Malaysia: Joint Action Group against Violence against Women

Women Monitoring Election Candidates (WoMEC).
The Joint Action Group comprises the Women’s Development Collective (WDC), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Sisters–in–Islam (SIS), Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Metal Industries Employees’ Union (MIEU) and Persatuan Sahabat Wanita (PSWS).
9 March 2004

As a continuation of our work, we are launching our monitoring group called Women Monitoring Election Candidates (WoMEC). Women’s organisations have been actively involved in advocacy and lobbying of issues pertaining to women and development for 19 years. To date, the issues raised are still inadequately addressed and to date we are still lobbying for legal reforms (which started in 1985) and the legal and policy recommendations have not changed substantively. Other issues of importance includes lack of independence of the judiciary and rule of law, lack of commitment and priority to deliver on election promises and commitment to tackle national problems with a sense of duty, are still stark challenges in our political system.

Therefore, in initiating WoMEC, we want our issues to be heard, represented, made center stage and that all promises made by election candidates be fulfilled. Presently, the concept of citizenship participation in Malaysia tends to be narrow and limited forms of public consultation (e.g. the 5–year ballot box). Women, in particular, are only sought during elections. In this election we again see that the gender card is being played up by the candidates (e.g. giving flowers to women, distributing wishing cards to voters on IWD, etc.) and the media has highlighted this very prominently. This further reinforces the prevailing development of limited consultation instead of changing it.

As stated in the Women’s Agenda for Change (WAC), WoMEC wants to reiterate its vision as follows:“We deplore the manipulation of ethnicity and religious as well as the use of fear and oppression forces to divide us. We want to contribute towards the building of a just, democratic and peaceful society for ourselves and future generations.’ (WAC,1999)

In short, we believe that gender equality, social justice and sustainable development are essential ingredients in any democracy. Elected candidates have to be held accountable and be proactive in advancing and upholding social justice and equality goals. They have to act to ensure effective transparency and have continuous consultation with the rakyat. This calls for all the elected representatives to address the issues and concerns, close to the hearts and minds of citizens, with deeper and longer–term commitment. In this light, WoMEC is set up with the following objectives:

a. to ensure that citizens’ issues and concerns (in particular, that of women) claim centre stage in this election agenda; and

b. to have candidates’ commit to uphold citizens’ issues and to make them accountable to their promises after the elections.

WoMEC serves two purposes. Firstly, to monitor, watch and evaluate the manifestos of the political parties and the responses of the election candidates to issues of gender equality and democracy in the media. Secondly, to approach the candidates for their commitments or pledges on the eight (8) key issues as identified by WoMEC. These pledges will be monitored by WoMEC after the elections. The regular statements will be issued by WoMEC to the media during the run–up to the elections and this will keep the public inform of their candidates. Such an initiative provides an educational experience for the electorate and the media. The regular reports and analysis will help the public to become more aware of candidates’ commitments to issues and concerns at local constituencies. Attached are the eight key issues presented by WoMEC which reflect citizens’ concerns as well as those of the non–governmental organisations (NGOs).

Participation is only inclusive of gender equality, democracy and sustainable development if those in power have the political will to make it happen and at the same time for those who are involved to demand it to be. Improved accountability and transparency need citizens to know they have such rights to demand and to call for actions from the ruling government. To again quote the WAC, we believe that:

“A healthy democracy flourishes only in environments where fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of expression are not only respected but also actively upheld. Efforts must be made to encourage the people’s willingness and capacities to actively participate in the different levels of democratic processes nationwide. Recognising the obstacles and limitations women (in particular) face in participating in the public sphere, measures must especially be taken to encourage and provide them with the opportunity to play genuine role in decision making at this level.”

(Women’s Agenda for Change, 2000)

WoMEC is therefore our contribution towards widening the democratic process in this country so that our vision for a free, just and equitable society can be achieved.

Signed by:

Maria Chin Abdullah
Executive Director
Women’s Development Collective
On behalf of the Joint Action Group against Violence against Women