Interning at UNDI 18 – The Experience

With the pandemic causing a global lockdown, I decided it was best to defer my university entry to 2021 as I felt that it was unsafe to travel and the cost of remote learning did not seem to be worthwhile. As I had a full year until my university year started, I decided that the most productive way to spend it would be to gain work experience. As my university degree will be English Literature and Politics, it was only natural that I would search for employment within these sectors. Having no higher qualification than A-Levels and the pandemic creating mass unemployment in Malaysia, I was anxious if it was even possible to find an organization that was willing to offer me an internship but fortunately, Undi 18 offered me an opportunity to intern for them which I will always be grateful for. 

Having interned at Undi 18 for three months, I can confidently say that I have developed skills I would not have particularly taken the initiative to practice. This internship was my first work experience so my skill set prior to this was primarily academic research and writing at a Sixth Form level. In the beginning of my internship, I expressed interest in the 111 Initiative as women’s rights and political advocacy has always been a great passion of mine. With this in mind, I was given the opportunity to write an article about the barriers of women in politics and how the entrenchment of the patriarchy in Malaysian culture and political institutions causes a lack of equal gender representation in Malaysian politics. Along with this, I have helped write a speech that challenges the notion that gender quotas will provide equal gender representation and that urgent cultural change is more likely to encourage women to become political leaders within Parliament. 

Not everything came easy during these few months and there were bound to be challenges. With my main skills being research and copywriting, I was also tasked with being a part of the social media team. As one of Undi 18’s main goals is to improve political literacy in Malaysia, especially among the youth, most of the content that I researched were relevant to voter’s education. Although, I did find some challenges. Social media involved graphic designing and marketing skills that were essential in attracting our audience to read our infographics. In the beginning, I was lost on how to create attractive designs but fortunately, the Undi 18 team was always there to guide me in the right direction with constructive criticism; pushing me outside my comfort zone to help me grow. 

Throughout my internship, I was involved in nearly all of Undi 18’s campaigns, especially the 111 Initiative which I had stated in the beginning that I was mostly interested in. By participating in a variety of campaigns, I gained knowledge in areas that I would have not actively pursued myself such as Tenaga Belia’s encouraging youth involvement in Malaysia’s energy sector. Perhaps I could call myself an engineer with all the work I had done for this campaign. 

On a more serious note, I contributed to Undi Sabah’s research by creating talking points for the Sabah summit which took place in September. I learnt more about the political concerns in East Malaysia than I ever would have had I not been involved. The wide range of Undi 18’s campaigns allowed me to learn more about not only the political parties and power structures of our country, but also my own identity as a Malaysian. Everyday I became more enthusiastic in exploring what was next in our political climate, despite the many moments of disappointment. Undi 18 not only helped me widen my skill set and political perspective but also aided me in connecting myself with my country which I had neglected during my time aboard. 

The Undi 18 team has always been supportive, innovative and inspiring. We always reflected from past projects in order to out-do ourselves in the next series of campaigns. The openness and transparency of Undi 18 allowed everyone’s opinion and criticism to be accepted with respect. Having no university degree triggered my insecurity of having a limited skill set but Undi 18’s amiable environment ensures that anyone can ask for help without feeling ashamed. Often, we are able to take things light-heartedly and laugh it off. Some of my co-workers were not only advocating for youth empowerment at Undi 18 but were always innovating new projects that they were equally passionate about outside of the organization. Seeing how passionate and ambitious everyone was, made my experience of working at Undi 18 awe-inspiring as there was constant evidence that ideas always have great potential to succeed in becoming a reality if initiatives are taken with the right people.

Youth perspective on Budget 2021 – Nadia Malyanah and Tharma Pillai

Original article was published on 25th November 2020 on The Vibes.

TOMORROW, our parliamentarians will be voting on Budget 2021, which will make or break Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s government. While the political battle to become or remain government is ongoing, we cannot forget that this is the most important Budget in the past decade. 

As Covid-19 keeps upending the world as we know it and has continued to impact millions of lives, there was much anticipation among Malaysian youth to see what the government has budgeted to help those who have been severely impacted by the pandemic. 

The youth make up more than half of Malaysia’s total population of 32.7 million. We are the students, the young professionals, the pasar malam sellers, the parents with young children, the homeowners and many more.

So did Budget 2021 live up to expectations of the youth? Let’s take a look.

