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A Malay proverb says “terlajak perahu boleh diundur, terlajak kata buruk padahnya”. Translated to English, this essentially means that words spoken cannot be undone. In the rhetoric leading up to GE15, it is understandable that candidates choose to “bertanam tebu di tepi bibir” (use sweet words to cajole) to win voters over.  

However, it is unacceptable that certain politicians have favoured attacking opponents’ fixed identities such as their gender as a way to call into question their leadership capabilities.  

Recently, a male politician sought to undercut his female opponents by questioning their ability to assist constituents in emergencies at night. This illustrated two stereotypical beliefs: that females were less dependable in times of crisis, and that female MPs would respond slower owing to them “taking more than two hours to get ready”.  

This is sadly not the first instance of sexist remarks against women in politics. Even in parliament, male MPs have disparaged female colleagues’ physical appearance and behaviour as being “indecent” and “rude”. These remarks against women leaders beg a simple question: if these men can casually disrespect their female equals, what does this say about their perceptions of women and girls at large?  

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As a female, Muslim, and Malay voter who has spent years understanding and addressing gender stereotypical attitudes towards leadership, I believe the time is past due for us to delegitimise these outdated narratives.  

Such beliefs about women’s lack of leadership capabilities are not only demeaning and untrue but are also a stark illustration of how unmoored some politicians are from everyday realities. A report published by King’s College London analysing over 500 pieces of research on the impact of women leaders in politics and public life found that women in politics tend to do more constituency work than men.  

As parts of the country continue to battle floods, it is almost impossible to avoid comparing the responses of this male politician and Nurul Izzah Anwar, who was photographed knee-deep in flood water in her constituency at night. In times of crisis requiring empathetic and decisive leadership, who indeed emerges as more capable of serving the rakyat? 

Central to effective leadership in representative democracy is the commitment of elected leaders to serve their constituents. Across the political spectrum, female MPs have exhibited better parliamentary attendance than their male counterparts based on publicly available MyMP data.  

While some politicians allege that “parliamentary attendance is not akin to school attendance”, the fact remains that parliamentary sittings are a fundamental space to represent the concerns of constituents, who voted them into leadership positions in the first place.  

Multiple studies have also found that compared to men, women in politics appear to place more emphasis on broader social issues including education, equal rights, and healthcare. Data from available public records indicate that female MPs across the political spectrum such as Azalina Othman Said (Umno), Natrah Ismail (PKR), and Noorita Sual (DAP) have continued to surface discussions of these issues.  

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