Black Monday as Najib clocks in as the new Women's Minister
Women activists and opposition leaders are calling it a Black Monday as Prime Minister Najib Razak clocks in as the country's first-ever male Women Minister.
His predecessor, disgraced Umno Women's chief Shahrizat Jalil, was not re-appointed when her Senatorship expired on Sunday after stirring a huge controversy for their party and BN coalition over the RM250 million NFC debacle.
"We talk about 30% participation and we are not able to filed women in their very own ministry. That should set the example. This is a move backwards and a Black Day for the women of Malaysia," Ampang Member of Parliament Zuraidah Kamaruddin told Malaysia Chronicle.
Unrepentant, Shahrizat unleashes veiled threats to rivals
Within the BN coalition, calls for Shahrizat to quit were too numerous to ignore, forcing Najib to drop Shahrizat from the Cabinet. But within their own Umno, where corruption is almost a 'norm', he has refused to ask her to relinquish her party post despite calls from the women's or Wanita wing and from the rest of the party.
The PM's open endorsement for corruption has emboldened Shahrizat to come down hard on her party members who have dared to call for her resignation.
At a press conference on Sunday, her words while veiled were a tacit threat that those who did not toe her line won't get far Wanita Umno.
"It depends on what I do because I am the chief, as far as Kamilia or anybody is concerned, I am not confrontational by nature but I am firm and I know where I want to bring Umno Wanita because I am the chief,” she was reported as telling reporters.
Shahrizat was referring to Kamila Ibrahim, her deputy who has minced no words calling on her to quit. According to Kamilia, the grassroots no longer respected Shahrizat after her husband and children were accused of leveraging on the RM250 mil government soft loan granted to the NFC cattle breeding project, and even siphoning out funds, to buy personal items such as luxury condo, overseas holidays and even a supermarket lease.
Women viewed as flower pots
Indeed, with the 13th general election looming, the core concern and worry of Umno members is whether they will be selected to contests and Shahrizat appears to be taking a leaf from Najib, who has been using his "winnable list" to pressure, and some even say coerce, other party colleagues into supporting him.
"It is a real insult to women in general and wanita BN especially. At a time when elections are near, surely women deserve to be reassured that their role is very strategic and they will be given due priority in the nation and economy. However, the PM's action has confirmed the notion that Wanita in Umno and BN are mere wallpaper or flower pots," Kuantan Member of Parliament Fuziah Salleh told Malaysia Chronicle.
Fuziah, who like Zuraidah is a top PKR leader, is also the well-respected organizer of save-the-environment anti-rare earth refinery Lynas campaign. She has been at the helm of several Himpunan Hijau rallies, with the third one due on April 28, alongside the Bersih 3.0 free and fair elections protest.
Talent vacuum and Rosmah to fill it?
Fuziah pointed out that by selecting himself to head the Women's ministry, Najib was admitting the talent vacuum in Wanita BN.
In the current Cabinet, there is now left only one full minister - MCA's Ng Yen Yen, who has also been tainted by corruption and grilled over her high-cost overseas trips and an exorbitantly-priced Facebook campaign for her Tourism Ministry.
"Just recently, the PM called on the nation to recognize women leadership in the various sectors. But his own action reflects the real vacuum in Wanita leadership. Umno-BN cannot even present a women's leader who is exemplary and good enough to be of ministerial material. What a shame and a real slap to Wanita Umno, Wanita BN and all wanita in Malaysia!" said Fuziah.
There is also concern that Najib may allow his unpopular and brash wife Rosmah Mansor to help him out in the Women's ministry.
"There is no excuse for Najib not to be able to find a woman worthy enough to replace Shahrizat. He has known for nearly a month she is stepping down on April 8. The only explanation is that Najib doesn't trust anyone from Wanita Umno or Wanita BN to fill the post. Najib only trusts his wife Rosmah Mansor," said Pokok Sena Member of Parliament Mahfuz Omar.
Women should not waste time on such a man
Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah also expressed shock that Najib had named himself Shahrizat's successor.
"We have only one female minister left, so this does not meet the 30%," the Sundaily reported Ivy as saying.
And while Ivy hoped that women's rights groups could capitalize on having the attention of the Prime Minister, it remains to be seen if the ineffective and under-performing Najib could really rise to the occasion and please the women in the country.
"We have no less than 10 memorandums on law and policy reform, such as enacting a gender equality law, a Sexual Harrassment Act, domesticating the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and reforms to Islamic family law," said Ivy.
"Najib can do a million good things because he has the power but don't hold your breath. The most important policy for Malaysia - man or woman - is to get rid of corruption. This is the cancer eating into the soul of the nation and into the wallets of poor, making them even poorer. If Najib has not been able to do this and is instead supporting someone involved in corruption, women should be smart and not waste any time on such a man," said Zuraidah.