Education, and ‘a lost generation’

A rather impressive RM50.4 billion has been allocated to the Education Ministry for Budget 2021, which makes up 15.6% of the total budget. Among specific measures that were announced were RM420 million for daily milk supplement scheme under the Rancangan Makanan Tambahan (RMT) programme, RM800 million for the upgrade and maintenance of government schools and government-assisted schools and RM50 million for stable internet connection in universities through MYREN (Malaysian Research & Education Network) broadband access upgrade from 500bps to 10Gbps. 

Since the initial movement control order (MCO) in March, schooling in Malaysia has been intermittent: the latest round of nationwide school closures are expected to last until December 17, with major examinations such as the SPM and STPM moved to January next year. 

These closures involve approximately five million students and 500,000 teachers who are now expected to rely heavily on home-based teaching and learning. But Malaysia’s insufficient digital infrastructure and limited to zero access to digital devices are significantly hampering students from urban and rural poor backgrounds. 

Stories of teachers going the extra mile to send and fetch their students printed materials, while commendable, have laid bare the gaps in the inability of our education system to fully adapt and cope to the new norms. 

In her Budget 2021 speech, Kulai MP and former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching noted that at least 37% or 1.7 million students under the Education Ministry did not have the devices to enable them to participate in online teaching and learning sessions. 

These students do not own a laptop, tablet or desktop computer and are, therefore, categorised as “digitally poor”. Additionally, poor internet access and connectivity in rural and interior areas of Malaysia remain a persistent problem. 

The RM150 million Cerdik Fund is an effort to tackle the digital poverty problem: it will be used to provide laptops to 150,000 pupils at 500 schools as a pioneer project under the supervision of the Hasanah Foundation. 

But the very task of closing the digital divide itself largely falls upon the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, which oversees a portion of the funds allocated for this purpose. At least RM500 million is allocated for the National Digital Network (Jendela) initiative, which aims to enhance internet connectivity at 430 schools nationwide, with RM7.4 billion allocated for the purpose of widening broadband services in 2021 and 2022. 

The allocation of RM100 million in loans for higher education students with PTPTN loans for the purpose of purchasing laptops through Skim BSN MyRinggit-i COMSIS is commendable. But structuring it as a loan rather than a rebate risks saddling these students with more debt, as it seems that eligibility for this scheme is tied to their PTPTN loan.

The RM75 million allocation for eBelia, which credits a one-off amount of RM50 into the e-wallets of youth aged 18 to 20 is also seen as a short-sighted and populist measure. Other than that, little seems to be available to varsity students in terms of actual monetary aid.

Employment and social protection nets

Generating and retaining jobs is also a rather significant strategy outlined within Budget 2021,  with RM3.7 billion allocated for the JanaKerja Scheme to provide 500,000 new job opportunities, including skills upgrading and retraining. Additionally, the recruitment of more workers is also encouraged via Socso’s six-month incentives. A total of RM1 billion has been allocated for the purpose of reskilling & upskilling workers, along with RM700 million to enable the public sector and GLCs to offer 50,000 temporary job opportunities. 

The targeted wage subsidy extension itself has also been given an allocation of RM1.5 billion. The focus of the Budget 2021 iteration, however, is on tourism and retail sectors, with RM600 per employee with a salary of RM4,000 and below for up to 500 employees. But there is little long-term relief from this Budget. The possible extension of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) currently imposed in a number of Malaysian states until next January may still end up destroying these heavily impacted industries altogether, and further put livelihoods at stake. For instance, lesser-known economic industries such as grassroots sports need survival funds and gradual ease of restrictions for these industries to begin operating, or at least restructure their operations for the long term. 

The move to allow a withdrawal of maximum RM6,000 over the span of 12 months from Account 1 of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) will greatly benefit those who need it. But what of those with insufficient EPF savings – at least 5.38 million (43%) active EPF members have less than RM10,000 in Account 1 – or those who require a higher withdrawal amount? 

While the enhanced targeted loan repayment assistance (TLRA) measures for B40 and M40 borrowers are encouraging, a blanket moratorium until the end of 2020 is perhaps an easier way of alleviating the rakyat’s financial fears. The third wave of Covid-19 cases, and the perpetual extension of the CMCO has caused many to lose a significant portion of their income, or their jobs entirely. 

Keeping SMEs afloat

Malaysia’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for two-thirds of the country’s workforce and nearly 40% of the economy. The news that at least 32,469 SMEs have been forced to cease operations between March and September this year have been a worrying one for many, as Covid-19 has essentially forced most SMEs to go into survival and transformation mode. There were long wish lists from SMEs, but did the government manage to meet them halfway? 

