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Monday, April 06, 2009

Sensationalised and Sexualised Politicking Rears Its Ugly Head Again

A scene at Taman Kaya on April 6 during Bukit Gantang elections campaign

Stop objectifying women and using them as lures.

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) is disgusted with the tactics used by the Barisan Nasional (BN) to woo voters in Bukit Gantang recently.

In one of its dinners, young women clad in tank tops and mini shorts were used as a bait to attract members of the public to attend the BN ceramah. While there is nothing wrong in the young women’s dressing and their gyrations to the music, it is a sad reflection of how BN objectifies women and instrumentalises them to pull in the crowd. BN had done this during the Permatang Pauh by-elections campaign where scintillating dancing by beautiful young women and lucky draws were used to attract the public.

Such performances have been derogatorily named as “cat-shows”. YB Datuk Zahid Hamidi, newly elected Vice-president of UMNO Supreme Council, had justified such performances as being part of the Chinese culture. It goes to show that YB Datuk Zahid and the BN politicians have a poor grasp of women's rights and cultural issues.

By using women’s bodies to sensationalise politics, the BN is enabling and encouraging a sexist culture that is insulting to women and men. The implicit message that they send is that women are inferior, insignificant, and their bodies are only useful to attract voters. In all the by-elections, we have failed time and again to hear what their plans are to encourage young women in those constituencies to become political leaders. Women form 50% of the electorate and are full partners in development. Their political aspirations to be political leaders should be taken seriously.

Furthermore, we are enraged that YB Elizabeth Wong is dragged into the Bukit Gantang Parliamentary by-election. Such sensationalised and sexualised politicking is low, shameful and an insult to the dignity and humanity of all Malaysians.

Campaigns should focus on what the candidates can offer to better the lives of their constituents instead of using women’s bodies to woo voters. Carol Chew lost the elections in 2008 because she displayed sexist banners. It would appear that BN has not learnt its lessons.

The BN Government is legally obligated under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to improve the status of women. It had made commitments to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to improve women’s human rights. Article 8 (2) of the Federal Constitution was amended to forbid discrimination against women, and the BN Government provided in the Ninth Malaysian Plan that it would have 30% women in the decision making processes. The BN Government must show that it will deliver on its promises and fulfill the legitimate expectation of women that they should not be exploited or discriminated.

Maria Chin Abdullah

President of Empower

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