islam not only recognised the position of women and their rights, but enshrined them in the syariah. The Quran even dedicated a specific chapter to women, entitled Surah an-Nisa’, which outlines in detail the rights of women and the preservation of their honour.

If one would study and analyse the entire corpus of Islamic teachings, one would quickly discover that there is no room for the discrimination of women in the name of Islam.

Consequently, the apparent discriminatory practices pervasive among Muslims are essentially not juridical, but are largely influenced by local customs of a male-dominated society. Such practices have no roots in Islam, and only continue to tarnish the name of Islam.

In the context of Malaysia, the origins of the women’s rights movement can be traced back to when Malaya achieved Independence.

The 1957 Independence Day had spurred a nationwide spirit of self-determination and nationalism, which in turn also encouraged women to develop themselves, mainly through education.

The fast growth of schools and education infrastructure, and the equal access accorded to women had a major role in elevating Malaysian women from where they were then to where they are today.

In the whole process of developing our country, women have made significant contributions to every aspect of Malaysia’s development, especially in social, cultural and economic sectors.

Currently, Malaysian women constitute a significant portion of the labour force in the professional and non-professional sectors.

Statistics in 2007 showed that there were more highly-educated women than men; they amounted to 61.9 per cent of all university students totalling 59,207.

Women have also proven that they thrive and can do well in the education system and are well qualified to be employed in many sectors, be it public or private.

However, there are indeed concerns on the under-representation of women at the decision-making level in the public and private sectors.

To mitigate this, the government introduced a policy in 2004 that promotes women to occupy at least 30 per cent of all decision-making positions at all levels. In other words, women are now given adequate opportunities for promotion and career advancement.

A survey carried by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in 2007 regarding the distribution of female employment by occupation showed that women were mostly concentrated in the clerical and service areas.


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Have a good mix

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
Gender diversity in the workforce leads to better creativity.

A good gender balance in decision-making positions makes good business sense say speakers at a gender diversity forum.

IN every aspect of life, there must be balance. In the workplace, the same principle applies.

Having an equal number of men and women in decision-making positions will ensure more creativity and innovation, improved problem-solving skills and a better understanding of the market, all of which gives a company a valuable edge over its competitors.

Gender diversity is an approach that can really pay off for companies which implement it.

Workplaces should reflect the society in which they function and obviously our society is not just made up of men, says Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, socio-political activist and writer.

“If everybody in the workplace thinks the same way, chances are their approach to a problem would also be the same. In other words, in a homogenous workplace, you are not going to find much creativity in your employees,” she says.

Marina, who was the keynote speaker at the “Diversity Event: Building A Strategy for Gender Diversity” on March 23 organised by Wong & Partners, says it’s crucial and wise for companies to have a good gender balance in their workforce.


If, for example, a company is involved in designing and selling products or services targeted at women, how can they effectively create these products if women themselves are not involved in the process or have no opportunity to provide their input?

In today’s work environment, having a gender-balanced workforce makes good business sense because women can bring a whole new set of ideas to the table and offer alternative methods to approaching an issue or solving a problem.

Marina says that in the United Kingdom, for example, the banking industry doesn’t just look for banking and finance graduates. It is also interested in philosophy graduates because philosophers understand that there are many different ways of thinking and won’t stick to traditional ways of thought when faced with a problem.

Similarly, in the fast-changing world that we live in today, we need creative thinking more than ever and we are not going to get it in a homogenous workplace made up mainly of men.

According to the World Bank, for a country to progress economically, the percentage of women in the workforce should be around 70 per cent.

This is because women tend to use their incomes to benefit their families and communities and not just themselves, so their involvement in the workforce would have an enormous ripple effect on the economy.

In Malaysia, in 2015, the number of women in the workforce stood at only 54.1 per cent.

But Marina stresses that we also need to look at what exactly these women are doing in the workforce.

She says that according to a report by the Penang Institute, the number of women in the workforce increased from 4.3 million to 5.6 million between 2011-2015 and 55 per cent of new jobs created during that time were also taken up by women.

Unfortunately most of those women took on less productive, poorer paying, unstable jobs.

“Basically, what we have is a pyramid in the workforce where the lower levels are populated by lots of women and their numbers become less and less as we reach the peak. Women are truly pinned to the ground, so to speak.”

A report released by professional services firm Grant Thornton in conjunction with International Women’s Day this year also indicated that only 24 per cent of senior business roles were held by women in Malaysia and more than a third of businesses in the country (34 per cent) had no women in senior management positions.

This put Malaysia in the last place among the four Asean countries included in the survey.

Senior women can mentor others to reach the top.


Marina says gender diversity is not just a matter of having more women on the boards of companies but also about making the work environment friendly and encouraging for women to contribute towards productivity.

