“Is Najib still living in the Dark Ages? This statement certainly spells it. Come to think of it, he should fire himself over that sexist, vulgar statement.”
We asked Kasthuri if people took her seriously, being young and female. She admitted that it can be challenging at times when voicing out opinions among men.
“This is what the term ‘survival of the fittest’ truly means. But the art is in how a particular message is conveyed, and you need to adjust immediately judging by your audience. Of course, substance is key in any message.”
“Nowadays, a woman is respected for her contribution and principles, for her struggles, hopes and dreams, and not just admired for her beauty.”
In this age where people are becoming more politically literate, a women is looked as as an equal to a male, if not better. In true fashion of a Malaysian Malaysia, we are surrounded by strong women from different backgrounds who have a common vision: women’s empowerment on the political platform in Malaysia.
On joining politics
Kasturi admits that politics in general has often been perceived as a ‘big boy’s game on big boy’s turf’. It is supposedly boring, dangerous, far too serious for women to comprehend. Hence many women shy away from it. But Kasthuri never hesitated to get involved, due to strong family support – both her late father and mother are DAP stalwarts.
Culturally, women were expected to confine themselves to the kitchen or the home. History records instances of women breaking the mold of conformity and daring to take office and rule. They have been queens, regents and consorts, others carved their name as physicians, scientists and other ground breaking professions.
“It was once said by Louisa May Alcott (an American writer) that ‘it is poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country’.
This quote aptly describes the urgent need to uphold women’s rights in any society.”
The best of both worlds
Speaking about the challenges of working mothers, Kasthuri highlighted the challenge of juggling work and family.
“Both need your constant attention, commitment and care. It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s not impossible when paired with a supportive family.” said the former microbiologist.
Despite the fact that more than half of female graduates from institutes of higher learning are females, less than half end up in the workforce. With a choking economy looming, where a ‘double job, double income’ by husband and wife could help in making ends meet, some women don’t have that kind of liberty to do so.
How can a society truly evolve and call itself a mature developed society if it cannot respect and view woman as a crucial part of the exponential growth in a society, both socially and economically?
In a not so ideal society, there are plenty of women who single-handedly raise a family while juggling work. Sometimes it is a case of a deceased spouse, a missing spouse, an abusive spouse or an immobile spouse. These women have risen above the storm and emerged as survivors.
Rising above the tide
Modern day Malaysia is peppered with remarkable women leaders who persevere and endure through everyday obstacles they face in their struggle to uphold what they feel so passionately about and in what they believe in – Women’s Empowerment.
From NGO leaders such as Irene Fernandez and Ambiga Sreenivasan, to local council Presidents of the Penang Municipal Council and Seberang Perai Municipal Council (Patahiyah Ismail and Maimunah Mohd Shariff, respectively), Malaysian women have held high positions in civil society and government.
Kasthuri points out that PKR is helmed by a woman- Dr Wan Azizah. “PR have shown who’s the boss in terms of gender issues. BN has no idea about women’s rights, let alone champion them,” she said.
On the other hand, PR led state governments have initiated policies to boost women’s economic participation and welfare.
“With vocal men and women leaders on the state and national front to bring forth better rakyat-friendly policies, PR will continue to show that they deserve to be in Putrajaya.”
Can PR do better for women?
Looking at the efforts that have been made since 2008 and the seriousness of the PR coalition towards women’s issues, Kasthuri thinks so.
“I think the key words here are ‘education’, ‘opportunity’, and not ‘hand-held assistance’. When there is awareness of empowerment, and equal opportunity for setting up a business, for example, it becomes more realistic and within reach,” she says.
This indirectly gives courage and strength to women to venture out into the business world. As outlined in PR’s Malaysian Women Agenda, job openings or business opportunities must be created for women to survive and flourish in the economy.
“The person constantly must appear on the radar of the government so that they are not left alone in shark infested waters,” says the thirty-two year old.
Kasthuri, who currently works with the Bukit Gasing State Assemblyman’s service centre, suggests that the state carry out a census to target middle to lower income groups. This is in order to create outreach programmes to reach out to needy groups and empower them with dignity and respect, a source of income and independence.
On PR’s Women Agenda
PR women’s agenda aims to introduce an equal pay scale, gender responsive budgeting, Women Provident Fund of RM50 per month, micro credit schemes and training to uplift the dignity of women and mainstream women’s issues.
“When women know that their voices are heard, their opinions are taken seriously, a certain pride and self respect would automatically develop within them. This empowers them,”
“When women know that the government is serious in addressing the issue of gender equality, women will begin to stand up for what they think is right and wrong. Naturally, mainstream women’s issues will be highlighted and addressed,” Kasthuri adds.
These issues include stepping up legal protection for women and enforcement of existing laws. Kasthuri highlights the importance of gender sensitivity when handling cases of violation against women. Procedures should reduce red tape that will only add to the agony of the victim.
“Hospitals and m edical establishments must give equal importance to psychological trauma and shame, and not just focus on the physical trauma of the victims. A mature society must be the pillar of strength for victims of domestic violence.”
Rights or Equality?
We asked Kasthuri whether there was a contradiction between women’s rights and equality between the sexes. She told me that even if equality between the sexes is instilled as a culture, it does not mean that women’s rights will be upheld.
“It just means that women will be treated as equals, without prejudice. Therefore the need for women’s rights is still vital and will be the first step in a more holistic intensification and development of a nation.”
When women are judged and evaluated based on credentials and not on gender, Malaysia can hold her head high as a country that gives equal place for men and women under the sun.
Hopes for GE13
Women, like other concerned patriotic Malaysians, want a better Malaysia. A Malaysia where they are able to dream of a better future for their children. Where their children can hope for a better life. A safer and more secure Malaysia.
A Malaysia that is not only rich in its natural resources, in its culture and in its heritage, but a politically mature Malaysia that sows the seeds of democracy, justice and freedom to prevail.
As a woman I yearn to bring about change in the mindsets of the different cultures in the different layers of society that there is no such thing as a ‘man’s world anymore’. It is our world now and we all have an equal role to play in it. It boils down to how and what we make of it.
Through education and social awareness, I aspire to serve women, men and Malaysians in my full ability to bring a better change to society and the nation in the struggle for a Malaysian Malaysia. – The Rocket