The structuring of entrepreneurial aid according to communities in Budget 2021 itself is a particularly odd choice, when it touts itself as “promoting the inclusivity agenda”. A total of RM4.6 billion has been set aside to assist Bumiputera entrepreneurs by providing several financing options. These include funnelling RM510 million for Bumiputera SMEs and micro SMEs via Tekun and PUNB, RM800 million for development of Bank Pembangunan Malaysia and SME Bank as well as RM2 billion for Bumiputera SMEs through Syarikat Jaminan Pembiayaan Perniagaan (SJPP). 

On the other hand, RM20 million is provided specifically for Skim Pembangunan Usahawan Masyarakat India (SPUMI), with another RM5 million for entrepreneurship development for other minority communities. Nevertheless, financially affected SMEs will now have the option of looking into the RM2 billion Targeted Assistance and Rehabilitation Facility. These funds will be parked under Bank Negara’s jurisdiction and introduced via bank loans.

Nevertheless, the focus on long-term productivity by accelerating the digitalisation of these SMEs operations and trade channels is rather encouraging. The RM1 billion Industrial Digitalisation Transformation Scheme, which aims to boost digitalisation activities, will be provided via Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Bhd (BPMB). An additional RM150 million will also be injected into the existing SME Digitalisation Grant Scheme and Smart Automation Grants. 

Families and the burden of childcare 

Budget 2021 leaves much to be desired in terms of gender responsiveness, as it insufficiently accounts for the disproportionate care burden faced by women during the pandemic. For instance, the recent spike of Covid-19 has also led to the closure of childcare centres and kindergartens in Malaysia, particularly in red-zone areas due to the high number of active cases. The impact of this on Malaysian women has been two-fold, as this affects those working in these sectors and those who are unable to work from home (especially front-line workers) and require childcare. The allocation of RM30 million to establish childcare centres in government buildings, and a matching grant valued at RM20 million to encourage private sector employees to provide childcare in Budget 2021, feels like a well-meaning but slow response to these problems. So far, it is difficult to tell whether operating restrictions will be lifted, with better coordination between government agencies involved as well as proper operating SOPs in place will materialise.

Time and opportunity costs as well as the physical demands of unpaid care work does have a severe and negative impact on women’s well-being and economic independence. Unpaid care work does limit women’s access to paid employment, as it restricts the types of jobs to which women have access to. Additionally, women who opt for irregular, or self-employment have been extremely vulnerable to disruptions caused by Covid-19. So the government’s move to encourage more women entrepreneurs by funnelling RM95 million into  micro credit schemes through Tekun, Mara and AgroBank, as well as RM50 million for Islamic financing through Ar-Rahnu BizNita is rather timely, in this sense. However, there is still room for improvement: there are no specific schemes to encourage women to retrain, or re-enter the workforce after long career breaks. 

Other notable Budget 2021 allocations targeted for women include RM10 million for cervical cancer screening and subsidy incentives for mammograms to women who face high risk of breast cancer, as well as a RM21 million allocation to set up local social support centres for domestic violence victims. The latter is seen as a good start, even if the amount is somewhat underwhelming in comparison with recommendations mooted by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO). WAO’s recent report on Budget 2021 had recommended RM50 million to improve existing shelters and build new ones for gender-based violence survivors, with an additional RM5 million to operate and improve 24-7 telephone crisis service in Malaysia, including both public and NGO-operated emergency hotlines. 

How are we paying for all this?

Budget 2021 seems to be making rather grand promises on paper – it’s been repeatedly touted as the largest budget in Malaysian history – when there has been no increase to current government income, or addition of taxes. The revenue projected by the Malaysian government was based on 2019 figures, which is misplaced optimism, as we arrived at these numbers prior to a worldwide pandemic and seemingly without accounting for decreasing oil prices.

There is a very pressing need for the Malaysian government to explore more alternative ways of raising revenue, be it via borrowing, or the introduction of new taxes such as the “windfall” tax that have been suggested by some parliamentarians. Without measures to increase revenue, many of the more important and expensive parts of Budget 2021 will never be implemented.

But does the “largest ever budget” moniker even benefit young Malaysians?

Whether the current government is truly open to making changes and concessions to ensure the 2021 Budget gets safely passed in Parliament tomorrow remains to be seen, but an extraordinary year requires an extraordinary budget. With low interest rates globally, the government needs to borrow and spend to ensure that jobs are saved, businesses can recover and we can avoid a prolonged recession. While there are many good things, this budget clearly doesn’t go far enough. This government can and must do better for the rakyat. – The Vibes, November 25, 2020

Nadia Malyanah and Tharma Pillai are from youth organisation UNDI18

Original article was published on The Vibes.

