Prominent rights activist Marina Mahathir has lamented that some women buy into the idea that they have to accept a lesser role than males.
In a live interview with the National Human Rights Society (Hakam), streamed on Facebook, Marina said many conservative Muslims believed that women could not become leaders, and this was primarily due to her biological functions.
“Some say a woman cannot become a menteri besar (MB) because she cannot accompany the Sultan for religious functions when she is menstruating.”
However, Marina pointed out that the primary role of a menteri besar was to administer the state, thus a woman’s biological functions should not be used as an excuse to deny her appointment as a person of authority.
It is believed Marina was referring to the objections by some against the appointment of PKR President Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as Selangor menteri besar in 2014, during the state’s MB crisis.
Eventually, PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali was appointed menteri besar.
Marina said Islam’s history was filled with female leaders, such as Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadija, who was a successful businesswoman during her time, as well as the Prophet’s youngest wife, Aisha, who was regarded as a leader in the community.
“It is not unusual for Muslim women to lead, but nowadays we seem to be making an issue out of it.”
She also spoke on the issue of gender inequality in Malaysia, explaining that it was not an issue limited to the Muslim community.
Marina said to resolve the issue of gender inequality in society, the concept of gender equality had to start from home.
She said that both husband and wife must have equal roles, responsibilities and be equally respected.
“If there is inequality in a family, it will just carry over to society. We cannot expect schools to teach kids about gender equality if they go home and see inequality.”
Marina also touched on the lack of women in power, noting that only 10 per cent of parliamentarians were women and that only three women were full ministers in the Cabinet.
Marina added that political parties on both sides of the divide seemed reluctant to ensure 30 per cent of decision-making positions were occupied by women and that real political will was needed for this to become a reality.
Last year, Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the Malaysian chapter of the “30% Club” in a bid to triple the percentage of women on companies’ boards by 2016.
In the past, the government has also sought to increase women’s participation in the public sector with many top posts now held by women.