More need to be done to address women’s and children’s rights in Malaysia

Vicki Treadell

THERE is much to be done in addressing the rights of women and children in Malaysia, especially where cultural issues and social dynamics are concerned.

Education plays a key role in recognising those rights, not only through formal schooling but also by approaching communities at the grassroots.

Shying away from the sensitivities of cultural norms would only result in the issue never being gripped, said British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Vicki Treadell.

“Historically, perhaps we were less enlightened and perhaps we didn’t understand these issues in the way we do now.

“But in a modern age, whilst the world progresses and we understand the consequences of the impact physically on a child, who can be damaged and have problems health-wise for the rest of their lives, how could we condone it?

“However, these things can’t be rushed – you have to carry communities with you. In a way, one of our foreign policy priorities is to work on gender equality and women’s and children’s rights. That’s why it’s so important for us to understand how we deliver that aspect of our work in the environment that we can see,” she said.

Speaking of a recent visit with the Sabah Women’s Action-Resources Group (SAWO), Treadell acknowledged the practices of more remote communities that make it a challenge to advocate for issues such as child marriage.

There is still a challenge on women’s rights and having them understood, she said, and the difficulty of having them recognised as what they are.

“These things begin with education and you have to look at a generational change and a shift. How do you begin that? One of the things we discussed was the access to education, which I know is a big challenge in remoter rural communities.

“However, we also talked about education in a much broader sense – raising awareness of these issues and what is correct and incorrect behaviour and changing those cultural norms,” said Treadell.

A bolder move would be to push for a gender equality act, which she opined the new government should push through to empower more women.

Women’s rights should not be politicised because women are fundamentally 50 per cent of the global population and 50 per cent of the human capital, but Treadell maintained that legislation would greatly level the playing field.

“The economic and political empowerment to women is transformational for societies and legislation helps drive the right behaviour and recognition of the equal rights of the women in our communities.

“For a country to realise its potential, it’s women who must realise their potential. Their women must have respect in society,” she added.

On the broader aspect of education, Treadell said the British High Commission was giving a particular emphasis on technical and vocational skills this year to recognise that on-the-job training could be equally beneficial to a university degree, especially when entering the workforce.

This would also be a cultural challenge for Malaysia, she said, as it should be acknowledged that not every child needs to or should go to university.

“Equipping children and youths with work experience, apprenticeships, technical and vocational training, is a wonderful route into a professional career.

“We have worked with the previous government on this and we are reengaging with the new government on Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET).

“We’re trying to help inform the work they will produce and the recommendations, and we stand ready with our different academic institutions and credited qualification bodies, to work with the Malaysian government to roll an even more enhanced TVET programme out across Malaysia,” she said.

Treadell added that she had spoken to British companies in Malaysia that provided apprenticeships on how they might work with the government and build a relationship to offer on-the-job training, expressing confidence that other companies, whether foreign or local, would increasingly begin to do so.

The British High Commission is ready to share experiences in the UK, she said, where apprenticeship programmes have been a phenomenal success.

“It now transcends more traditional methods where apprenticeships were previously done in manufacturing companies.

“Now, they can be done in professional services, banks and insurance companies, to name a few. There are now different routes into these professional careers.

“Everyone is an individual, so how best will they learn? A degree may be the route, but not necessarily always. Working in an office, doing an apprenticeship and acquiring the knowledge as you work is another wonderful way to develop skills and competences,” she said.

Another issue which requires a change in mindset and cultural behaviour is illegal wildlife trade, which Treadell noted with concern did not seem to be decreasing.

Addressing it with consumers and customers of these products to change their attitude and opinion is a priority, in addition to law enforcement.

“I think there is more consciousness in the younger generation. People under 30 are far more concerned about this and changing behaviour and practice.

“Another way is to outlaw it. Once there is a law, if there are still people who participate in it, they can be penalised.

“You have to work on attitude and culture, but laws are also important, because then it gives you the rule of law in due process.

by Fiqah Roslan.

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