Gender Equality, A Right Of Every Human Being

Apr 7, 2016

By Nur Ashikin Abdul Aziz

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- "I have a daughter and I want her to have equal opportunity to access and choice, and that is not much to ask as it is her right as a human being," says Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia.

The mother of two says gender inequality still exists in all parts of the world, and there is still a lot of work to be done before any parent could hope for a better future for their daughters in this regard.

"What I would like to see is a place where women are valued at home, in business and public life.

"I want a world where in 15 years, when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been achieved, we have autonomy over our bodies and our lives," the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam told Bernama, here recently.

Leaders around the world recognised the importance of the matter when they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last year, which listed gender equality as part of its 17 goals to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years (2015-2030).

GENDER EQUALITY IN MALAYSIA

The 47 year old Jamaican said Malaysia, like the rest of the world, is grappling with some issues on gender equality but noted that the country has done "a tremendous job and showed great progress so far."

But it is still too early to evaluate Malaysia on SDG," she noted.

Based on the Millenium Development Goals' framework, an earlier version of the SDG that was adopted for year 2000-2015, Malaysia has achieved parity in education, and has achieved almost 100 per cent literacy levels for both girls and boys. According to the report, Malaysia has surpassed the goal of providing universal primary education for boys and girls.

Gyles-McDonnough noted Malaysia's MDG report published last year by the Economic Planning Unit and the UN has outlined nine areas in which Malaysia needs to improve, including the need to break social perceptions under presumptions of gender relations and social expectations.

The report also found that to improve gender equality, Malaysia needs better data capturing that is segregated by gender.

IMPORTANCE OF GENDER-CONSCIOUS DATA

Improving data and information capturing and revelation help stakeholders understand how policy or laws impact different community or gender in their workplace or daily lives, she said.

Gyles-McDonnough explained that in some cases data collection did not happen at gender level perhaps due to the lack of consciousness, while in other cases data collected is not readily accesible as it is scattered across different institutions.

Citing an example, she said previously it was only known that 53.6 per cent of Malaysian women enter the workforce. There were some who left their job at certain point of the lives and never to return unlike in other countries.

However, an initial study by the UNDP and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development last year, found that more than 30 per cent of them quit the work force to take care of the family while 68 per cent left work due to family obligations, she said.

"So from this data, what does that say about SDG for gender equality and its target, and about how men fit into this equation? We don't yet fully understand what is happening beneath these gross figures," she said.

GETTING BOYS AND MEN TO PARTICIPATE

She also stressed gender equality is not about gender difference (male and female), but a human right and a necessary foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable growth in the world.

"It is about relationships between men and women, its about inevitable linkages that genders have when interacting together. So if we don't include men and boys in this conversation, it is very difficult to tackle this issue," she added.

The mother to a 13-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son said one of the things that had to be done is increasing the understanding of men's role in gender equality.

Gyles-McDonnough noted that men play important role in improving the quality of life for women in their life, whether its their mother, sister, daughter or wife.

"We have many male supporters for this agenda and they understood what gender equality is, but we don't have merely enough," she said.

PLANET 50:50 BY 2030

'Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality' was United Nation's theme for this year's celebration of the International Women's Day, and it has critical meaning to it, said Gyles-McDonnough.

"This world population is pretty much made up of men and women almost in equal numbers, and it ought to be a world that is reflective of this composition. That is our agenda, she said.

The UN Resident Coordinator called on everyone to step-up the efforts for gender equality, stressing that at the current pace of work, the SDG number five could not be achieved by 2030.

She said efforts had to go beyond numbers by addressing societal perceptions and inequalities in gender relations that disempower, deny women opportunities and prevent them from reaching their full potential.

"We have to start today. We have to start now," she said.

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SIDEBAR

Nine Areas Malaysia Must Address to Achieve Gender Equality Goal:

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1.Breaking social perceptions and presumptions of gender relations and social expectations.

2.Better capturing of data and information.

3.Increasing female labour force participation.

4.Eliminating gender wage discrimination.

5.Increasing women in decision-making levels and social participation.

6.Addressing gender-based violence.

7.Expanding access to legal support and justice.

8.Underage marriages and pregnancies have increased.

9.Including men and boys in gender equality.

Source: UNDP Malaysia

BERNAMA