Why Undi Ketiga

By Yap Ming Yao

All of us learn in school that Malaysia is a democracy. That means we elect our leaders and those in government, whose job is to run the country, and that much is clear at both the national and the state level. Every General Election (GE), we vote for our Members of Parliament (MPs) in Parliament and for our state representatives (ADUNs) in each State Legislative Assembly (DUN). The coalition with a majority of MPs in Parliament or in each DUN, of course, then has the right to form a government because they have the democratic mandate of the people. Our mandate – the consent of the people – is what gives politicians legitimacy. But not every tier of government is elected; unlike MPs and ADUNs, local councils such as MBSJ in Subang Jaya and MBPJ in Petaling Jaya are not, are appointed. This is wrong because this is undemocratic – and this is why we support Undi Ketiga. Undi Ketiga is the third vote that Malaysians currently lack: the right to vote for the third tier of our government, local government, and not just at the state and federal levels.

What exactly is a local council?

The best way to imagine them is as the third tier of government: MPs represent you at the national level in Parliament, ADUNs represent you at the state level, and local councils represent you at the local level. Local authorities, especially city councils like Majlis Bandaraya Subang Jaya (MBSJ), Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ), Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam (MBSA), and Majlis Bandaraya Johor Bahru (MBJB), have a wide range of responsibilities that affect our daily lives on the ground compared to legislation from MPs and ADUNs. For example, city councils are responsible for:

  • dealing with the consequences of urbanisation such as illegal factories, slums, and environmental protection
  • granting of licenses for businesses, advertisements, kindergartens, markets, and hawkers
  • the management of roads and related infrastructure such as streetlamps and traffic lights.
  • pest control, hygiene inspections on restaurants, flood mitigation, and overall cleanliness.

All of this means that local councils’ decisions directly affect how we live our lives. Imagine a routine trip to the market to buy vegetables, where you drive out of your house and wonder for the twentieth time when the pothole in the road you use every day will be fixed. As you make your way to the market, the traffic lights are broken (again) and when you do arrive, you start wondering again – this time if the factory belching out smoke you passed by was illegal or not. You go through the market, thinking it seems to be getting dirtier every week, and not being sure if the vendors have gone through the appropriate checks to receive their licenses to sell. Every problem above is the responsibility of your local government, and how well each is carried out is of course dependent on how well your local government does.

This leads to the question as to why these local councils aren’t elected. The history here is telling: not only were local governments once elected by the people in Malaysia, but the clear lack of appropriate reasons these local council elections were stopped were and should remain unacceptable. Local council elections were first suspended due to the state of emergency being declared due to the Indonesia-Malaysia 1964 Konfrontasi. From 1966 to 1973, elected local councils were gradually abolished by state governments until in 1976 the Local Government Act made this suspension permanent, abolishing all local councils. The absence of proper justification for the continued abolishment of local councils today is jarring.

Why should we bother pushing for elections at the local level then?

We believe the answer is simple. People in positions of power are nothing more than that: people. When they know they have to answer to the rakyat come the next election, they have an incentive to properly carry out their jobs, whether this is maintaining roads or properly regulating recycling, meaning they  have more of an obligation to pay attention to the people’s interests. If local councils were elected, we would be able to choose those who would best be able to serve our communities and reject those who have shown that they’re not fit for the job. The next time you see a pothole that seems to be immune to being fixed, consider a world where local councils are pushed to work harder through the ballot-box.

Ming Yao is a law student at the University of Cambridge and researcher for UndiSaksama.

Ecological Fiscal Transfer: A Tool for Combating Climate Change

Photo by Deva Darshan on Unsplash

Written by Dineshwara Naidu

Edited by Natasha Zulaikha, Aqilah Awg Abdul Rahman and Sheikh Syaqil Suhaimi

The discussion surrounding climate change has always played a significant role in policymaking and advocacy in every country. This is more so in recent times, as the pandemic highlighted the extent of action needed to combat climate change. It is evident that complacency coupled with ignorance not only exacerbates its effects of climate change, but also brings forth a broad-based disruption of the global economy unparalleled by any other event. For example, a recent Stanford study  has shown that a failure to reach climate goals globally would cost the world US$ 20 trillion, due to the rising temperatures that will have a detrimental effect on the environment, and  the economy. The effects appear to be more apparent in globally south countries such as Bangladesh, as opposed to the north due to complex topography, limited capital resources and inefficient planning. 

