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Women sidelined in new govt despite campaign promises

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Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gives a news conference after a cabinet meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s new government is failing to ensure women hold a third of its policy-making positions, despite pledges during the campaign leading up to historic elections this month, campaigners said.

An opposition alliance led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad scored a shock victory at the May 9 poll, heralding the first change of government since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.

Campaigning on a platform for change, the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) promised a wide range of reforms, including ensuring at least 30 percent of policy makers are women.

But activists are angered over the low number who have so far been appointed to national and state governments run by the Alliance, with none meeting the target.

“We are holding the government accountable to its promise. We want an inclusive society,” said Angela Kuga Thas, executive director of the group Empower.

She led a small rally outside the national palace in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where protestors held placards that read: “Women are ready to govern” and “We vote for change”.

Thas said female perspectives must be included in decision making on issues from fighting climate change to pushing for greater women’s and children’s rights.

Of the 14-member federal Cabinet, three are women including the first female deputy premier. Women are also being sidelined from positions in states like Johor, where only one of 11 state Cabinet ministers is female.

A record 32 women were elected into Malaysia’s 222-seat parliament at the recent poll, up from 23 in the last term according to Empower.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks Malaysia 155 out of 188 nations in terms of women’s representation in national legislatures, below less developed Southeast Asian nations such as East Timor, Vietnam and Laos.

Malaysia was ranked 104 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap Index after scoring poorly on political empowerment.

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