Cause for celebration - MDG 3

Mar 9, 2012

Not that gender equality can already be taken for granted. In many countries around the world, the woman's lot still cries out to be fought for and championed. Enfranchisement, for instance, remains a cherished and elusive objective in many conservative Muslim societies. Also, tribal populations and patriarchies tend to be synonymous, as in the remote provinces of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the subcontinent has had more women heading governments than other supposedly more liberal regions. In short, the world is moving towards making women leaders a rule and no longer an exception, as targeted by the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3).

This has been dubbed the "engendered millennium", but the truth is much is still in flux. The modern struggle began some 150 years ago in Europe. That gave suffrage to European women some 50 years later. Today, the Scandinavian countries lead the world and the number of women in decision-making positions, be it politics, the private or public sectors, conforms to a statutory 60:40 ratio. South Korea is also a good example. In Rwanda, where more than 50 per cent of seats in the Rwandan legislature are held by women, the post-civil war constitution was a godsend for institutionalising a women's quota. Affirmative action or positive discrimination has been an instrument of choice for leaderships willing change on their people.

Change has happened quickly and dramatically. What is more dramatic than a government having to grapple with the problem of male enrolment in institutions of higher learning? In his International Women's Day message, the prime minister speaks of the strides made by women and especially mentions this problem: women are fast becoming more educated than men. Education has been the arena of socio-economic levelling and the girl child is looking to be more successful at availing herself of the means to social mobility. Given that there has been no special treatment in education for the so-called fairer sex other than equal opportunity for all, Malaysian women are obviously making waves. The Grant Thornton International Business Report ranked Malaysia ninth in the world for the number of senior management positions held by women, evidence that the political leadership has always been forward looking in this respect. And, given their rising social and economic contributions, the present government is doing much to support greater labour force participation among women. This, together with a shattered "glass ceiling", means women will have arrived in the public sphere as equal partners in development.

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