Thus, it is pivotal for Malaysians to develop contingencies allowing us to be better prepared for the unforeseeable future. Ecological policies and structures need to be implemented with  a comprehensive and sustainable system to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Therefore, this article will address two key questions: i) What environmental policies are viable in our current system? ii) What are the challenges present in applying these environmental policies? 

Currently, deforestation is posed as a threat to our biologically diverse environment because it reduces our natural carbon sinks and to the livelihood of indigenous communities as their main economic activities will be disrupted. Private companies can ravage through a vast amount of land to feed into its timber businesses, plantations, and development purposes. We constantly see this happening in places like Kelantan and Selangor. In an economic sense, it increases the state’s utility – one of the reasons why State governments have allowed this to happen for so long. The State government benefits on monetary gains such as tax and royalties through taxation of land development. Prolonging this archaic economic system is not sustainable in the long run, but state governments need an alternative source of income should they decide to stop land openings. Hence, a mechanism needs to be introduced in order to compensate for lost revenue from land development.  

This is where Ecological Fiscal Transfer (EFT) comes in the picture. It is an Economic instrument for intergovernmental fiscal transfers under which tax revenue is divided amongst various levels of government according to ecological parameters, such as the Protected Areas (PA) and is also focused on policy results. For example, The Federal government would redistribute income to State governments and state governments would allocate that to a set fund to local governments as well for forest conservation efforts. In terms of conservation results, EFT is promising because i) they do not inherently need new funding as such, but can be focused on improvements to existing allocation schemes and ii) they can be used to promote the development of PA. Our state governments will have an official channel with the EFT in place to put in the critical financial capital to discuss the effect of losing a large portion of their financial income due to the conservation efforts undertaken.

The implementation of EFT has long been a solid eco-policy in countries like Brazil and Portugal as it provides monetary incentives to encourage state or local governments to pursue conservation efforts. Additionally, Indonesia experienced similar success in enhancing decentralisation efforts through EFT as it provided a fiscal balance between governments.   

By implementing the EFT it will also incentivise all levels of government to carry out Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiatives. The REDD+ was put into place by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order for developing nations to: i) reduce emissions from deforestation; ii) reduce forest degradation; iii) conservation of forest carbon stocks and; iv) pursuance of sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stock. Malaysia has put in place a national policy called The National REDD Plus Strategy (NRS) which adds to the existing climate policies with the aim of ensuring  forest resources and their ecosystem services are protected and  all stakeholders share the benefits equally and equitably. This is done by distinguishing the forest as natural capital. 

What are the challenges that are present in fully realising EFT in Malaysia? The first (and biggest) challenge is the lack of transparency between the Federal and state governments, along with a system of accountability. In Malaysia’s 2020 budget a total of RM48 Million in funds were allocated for the protection of biodiversity but why is it that state governments still resort to private companies wanting to teardown forests for development? Clearly, it shows that: i) the funding is not enough and; ii) there is a weak system of accountability.

Moving forward, clear communication needs to be established between both parties in terms of transparency of financial data and ecological data. There needs to be a system of check and balance in place to hold every stakeholder accountable. Furthermore, having a select committee in Parliament would be the most efficient way in terms of building a solid foundation of accountability and transparency. Funds allocated also need to include the sovereign development of indigenous people of Malaysia as we need to recognise that they are constantly under threat by logging contractors destroying their livelihood. 

EFT is important to implement so it closes the important gap in policy mix for sustainable development by establishing a financial incentive by paying municipalities to host protected areas. This will assist public authorities in protecting nature and indigenous land rights and will be beneficial in the long run. Ultimately, we believe public authorities will take pride in protecting nature alongside preserving indigenous land rights for the benefits in the long run through establishing the EFT.

Dineshwara Naidu is a political science graduate with a passion of advocating for human rights and climate change and he also enjoys reviewing films in his free time.

Barriers of Women in Politics

Photo by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash

By Zara Taza

We define democracy as inclusive and yet, we often leave women out of the political conversation. There is a gap between the population of women and the political representation of women on both a local and global scale. According to the UN Women, only 24.3 percent of all national parliamentarians were women in February 2019 which is disproportionate to how women make up roughly about 50% of the population. We cannot pride ourselves as a democratic nation if we do not listen to women. Our democracy should take into consideration all voices in order to make the best suited political choices for us to move as a nation. With the lack of women in politics, an issue emerges where Parliament misrepresents the desires of the public and therefore cannot implement the necessary legislation that benefits the people as a whole.