She adds that even if we promote women to very senior positions, unless the environment in which they operate become less hostile, there will still be many women who will be discouraged from aspiring to these positions.

“It’s not just about having a token woman or two at the top but about developing, nurturing and sustaining a pipeline of women going to the top of their careers until it becomes a very normal pattern.”

To achieve this, women who are already at the top have a responsibility to mentor and nurture more women to be their successors.

They should make it easier for other women to also reach the top by sharing their experiences and strategies and providing advice on how to cope with the pitfalls.

Julia Chong, co-founder and CEO of the social enterprise The Truly Loving Company Sdn Bhd and another speaker at the forum, says women need to be more confident of their abilities and speak up to their superiors about wanting to be considered for a promotion or handling of a project.

by Meeera Murugesan.

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Let’s get more women into aviation, says AirAsia CEO.

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

PETALING JAYA: Although low-cost carrier AirAsia Bhd and its long-haul sister company AirAsia X Bhd already have quite a number of women on board as pilots and engineers, it wants more.

The two companies have a total of 54 female pilots and 69 female engineers, but they are still actively trying to get more girls interested in pursuing careers in the aviation industry, said AirAsia Bhd chief executive officer Aireen Omar.

“We are working with (educational non-governmental organisation) Teach For Malaysia to bring students to our facility so that they can see what we do, learn about the women in AirAsia, get to experience our simulators, talk to our staff, and actually discover the opportunities available to them,” she said.

However, there was still so much to do to boost the participation of girls in science and technology, she said during her talk at the Women do Wonders (WOW) Talks and Bazaar at SEGi University in Kota Damansara here Sunday.

Aireen also highlighted AirAsia’s conviction that #girlscandoanything, pointing to the all-women crew of AK5110 that flew from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu last month.

When she showed a picture and named all the women on that flight, from the pilot and cabin crew to the flight dispatchers and technicians, there was a huge roar of approval from the floor.

“This is actually very common at AirAsia because we believe that all our colleagues, regardless of gender, are capable of anything.

“Everyone comes from such diverse backgrounds, races and nationalities, but we all come together and work together,” she said.

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Sandakan Girls Guides Local Association celebrates World Thinking Day

Monday, February 27th, 2017

SANDAKAN: The Sandakan Girl Guides Local Association celebrated the World Thinking Day at the Girl Guides Headquarters here on Sunday.

The activities held included joint cake cutting by leaders to launch the celebration, seed planting, choir and dance performances, award presentation, carnival and bazaar.

Sandakan Girl Guides Local Association district commissioner, Wong Chien Ha delivered the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) 2017 World Thinking Day message to start off the celebration.

World Thinking Day is celebrated by Girl Guides across the world on Feb 22 each year. It is a day of international friendship and solidarity.

This year’s theme is Grow. We believe that every girl should have the chance to grow, learn and reach her potential. We believe that more girls should be able to be part of the Girl Guide and Girl Scout movement, Wong said.

“We want to grow our World Thinking Day celebration in 2017 and invite more girls and young women to experience what it means to be a part of our movement,” Wong added.

Wong said there are approximately 800 million girls around the world and only 10 million of them are Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. We want to reach even more girls.

World Thinking Day is the perfect opportunity to show the world how amazing it is to be a Girl Guide or Girl Scout and to encourage more young people to get involved, she continued.

“The World Thinking Day 2017 activity pack will help us think about growth in our community. It has been designed to be used throughout the year by our Girl Guide and Girl Scout to help us attract new potential members to meetings and grow our Movement,” Wong said.

Since 1932 World Thinking Day has also been an important opportunity to raise funds to support World WAGGGS across the world.

“The World Thinking Day Fund supports WAGGGS to deliver life-changing opportunities for girls around the world. Donations can help us to grow and reach more girls and young women. In 2017, we invite you to donate to the fund online, through our JustGiving Page, CAF Donate button or,” Wong said.


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Towards an equal world

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Too often, women do not get full credit for their work. Isn’t it time to highlight their contribution, dedication and capability?

I RECENTLY saw the movie, Hidden Figures. The movie only premiered in Malaysia this past week, a fortnight or so before International Women’s Day on March 8.

Based on true events, the movie is a narrative of three African-American women who were working with the US space programme in the 1960s. It highlights the negative impacts of segregation and ra­cism, and showcases the true American Dream, where anything is possible.

What resonated most with me, however, is the gender aspect. More than 50 years later, women scientists such as I can attest to having had the same experience as Kathe­rine Johnson (née Goble), Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article on the “Dark Lady of DNA”, Rosalind Franklin.

