[SPECIAL REPORT] — Female voters deciding factor in General Election
ANT interview with Dr Zaireeni Azmi, Senior Lecturer and Convenor Unit for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA), School of Social Sciences, USM.
1.How will the female voters be a deciding factor in this year’s General Election?
First of all, let me stress here that, so far to the best of my knowledge, there is no comprehensive study that is looking into voting behaviour of female voters in Malaysia. More studies should be done to understand women’s voting behaviour.
Secondly, women are not homogenous. Women are different according to their socio-demography, location, social status etc. Urban women versus rural women, their lived experiences are different, their lived realities, their needs are not the same.
Single mothers, for example, bear the double burden of work and family, taking care of children, elderly folks or disabled family members without support from spouses. Women’s own socio-political economy itself is the major factor and all these factors are integrated.
Urban women may be concerned more about their livelihood related to urbanization, housing issues, and the increasing cost of living and working women in urban areas are more concerned about childcare facilities or their security.
On the other hand, rural women may have different deciding factors. Party loyalty, for one, is the candidate how connected they feel towards the candidate. The point is, women are not a homogenous group.
Many factors are shaping their perceptions and their decision to vote. National issues or sentiments can also influence the female voters, especially women who are involved in or interested in politics and following what is happening in the political world.
National issues appeal to women in NGOs, civil society, those women who have higher activism and engage with women themselves. But at the same time, we also cannot deny that there are women who are influenced by their spouses or family members in voting. Younger women, young voters or first-time voters may cast their votes based on the family member’s discretion.
Based on my study with Dr Ummu and other colleagues in 2018, the majority of women and married women in all 3 age groups (31-40), (41-50) and (51 above), women paid attention to who contested in the elections, assessing the candidates’ potential, their capability to govern well and attentions to people’s problems.
Majority of the respondents claimed that one of the main factors that influenced their decision in voting was the candidate. The finding is similar to another research by Fatimi Hanafi in 2017 who also concluded that women voted for eligible candidates to be elected.
Nevertheless, further research should be conducted to examine further whether candidates’ gender would influence women’s choices.
In the same study (2018) the young women believed in good representatives who can bring up their voices and concerns. This group of women are more alert with what happens around them and what affect their lives.
At the same time, we also cannot put aside the sentiment of indebted (terhutang budi) in women’s political behaviour.
Prior to 2008’s election, the opposition at that time really had difficult time to break in BN’s votebank in scheme settlements especially in FELDA.
The settlers, men and women alike have strong economic and institutional link to UMNO hence BN. It is understandable because the government led by UMNO has provided them with a house and another piece of land for an agricultural activity. They were landless, poor and FELDA gave them a new life . So these women in FELDA would be grateful (maybe forever) and for that reason only will continue to vote for BN.
However, we are seeing some changes in FELDA and those changes helped PH to won GE14.
There is no certainty as in what are the major deciding factors would be. But the dominant features, the educated women are clearer with their choice or those who are exposed to political issues.
They are more aware of the country’s current political scenario and their votes are unpredictable. In clarity of making choices or personal choice, they are clearer as compared to other groups of women. We cannot deny that some women have already made up their minds where their votes should go.
There are some women who will vote based on party affiliation. They are members of certain political parties. So do the elderly women in rural areas. Others might be influenced by election incentives, parties’ manifestos or position on issues close to them. Many may wait until towards the end of the campaign to decide.
We don’t have any data to understand whether party’s manifesto influence women voting behaviour.
But I think in Malaysia, gender is never been a deciding card for people to decide whom or what party to vote.
We don’t have any data to inform us where did the votes go. Which group of women support male candidates and which one pro women candidate.
2.Compared to GE 14 and GE 15, what will be the difference between the female voter’s sentiment towards the candidate?
If you look at social media, the narrative in social media is changing. Candidates background would play a significant role to attract women especially fence sitters (pengundi atas pagar).
You can sense the need for a good governance because of corruption, political instability etc. Plus, the call for more women representatives in politics by increasing numbers of women candidates is also well received by women from various political parties and background.
PantauPRU15 has been lobbying, put more pressure on political parties to walk the talk of supporting more women in this coming general election.
Besides, there is an ongoing strong sentiment for gender equality issues for example sexual harassment, citizenship which are not appeal to women but also men.
For young voters, young female voters-social may be inclined towards social media and family factors playing a role in influencing their choice to vote.
3.Recently, it was reported that there is a desired target of 30% female candidates to be fielded by a political coalition. How do you see this and what should be done in order to achieve the target.
GE15 will be in the next 20 days. So, we are talking within that 20 days what should be done in order to achieve at least 30% female candidates?
The political parties should be hold to their promises to field in more women in this general election. There is no other way.
We can lobby, we can pressure but at the end of the day it is really up to the political parties. In almost all political parties at the moment (except for DAP) none of them have achieved at least 30% women at the party’s leadership structure. Meaning that men are the ones who are calling the shot.
Thus, it is crucial for women leaders in that party to lobby and demand for the space and opportunities to have more female candidates in GE15. Stop looking for reasons not to allow women to contest but highlight on what women can do. Female leaders’ track record has shown that women once given the responsibility will excel.
The religious scholars should chip in and play a role. Their support and their narratives would motivate or hinder women especially Malay Muslim women to be leaders. Male and female figures should also put in their weight and talk about having more women candidates whenever and whatever platforms the can.
To be honest, in order to have 30% selected women after GE15, the number of women candidacies should be higher. Because even though we have 30% female candidates but if the people do not vote for them, number of women political leader will not change.
Thus, it is important for political parties to ensure that their female candidates are competing at the winnable seats and not against other women in the contested seat. Female candidates should utilize space, opportunities and access to various platforms including media to promote their leadership.
Make yourself visible. Engage with media and social media. Speak up on various issues, and don’t pigeonhole on women issues. But be aware that women’s experiences and lived realities are not the same.
You are representing this vulnerable group. The female candidates can also come out with their manifesto which should be aligned with their political parties’ manifesto.
I hope ( for now) that every political party or at least their coalition will have the 30% number on the nomination day.
Pix credit — My SPR