By denying women from participating in politics, we are also neglecting how they are affected by these political choices. Women are citizens who must abide by the law but due to the limited political representation, they are unable to have an opinion on the laws that impact them. Encouraging women to become politically active seems like a simple solution but it is more complex than that. The barriers that women face are entrenched in our culture and political institutions, making it difficult for them to elevate themselves.

With the patriarchy ingrained in our political parties and institutions, there is no doubt that women find immense difficulty being elected into Parliament. According to a study done by Political Research Quarterly in 2011, party gatekeepers are more likely to recruit candidates who are similar to themselves. As a majority of party gatekeepers are men, it is no surprise that the successful candidates are predominantly male. While this creates unequal gender representation in Parliament, we dismiss women who may be more qualified to lead than their male counterparts. Due to the systematic sexism within political institutions, there is only 14.41% of female MPs in Malaysia’s 14th Parliament. Even though some Malaysian parties have established women’s wings in Malaysian parties to prevent this, counterintuitively, this hinders the advancement of women more than elevates them. Due to male politicians being able to control how far their female counterparts progress in the workplace, women are often restricted into supporting roles. We may be missing opportunities to have great leaders if we only choose from a specific pool of candidates rather than the whole picture.

Our cultural reinforcement of gender roles hinders the progress of women’s political advancement. The societal association that strong leadership is a masculine trait suggests that women are not strong enough to obtain this quality. As a result, women underestimate both their abilities and potential, leading them to believe that there is no place for them in leadership roles. According to a study conducted at American University, only 57 percent of women would consider themselves as qualified or very qualified to run for office compared to 73 percent of men. When we encourage women to take leadership roles, we are not only ensuring that women are participating in the policy making process but we are also normalising women in power; motivating more women to be confident enough to believe they are suited for leadership roles. However, there is currently an absence of equal gender representation in politics which superficially proves the notion that women are not fit for positions of power. This is not only an outdated idea, but an inaccurate portrayal of what women can achieve. We see this in prominent female MPs such as YB Hannah Yeoh, who became the first woman speaker for the Selangor State Assembly, and YB Yeo Bee Yin who was appointed as the Minister of Energy, Green Technology, Science and Climate Change in 2018 and constantly pushes for more women in science. Women are more than capable of achieving their ambitions but they need resources to provide them with confidence in order to overcome the notion that leadership is a masculine skill.

Due to the idea that women do not fit into leadership roles, women are required to work harder than men to gain their approval. Research by the Plan International, in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, suggests that 60% of women feel that they must work harder than men to prove that they have the skills to lead while also facing gender based obstacles. Women who are determined to become leaders are doomed to face opposition who will try to undermine them. In an incident in July 2020, YB Kasthuri Patto, was verbally assaulted with both racist and sexist slurs by her male counterparts. The unfortunate truth is that this is not new. Women in leadership roles will face hostility because they resist against the cultural demands of being a woman. This is the consequence of being a woman in power and in fear that they will face this backlash, less women will actively choose not to participate in politics.

Not only does political participation require emotional investment but also temporal investment as well. These are luxuries that not all women have. Cultural and religious standards require them to put their familial and household responsibilities first. According to the International Labour Organization, women spend 4.1 times more time than men in Asia and the Pacific on these responsibilities. Despite how invisible this work may seem, it contributes at least US$10.8 trillion a year to the global economy. Expecting women to balance both their domestic commitments and political advocacy would be unfair. There is an unbalanced distribution of care work among men and women. There is no doubt that cultural and religious expectations that women are responsible for care work makes it easier for men to be politically active than women.

There have been initiatives to counter the gender imbalance in politics such as quotas and women’s wings in political parties. However, these initiatives have been proven to be ineffective as they fail to solve the underlying cultural and societal issues. With determination and idealism, women can advance themselves into positions of power but we need to provide them with support throughout the process. When we supply women with confidence and practical legislation to aid them, we show them new opportunities to become leaders in their communities, workplace or government. 

The 111 Initiative promotes to increase the representation of women in Parliament to 50 percent. The initiative aims to show women that they do have an equal say in the future of their country and they are entitled in exercising this right. Once we empower women to be confident enough to be vocal about change, we are taking the first step towards revolutionising Malaysian politics.

Zara Taza is part of the UNDI18 team and works on a variety of campaigns but especially in the 111 Initiative. She advocates for more women representation and autonomy in not only in Parliament, but also in Malaysian society.


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