Rosalind should have gone down in history as one of the individuals who discovered the molecular structure of the DNA. After all, she perfected the x-ray diffraction technique that led to the now famous Photo 51, i.e. photo of the double-helical structure.

We are all too familiar with cre­diting Watson and Crick for this discovery. Historically, however, the “hidden figure” of Rosalind Franklin was there, labouring hours in the laboratory and being exposed to radioactive materials required for such experiments.

In Watson’s autobiography, The Double Helix, Rosalind was des­cribed as “difficult to work with”, and in a separate interview, ano­ther of her colleagues, Professor Emeritus Aaron Klug, described her as “lacking the imagination required … to have solved the puzzle as Watson and Crick did”.

Due to her untimely death from ovarian cancer in 1958, she missed out on the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine 1962 awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick and – get this – her laboratory supervisor Maurice Wilkins, despite the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation sta­­ting that the Nobel cannot be awarded posthumously only ha­­ving taken effect in 1974.

If one were to read between the lines of Watson’s book, it not only described the nail-biting race to solve the molecular structure of the DNA between Watson-Crick and Linus Pauling’s laboratory, but also provided the evidence of an “all gentlemen’s club” in science. In the same book, Watson later added an epilogue where he made amends with Rosalind, employing her and noted that her abhorrence for a collaboration back then was due to the sexism she faced in the acade­mic community.

However, from personal expe­rience, all is still not well in science. Women scientists are often acknowledged as excellent technicians, but sexism and the gender privilege awarded to men are still prevalent.

Women scientists are expected to work harder – stories of professors who went straight to work from their hospital beds after labour and working through their maternity leaves are legendary, but expected. A colleague of mine once even used her newborn baby as an experimental sample – such is the dedication expected from women scientists.

The women in Hidden Figures conform to the feminine gender identity, are wives and mothers, and received support from their own mothers, spouses, children and each other.

Not all women are fortunate to have such a support system, with single women, women who are gay, women who do not conform to the accepted societal definition of “fe­­minine” and “pretty”, and women who are vocal finding the glass cei­ling a lot harder to crack.

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More ‘honest conversations’ needed with Gen Y-ers

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) corporate sector head Jamie Lyon.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) corporate sector head Jamie Lyon

WE need to talk.

No, not about a relationship break-up. This is about maintaining relationships – between bosses and staff, between an organisation and its employees.

With many young Malaysian employees expressing interest in working overseas, perhaps it is time for more Malaysian bosses to discuss their workers’ plans for the future openly.

Saying that it is a common mistake not to have such discussions, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) corporate sector head Jamie Lyon recommends that bosses have more “honest conversations” with their workers to understand and tackle issues.

“Employers need to find out how quickly people want to move, how many want to and what roles they plan to move to.

“For young employees, they question whether they will be getting any career development.

“How do employers tackle that? They start by having honest conversations with their employees. Ask them: what do you want from your career and what can we do as an organisation to support you in that?” he explains.

Lyon adds that employers should also think about offering their staff more coaching and mentoring.

“This is a generation that wants personalised interventions. They want that collaboration to happen.

“I think just talking to this generation, ensuring conversations flow through leadership and making leadership accessible to them is key, along with breaking hierarchies,” he says.

To harness the entrepreneurial streak in Gen Y-ers, Lyon also encourages employers to tap such interests by offering lateral moves within an organisation.

“If someone comes in as a finance person, it doesn’t mean they have to stay as that. Both employers and workers can consider a rotation or secondment in roles and see how such talent can be honed,” he suggests, adding that it is up to organisations to think creatively about creating opportunities for their staff to grow.

Giving a pay rise to workers may help entice them to stay, but Lyon believes that this is a short-term solution and companies should be thinking of more long-term, holistic solutions.

“If people are going to be happy in their careers, something has to be done about it. The irony is even though we live in a global knowledge economy, the biggest asset of a company is its people,” he points out.

As for his advice to Malaysian youth, Lyon encourages them to think out of the box.

“Sometimes, people think the better option is to go somewhere else. Start by having honest conversations with your employer. Think also about what options you have, not just by leaving office, but about how to build a portfolio of skills, which will be relevant in the future world of work,” he says.

While acknowledging that more open discussions should be held, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan admits Malaysian bosses aren’t very open with employees.

“We are very conservative in this area. But this should be one of our long-term goals,” he says.

Shamsuddin, however, says more employers are becoming more open with their workers, but this usually happens in bigger firms, and, “the reality in Malaysia is that 98% of employers run small and medium sized enterprises”, he says.

Shamsuddin observes that Gen Y-ers generally do not like to be monitored a lot and tend to prioritise a healthy work-life balance.

“As such, if Malaysian employers want to retain young talent in the long run, they are encouraged to create an attractive environment for this group to excel, including allowing them a certain amount of flexibility,” he says.

