Parti Sosialis Malaysia: Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights

[Editor’s note: A representative from the Socialist Party of Malaysia will be speaking at Ecosocialism 2024, June 28–30, Boorloo/Perth, Australia. For more information on the conference visit]

First published at Think Left.

Today, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), with everyone in the world, is celebrating International Women’s Day. This day allows us to reflect on the progress made towards empowering women and to call for action to overcome the challenges that still exist in achieving gender equality in all aspects of life. Today is also an occasion to commemorate women’s accomplishments and reinforce gender equality and women’s empowerment. The global theme for this year is ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,’ emphasising the pivotal role that investing in women plays in propelling positive change and advancement in society.

In many countries, including Malaysia, we have witnessed significant progress in women’s empowerment in social, economic, political, and technological sectors. Inspirational female leaders are driving change in their communities and countries. However, despite the UN’s declaration of equal and indispensable rights for all women and men in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 70 years ago, discrimination, stigmatisation, and violence persist and are experienced by women across the world.

Equal rights

Although Article 8 of the Federal Constitution guarantees the right to equality, Malaysian women are still fighting to have full rights to confer citizenship to their children; mothers have to go to court to fight for their children not to be stolen from them; child marriage is still legal; only 13.5% of our MPs in our parliament are women, not even half of the promised 30%; and women are the most significant affected force by the current inflation crisis. Any laws or practices that discriminate based on gender are in contradiction to the Federal Constitution and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which Malaysia is a party.

Our society has proven to be biased, sexist, misogynistic, unequal, and insensitive. It reveals itself in our thought processes, working norms, and interactions deeply rooted in traditional gender roles and norms and the underlying imbalance of power that shapes them. This creates a substantial disparity in how women and girls acquire opportunities to engage in public life compared to men and boys.

Malaysian society perpetuates many ‘norms’ that marginalize several factions of society, including LGBTQI+ communities. For women in Malaysia, especially women from minority, marginalized, and underrepresented groups, this year’s IWD theme is very meaningful as it focuses on equal representation to progress.

Gender-based violence (GBV)

In Malaysia, despite seeing a number of laws passed to protect women and children, including an amendment to the Penal code in the form of an anti-stalking law and amendments to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007; Malaysia still has a really long way to go. According to the Royal Malaysian Police1, approximately 22,908 domestic violence cases against women were recorded from 2020 to August 2023.

Achieving gender equality and eliminating all forms of violence against women requires advancing women’s political participation at all levels of governance. The political arena in Malaysia remains one of the most challenging public spheres for women to enter, with only a minority of leadership positions in political parties, parliaments, and governments held by women. Women must be able to participate fully in the decision-making process in all aspects of governance.

Women and the economy

Despite advancements made by the feminist movement in improving the socio-economic status of women, significant gender disparities persist in the labour market. According to the Malaysian Gender Gap Index for 2022, women earn only RM66.67 for every RM100 men earn. This gap is particularly pronounced in low-income groups and precarious contractual jobs, where women constitute the majority. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that four out of every five jobs created for women in recent years have been in the informal economy, compared to a ratio of two out of every three jobs for men.

Societal biases and entrenched traditional norms often lead women to shoulder a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities within households. Even in dual-income households, now commonplace, women frequently encounter significant workplace challenges while managing family care duties.

During periods of economic expansion and heightened labour demand, women are encouraged to enter the workforce, departing from traditional gender roles. However, in times of economic downturn, female labour is often viewed as a low-return investment that consumes more resources, making women more susceptible to layoffs.

Patriarchal and neoliberal structures further compound these challenges, portraying women as adaptable labourers who can seamlessly transition between the public and private spheres. Consequently, they are often treated as expendable reserves of the workforce and are expected to perform unpaid labour without question.

In today’s era of rampant neoliberalism, characterized by escalating living costs and extensive cuts to public spending, women, particularly those in lower socio-economic strata, bear the brunt of these impacts directly.

We stand in solidarity with the women, daughters, mothers, and sisters who tirelessly strive to provide for their families. Only through establishing a broader and more inclusive social safety net, including provisions for socialized elderly and childcare services and the promotion of universal pension schemes, can we effectively eradicate poverty and deprivation among low-income women.

Women and democracy

Gender equality and democracy are inseparable. Societies that achieve gender equality provide a strong foundation for democracies. We must prioritize gender equality by encouraging women’s participation in political processes and governance, the direction of the nation’s economy, conflict resolution mechanisms, and political negotiations.

To inspire inclusion in the community, one must practice it and lead by example. Women make up half the country; why do we not reflect that? We must strive to ensure that marginalised genders and sexualities are not left behind.

This is a critical time to expand opportunities for women in politics, including promoting their leadership in traditionally male-dominated areas such as the economy, foreign affairs, technology, and security. Women must play a more significant role in society, peacebuilding, and reconciliation processes, which have higher rates of success when women are meaningfully involved.

It is also essential to engage more male leaders and allies to promote women’s political empowerment and emphasize zero tolerance towards gender-based violence and discrimination. This has to begin through a robust transformation in the education system and also by ending the patriarchal system that further creates gaps and remains an obstacle to the right to equality.

PSM is committed to advancing women’s rights and gender equality as a universal democratic value. Together, we can take it further and make more progress supporting women’s rights. Equality is not only for imagination and dreams; it is a collective responsibility. On this International Women’s Day, we call on the government and all the institutions to recognize that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.

For International Women’s Day 2024, PSM endorses the demands made by Women’s March Malaysia. They are:

1. Protect bodily autonomy and the freedom of choice

2. Ensure decent work standards and living wage

3. Ban child marriages NOW!

4. Declare climate crisis and create a national action plan

5. Equal political participation of oppressed genders at all levels of governance

6. Enact constitutional and legislative reform to achieve gender equality

7. Ensure safe and accessible public spaces for oppressed genders

8. Create a social protection system for all oppressed genders

9. Eliminate all forms of violence against all oppressed genders & sexual minorities

Gender Bureau
Party Sosialis Malaysia

[1] ‘3,640 domestic violence cases first eight months’. Hady, Noor Syahhira. New Sarawak Tribune, 29 September 2023.