Opinion piece by Roberta Clarke

Mar 9, 2015

Roberta Clarke

Regional Director, UN Women

Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

International Women’s Day gives us all the opportunity to commemorate the achievements in ending discrimination against women, reaffirming our individual and collective commitments to eradicate gender inequality and to empower women as a pathway to empowering all humanity.

Indeed, there is so much to celebrate in Malaysia guided by the constitutional guarantee against discrimination on the basis of gender. Because of efforts to ensure universal access to quality education and health services, there is parity in educational attendance and certification and a dramatic improvement in maternal and infant wellness. Malaysia has one of the lowest mortality rates globally-25.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2012.

The elimination of cultural prejudices and access to education has enabled more women to be engaged in the economy, to contribute to and benefit from economic growth across a greater range of occupations. The participation rate of women in the work force has increased steadily from 46.8 percent in 2010 to 49.5 percent in 2012 and to 52.4 in 2013.

Transformation of gender norms is also being achieved with opportunities for both women and men to embrace a more expansive way of living unrestricted by harmful and narrow stereotypes. Indeed, as women demand recognition of their worth and work, so too are men are embracing the caretaking of children as important dimensions of their lives.

Yet, gender inequality persists stubbornly and change comes too slowly for too many women who still are not able participate in the formal labour force across a broad range of occupations. Only 10% of elected parliamentarians in Malaysia are women and the 2014 Global Gender Gap report reveals that just 22% of senior officials or managers are women.

In Malaysia as across ASEAN there is deep concern to eliminate violence against women including trafficking and extreme exploitation and abuse of migrant workers through access to social services, effective justice and protection and prevention measures.

As we celebrate the gains, women are demanding that government, the private sector, labour unions, faith-based institutions and individual men and women step up efforts to ensure that women have voice, choice and safety.

Essentially what is needed is broad-based political will to empower women and girls. A national oversight mechanism such as an independent National Council on Women could help to translate existing policy into programmes which address the remaining gaps to achieving gender equality. Women must be able to participate and influence decision-making in the public and private sectors to ensure that women’s and men’s differential needs and responsibilities are taken into account in planning and the allocation of resources. The diversity of women need more choice through decent work, access to productive resources, land, credit, reproductive health services, social protection.  Finally, violence against women is a constraining factor against the lives of all women and girls and we need to eliminate this to ensure their safety.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, a historic and forward looking manifesto for the realization of women’s human rights. Much of this agenda remains incomplete even as we now understand better that the global challenges of economic stagnation, inequalities, insecurity, extremisms and climate change cannot be effectively addressed unless women and girls can exercise their choices, such as participating in politics, having decent work and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.

This is work that is everyone’s responsibility.

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