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Gen Y ‘does not want to rely on crutches to succeed’

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

THE new generation of Malays does not want to rely on a tongkat (crutch) to succeed, said the Wellington Umno Overseas Club.

Afiq Adham Muhammad Fadhil, an undergraduate, said Gen Y and Gen Z, especially young professionals and those studying abroad, preferred a narrative from Umno that would give them hope in charting their own future and that of the country.

He cited the 2050 National Transformation (TN50), announced during Budget 2017, that was aimed at kickstarting a national discourse by young Malaysians of all races.

TN50 has been entrusted to the Youth and Sports Ministry under Khairy Jama­lud­din.

“TN50 is an important effort to change the perception of this generation,” he said, adding that the vision matched the aspirations of the young generation.

Debating the motion of thanks on the president’s keynote address, Afiq Adham said: “I believe that my peers, who had stayed away from the party, will soften their stance now that TN50 was on its way.

The new generation of young people wanted to be given a chance to play a bigger role in making TN50 a success, he added.

He appealed to the Umno leadership to produce more young icons for them to look up to.

Likening TN50 and the will to transform Malaysia to “a pick-up line, money, perfume and trendy clothes”, he said what was needed now were inspiring icons.

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We’re on track

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
Holistic approach: Azizah feels it is important to look at a person’s capabilities, regardless of their gender, to add value to an organisation’s decision-making process.

Holistic approach: Azizah feels it is important to look at a person’s capabilities, regardless of their gender, to add value to an organisation’s decision-making process.

BY 2020, Malaysia aims to have at least 30% women in decision-making roles.

The policy to reduce gender imbalance and recognise women’s contributions, especially in publicly listed companies (PLCs), was introduced in 2011 under the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015). The target was extended to 2020 in the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020).

While acknowledging that progress has been slow, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry Deputy Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun insists that Malaysia is doing well in pressing forward.

When the policy was announced, only 7.7% of top corporate sector decision-makers were women. As at June this year, the figure stands at 11.5%. The public sector, however, has exceeded the target with an impressive 36% of women in top positions.

“The target is not easy to achieve. Even the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany and many other developed countries with a similar policy haven’t achieved their targets.

“But we won’t use this as an excuse. In fact, we’ll continue our efforts and learn from other countries to achieve our goal in the next four years.”

In the country’s overall labour force gender ratio, men outnumber women at 60:40. At the managerial level, the ratio of men to women stands at 70:30. At the executive level, women fare better with a higher ratio of 45:55.

Women must be given the opportunity to contribute to the national economy, Azizah points out.

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There’s no place for sex in healthcare

Monday, July 11th, 2016

A good doctor is about training.

A good doctor is about expe­rience.

A good doctor is about empathy.

Female or male, a good doctor is just a good doctor.

So how does the suggestion that allowing only female doctors assist in childbirths improve healthcare in Malaysia, or anywhere for that matter?

It does not.

This is by no means the first time that such an idea has been mooted, and it will probably not be the last, but the very idea that the sex of a doctor makes him or her suitable at the job is perplexing – and that should really be the issue at hand.

Maybe some of us are confused about the terms sex and gender. The words are often used interchangeably, though they are distinctly different.

Sex is based on biological differences in anatomy and physiology.

Gender, on the other hand, is a classification based on cultural conventions, a social construct that defines the roles and behaviours of men and women.

This gender classification has inevitably given rise to much chagrin and debate in many different facets of life, as it has now.

It’s a fact that some women are more comfortable with a female obstetrician and gynaecologist (ob/gyn).

Some believe that having a doctor of the opposite gender affects their female modesty, as proscribed by religious edicts.

Many feel that because of the intimate nature of the speciality, a female doctor who has physically undergone the same experience would be more understanding of what they’re going through.

Others have no such qualms, preferring a male ob/gyn instead of a female one, oftentimes because they believe male doctors are more sympathetic and patient towards female patients.

These are personal preferences based on trust and how patients interact with their doctors, preferences that help each woman ease her journey into motherhood.

Ob/gyns recognise this phenomenon, and though they may vary in their response to it, they take it as part and parcel of their vocation.

And how far do you take such a gender-based bias in healthcare anyway? Surgery? Urology? Derma­to­logy? Every aspect of healthcare delivery?

Shouldn’t the primary factors in choosing a doctor come down to their expertise, professionalism and compassion, not their sex or gender?

Let’s not ever involve sex or gender in the issue of healthcare delivery.

Former secretary-general of the United Nations and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kofi Annan, once said: “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

There are many pressing issues in Malaysian healthcare that need to be addressed. This is not one of them.

The Star Says.

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