When Zahid derided the dream of having a woman Prime Minister in Malaysia, he trampled on this year’s International Women’s Day theme “Equality for Women is Progress for All”

Barely two weeks after Malaysia joined the world to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, the Najib administration through the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi trampled on this year’s International Women’s Day theme “Equality for Women is Progress for All”.

With such mentality by those who wield power in the Najib premiership, it is no wonder that Malaysia’s gender equality index ranks so lowly as compared even with neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia.

The 2013 Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Malaysia 102 out of 136 countries, with other Asean countries besting Malaysia save for Cambodia (104) and Myanmar, which was not listed.

In the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, Philippines was placed 5th in the world above Singapore at 58, Thailand at 65, Laos at 60, Vietnam at 73 and Indonesia at 95.

The index measures gender equality across four areas of health, education, economics and politics, covering 90% of the world’s population.

Malaysia’s ranking in the index has steadily slipped from 72 in 2006 when the report was launched.

With Zahid’s contemptuous dismissal yesterday of the dream of a woman Prime Minister for Malaysia, there is not only little prospect of any improvement in Malaysia’s ranking in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Index but a possibility of further slippage.

Zahid should explain why he and the UMNO leadership is so contemptuous of the idea of having a woman Prime Minister – following my statement that Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail could be Malaysia’s first woman Prime Minister?

As I have pointed out, Asia has seen woman Prime Ministers or Presidents like Indira Gandhi, who was Indian Prime Minister twice spanning 15 years; Pratibha Patil who was Indian President for five years from 2007; Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was thrice Prime Minister of Sri Lanka spanning 17 years; Chandrika Kumaratunga who was Sri Lanka President for 11 years; Benazir Bhutto who was twice Prime Minister of Pakistan spanning more than four years; Bangladesh has produced two woman Prime Ministers, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed, each having served in this office twice covering over 10 years; and Park Geun-hye the incumbent President of South Korea.

Closer home in ASEAN, we have Philippines producing two woman Presidents – Corazon Aquino, for over six years, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for over nine years; Megawarti Sukarnoputra, President of Indonesia for over three years; and Yingluck Shinawatra, the incumbent Prime Minister of Thailand since 2011.

Farther afield, we have incumbent woman head of governments or states like Angela Markel, German Chancellor for more than eight years; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark; Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina; Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil and Joyce Banda, President of Malawi.

Women have served as head of governments or states in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa and the Americas, including Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom), Golda Meir (Israel), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway), Mary Robinson (Iceland), Tansu Ciller (Turkey), Kim Campbell (Canada), Helen Clerk (New Zealand) and Julia Gillard (Australia).

There are at least 13 states in the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) which have had women as either Prime Minister or President, namely: Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Senegal, Mozambique, Mali and Gabon.

My question to Zahid is: As women have been Prime Minister or President in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, Americas and in 13 of the OIC countries, why not in Malaysia? Why should this dream of Malaysians be a nightmare for Zahid?

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah