OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng


February 17, 2017

Book Review:

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng

Image result for ob markers: my straits times story by cheong yip seng

From the very first chapter of this book to the last, it is full of detailed and astonishing revelations about the mainstream media in Singapore. It is an incredible resource for those trying to understand the control of the media and Singapore’s brand of self-censorship. Indirectly, Cheong Yip Seng’s My Straits Times Story is invaluable in helping to explain the dominance of one political party through its “symbiotic” relationship to all the mainstream print media in our country.

The book begins with an account of how Cheong was appointed to his job as editor-in-chief of the Straits Times in 1986. This was not a private dinner with a publisher or a board meeting or even the result of a secret ballot at a conference of editors.

Instead, Cheong describes how he was summoned by Chandra Das, a prominent Singapore politician, on a plane to Burma with the words “The boss wants to see you”. Cheong was given a seat in the first-class cabin next to the then-Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong. Goh wanted him to take over the editorial leadership of the Straits Times from the previous editor, Peter Lim, who had been found wanting.

Image result for Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore
Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore

Apparently Lim’s “sin” was that he (and the ST) had during the regional uproar over the Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore “failed to recognize the educational role of the Straits Times” which infuriated then PM Lee Kuan Yew who believed that the ST coverage “did not help Singaporeans fully understand the facts of regional life and what it took to be an independent sovereign nation.”

Apparently Lim had relied too much on the Malaysian English-language media in its coverage of the Malaysian outrage without adequately carrying some of the more rabid reactions from the vernacular media from across the causeway. This was the final straw which led to Lim’s firing as the Istana had apparently “reached the point of no return with the Straits Times.”

Related imageBelieve him or not, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew stood up for a responsible and accountable media

In the months before that, Cheong reveals, the government was planning on a “GTO (government team of officials) moving into Times House” similar to what was done with the bus company. The response by the ST leadership is instructive. Instead of protesting against this attempt at interference in professional journalism, apparently Peter Lim and CEO Nigel Holloway met the PM at the Istana repeatedly to negotiate against the presence of government officials in the newsroom. The solution they negotiated was instead a “monitor at Times House, someone who could watch to see if indeed the newsroom was beyond control”. This person was identified by Cheong as (former Singapore president) S R Nathan.

The threat of a GTO together with the presence of a “monitor” made sure that the SPH newspapers toed the party line. This is something that many in civil society in Singapore have suspected for a long time but it is nice to see it confirmed here from the best source possible.

There is more evidence of intimidation documented in this book, mainly from Lee Kuan Yew, who actually endorsed the book prominently. For example, after an early event at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Cheong was threatened by Lee with the words, “If you print this, I will break your neck”. Cheong’s response to what appears on the surface to be a brutal threat is interesting was: “I was taken aback by his thunderbolt…It was my first taste of Lee Kuan Yew’s ways with the media…Thankfully not every encounter would be as bruising as (that)…but there were many occasions when the knuckleduster approach was unmistakable.”

Image result for Lee Kuan Yew

All said and done and for all  the criticisms, Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore a great and globally admired Island Nation in the Sun–Din Merican

Such blatant intimidation is presumably rare in Singapore. The title of the book, however, describes the life of a Singaporean journalist constantly trying to negotiate the “OB” or “Out of Bounds” markers. Cheong explains the origin of the term “OB markers”, ascribing it to former minister George Yeo, who described them as “areas of public life that should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.”

Outside of race and religion, the most important OB marker was then PM Lee Kuan Yew’s argument that the press could not be a “fourth estate” or center of power because it was not elected.

This is not a valid argument to me as it could be argued that the press are far more accountable than politicians as they have to seek the approval of the newspaper purchasing public every day rather than every four to five years in elections.

Instead, Lee’s view of the press was that it was a tool for dissemination and promotion of government policies. One illuminating illustration was a “furious” call from Lee’s office that was received by the (now defunct) New Nation Editor David Kraal. The editors were “flummoxed” to discover that the then PM was provoked by a photograph of a large family to illustrate a story of a happy Singapore family. Apparently, this was perceived by the PM as “subtle but effective criticism” of the “Stop at Two campaign” in which Lee sought to limit families to two children.

There are other OB markers which Cheong found “bewildering”. These included stories on Stanley Gibbons, a stamp dealer; carpet auctions; monosodium glutamate or MSG; feng shui; unflattering pictures of politicians, and scoops.

I think many Singaporeans too would find it difficult to understand why these “should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.” These are, however, hallmarks of an authoritarian regime which can install boundaries at whim without having them questioned.

Image result for singapore's george yeo
The Emeritus Foreign Minister of Singapore, George Yeo

Another OB marker was appearing overly critical of local TV programs. George Yeo apparently pointed out that “If the Straits Times created the impression that our TV programs were not worth watching, Singapore would lose an important channel of communications.” As a result, even the TV critics were reined in.

The issue of scoops is a recurrent theme. Cheong reports that “Lee Kuan Yew was determined to purge the newsroom of the culture of scoops”. He did not want a situation like the Watergate affair in which a dishonest president was exposed by investigative journalists who became cult heroes. Cheong writes that “The PM took the position that Singapore was not America: he had no skeletons in the closet and challenged the press to find one because he wanted to be the first to know…”

But of course, the press could not use investigative journalism to find out – they had to depend on the official version of events. This kind of Alice in Wonderland argument doesn’t seem to trouble Cheong or perhaps by re-stating the argument in this context, he is exposing its hollowness.

Cheong actually admits how much of a struggle this was for him as a journalist. He quotes Number 5 Chinese Leader Li Changchun as urging mainland Chinese journalists to go for scoops and explains his predecessor Peter Lim’s Faustian bargain for Singapore journalists thus: “it was better to produce the best story than the first story…Finding scoops in Singapore with many OB markers carried a real risk”.

Indeed, one gets a sense of how difficult life is for journalists who might inadvertently break a story that covered the sensitive subject of MSG or bad local TV programs or some other OB marker and end up being hauled up by the government.

Cheong makes it clear that while he had hoped that the “knuckleduster era” belonged to the 1970s, it could reappear any time. For example, he describes how while “recovering” from the 2006 general election, he received a phone call in a hotel in Phuket, from Lee Kuan Yew who was “livid” about a “powerfully argued column by Chua Mui Hoong” in which the deputy political editor had questioned the policy of placing opposition wards at the back of the queue for upgrading works. According to Cheong, Lee was “his old 1970s self. If the Straits Times wanted a fight, he was prepared to do it the old way, with knuckledusters on”. This is depressing but not surprising to any reader of the ST today.

The extent of micro-management of the local press Cheong reports is amazing. Apparently, Goh Chok Tong had made a suggestion during the launch of The New Paper: “Why not consider a Page 3 girl”. Cheong quickly clarifies that Goh was not suggesting topless women that had been made famous by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun but rather girls that (as Cheong quotes Goh) “can be scantily dressed”. The character and direction – and not just the OB markers – of the local press are thus apparently suggested by Singapore’s political leadership.

Cheong also provides details about the ST personnel’s relationship with the ruling People’s Action Party, the PAP. He writes that “senior PAP leaders had been impressed with (columnist Warren Fernandez’s) work for us. His columns in particular have been generally supportive of PAP policies.” He was about to be selected as a PAP candidate for the 2006 elections.

Cheong then emailed the Prime Minister asking to keep Warren at the ST “unless he was earmarked for higher office. But the PM’s response was that he needed Eurasian representation in parliament”. Apparently Cheong’s email had been circulated to the PAP selection panel before the final interview and Kuan Yew agreed to keep Fernandez out of the PAP slate. Of course, now Fernandez is the Editor of the ST.

Reporting on the “opposition” politicians was even more of a “minefield”. Cheong recalls the 1984 elections when “Peter Lim, then editor in chief, was under pressure from James Fu, the PM’s press secretary, conveying the PM’s request to publish Chiam (See Tong)’s O-Level results….Peter Lim refused: he was convinced it would backfire against the PAP…The result proved him right”.

What intrigues me about the incident was not just that the Prime Minister would intervene to try to persuade the national newspaper to publish such data, but rather that the editor-in-chief refused not because of journalistic integrity but rather because he thought it would “backfire against the PAP”.

This is typical of what Cheong describes as the “symbiotic relationship” between the ST and the PAP which is in fact enshrined in the editorial policy that Cheong crafted in response to then PM Goh’s unhappiness with the local mainstream media. The three pillars of that policy are (1) “Accuracy and objectivity” of coverage (2) The nation-building task of advancing and informing the public as Singapore develops and (3) The symbiotic relationship with the government. Some journalists were unhappy about this relationship but it stayed in the ST editorial policy at Cheong’s insistence. This documentation again, is what makes this book valuable to all who read the local press.

There are many revelations in Cheong’s book. We learn that the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts kept a dossier on local press articles which they found offensive. These include not giving enough prominence to ministers’ speeches. We also learn that when editors were “called up for meetings” with then PM Lee, they had to send detailed CVs including their O-Level results and their wives’ educational qualifications.

Other specific examples of censorship included restrictions on reporting conditions in national service camps in the early days and telling stories of the people who actually lost out through the Housing and Development Board (HDB) construction and resettlement process. The latter is poignant as Cheong describes the contrast between the 30,000 square feet (including a pond and a farm) that a friend living in Kampong Henderson had to give up in exchange for less than $3,000 compensation and a much smaller HDB flat. The ST was not allowed to report on such negative aspects of our “urban renewal” process or the HDB “success story”. The threat of the disapproval of the Times House “monitor” which could cost them their jobs through a GTO ensured compliance.

Interestingly, the “foreign investors” whom we religiously try to attract to Singapore are not as keen on press controls as we have been given to believe. According to Cheong, the American Business Council, supported by the US State Department, argued that investors would be deterred without the free flow of information. Cheong reports how the Singapore government stood their ground but paid the price, in his words: “liberal democracies and some members of the Singapore intelligensia saw it as too intolerant for its own good.”

Cheong is dismissive of the online alternative media but he devotes a paragraph to responding to Seelan Palay’s film “One Nation Under Lee” specifically by explaining that the ISD agents hired by the ST were not sent by the government, they were in fact, according to Cheong, willingly brought in by himself.

Later on, Cheong describes Lee Kuan Yew’s response to the online question “Who paid for the flying hospital for his wife” as marking the legitimization of online media. Cheong acknowledges that the days of traditional media are numbered worldwide, even in Singapore. He quotes the current PM Lee Hsien Loong as admitting that he cannot persuade his own daughter to read the news pages of the ST.

Image result for lee hsien loong quotes

The book is not all about the travails of a court announcer trying to keep the king happy. For me, the most promising section was the one describing the ST’s finest hour – exposing a scandal involving the National Kidney Foundation. Here is where you get a sense of what might have been should the ST have decided to serve the people of Singapore by performing the task of investigative journalists rather than as disseminators of official information.

Cheong was aware of “strong pro-NKF sentiments in powerful quarters” including two ministers (Lim Hng Kiang and Khaw Boon Wan) as the NKF had taken a tremendous load off the public healthcare sector by keeping alive and healthy 1,800 Singaporeans through its excellent dialysis centers.

He was initially prepared to pay S$20,000 as compensation, publish a statement of clarification about the article by Susan Long, which had the infamous gold taps as part of a “generally laudatory article” and settle the matter out of court. Cheong does not reveal who or what made him change his mind and go against Mrs Goh Chok Tong’s efforts to mediate.

T T Durai, then NKF CEO, who was at the center of the controversy, was incensed and accused the media of trying to be the fourth estate, which Cheong had already established was a role that the Singapore mainstream media had given up – except in this case!

Here the ST team excelled themselves – they tracked down the contractor who prepared the gold taps and other witnesses who were prepared to sign affidavits. In other words, good old-fashioned investigative journalism. Like the good journalists that many in the ST are (before they censor themselves), they want their readers to have all the facts, including those below the surface so the readers could make intelligent decisions for themselves.

While the stories in the book are exciting to any media watcher (and there are many more), there are many errors such as the misspelling of my uncle David Tambyah’s name and SARS was described incorrectly as occurring in 2002 in one instance (although the proof readers picked out the correct dates for the three subsequent mentions of the outbreak).

Cheong himself acknowledges the problem with the quality of English in the newspaper and says that the ST paid the price for the “neglect” of the teaching of grammar in schools. It got so bad that he had to “scour” the world for good copy editors whom he eventually found in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India.

For those of us who lament that our education system seems to have switched from teaching life and career skills to teaching what is required to top international standardized tests, that is a statement worth paying attention to.

The question on many Singaporean’s minds is: Why did he write this book? Cheong does explicitly reveal this. Near the end, however, he gives a telling account of how journalists found official spokespersons unhelpful as their priority was “reflecting better on the ministers” rather than allowing journalists to do investigative or background work. He describes frustrated journalists recounting their bad experiences in explicit detail – perhaps that is what he is trying to do himself as some kind of catharsis.

Perhaps wistfully, he talks about a time when the ST was indeed the “fourth estate” when it did occasionally demonstrate its independence – although he has to reach as far back as 1956 when the ST condemned the takeover of the Suez Canal by British, French and Israelis. British expats in Singapore were incensed and the managing director of the ST, a member of the British establishment was “spat on in the (then British only) Tanglin Club.”

When I asked a prominent civil society figure about the reasons for this book, he pointed out that when authoritarian regimes in Latin America or Eastern Europe were crumbling, “everyone claimed to be a reformer.”

I am an optimist. I think that Cheong has seen the signs from the recent general, presidential and by-elections and he knows that the people of Singapore are waking up. Establishment voices are raising questions about some fundamental assumptions.

The first step, as anyone with a serious problem knows, is acknowledging that you have a serious problem. Perhaps this is Cheong’s first step. Hopefully for the mainstream media, acknowledging the problem of control and domination will be the first step to the recovery of an independent media which can evolve into a free press, a necessity for democracy for the people of Singapore. The book is a worthy read.

(Another version of this review first appeared on yoursdp.org. Assoc Prof Paul Tambyah is a member of the Singapore Democratic Party’s Healthcare Policy Panel. He contributed this in his personal capacity.)

Malaysia: Into the Future Together


February 5, 2017

TN50, 1Malaysia and other else, Mr. Najib–Time to Get back to Basics and Stop your Political and Racist Nonsense–Into the Future Together and embrace Rukun Negara

by Zainah Anwar@www.thestar.com.my

Make no mistake the project to create a new ideological infrastructure for Malaysia has been many years in the making. If the leaders continue to ignore this real threat or to be complicit in this for short-term political gain, and the rakyat continue to be blinded by demagogues who abuse ethnicity and religion for narrow sectarian interests, then we will end up fighting for crumbs indeed come 2050, or even earlier. —Zainah Anwar
Related image
Najib Razak–Malaysia’s No. 1 Problem

AS we stumble into 2017 in a Malaysia and a world full of uncertainties, and a US President shooting from his hip, causing global turmoil, I am glad that there are actually two important discussions taking place now in Malaysia on the kind of country we want to live in.

One is the TN50 series of national dialogues with young people on the Malaysia they envision by 2050. The other is the effort to make Rukunegara the preamble to the Constitution. And I believe they should feed into each other.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who is leading the TN50 dialogue, rightfully said this process is not just about defining policies for national development, but importantly, also about defining our national identity.

That many politicians (led by none other than the  narcissistic Prime Minister himself) are still determined to use ethnicity and religion to not only define us, but to divide us remains a dominant leitmotif of Malaysian politics to this day.

3ed9

In his recent interview with The Star, Khairy (pic with his wife Nori Tun Abdullah Badawi) stated that one of the areas of engagement in TN50 will be the subject of “an inclusive, vibrant and open society”. This, he hopes, will lead to a discussion on values and what a Malaysian identity should be.

I hope these dialogue sessions will be a platform where diverse groups of stakeholders can get to listen to each other and think. And in this process the “I” can become a ‘We” – we, Malaysians.

Over the years, ethnic and religious polarisation has gotten from bad to worse in Malaysia. The sad thing is that much of this divisiveness is driven by desperate politicians who manufacture fears and threats in order to maintain their power and privilege, and by non-state political ideologues burning with self-righteousness about establishing an Islamic state and syariah and Malay supremacy.

Never mind if such strategies lead to the destruction of the Malaysia we know and love, and the Malaysia that our founding fathers envisioned. That vision remains valid today.

Related image

Malaysia’s Ills–Greed, Corruption and Incompetence

I have always believed that this country is big enough, and blessed enough for us all to share. That was how the founding fathers saw it as they developed a political system and policies where political power and economic wealth of the nation could be equitably shared.

As other ethnically divided countries fell apart, Malaysia stood in stark contrast because of a fundamental belief that this country has no other path to follow for its survival and well-being, but for its people to choose to live together in peace and to share the wealth of the nation.

To continue to label the Chinese and Indians as pendatangs, to portray them as threats, to regard other religions as a threat to Islam when the Constitution is clear in recognising Islam as the religion of the Federation and for other religions to be practised in peace and harmony, is nothing but a deliberate and mischievous attempt to manufacture a new ideological infrastructure for an exclusivist Malaysia to serve the short-term interest of the privileged few.

With all the corruption scandals perpetrated by those elected and appointed to protect the supposed interests and rights of the bumiputras, it is time that we start to think beyond our own ethnic and religious boundaries.

Image result for Malaysia's TN50

Sebab sSaya nak songlap duit rakyat lagi

For there are larger interests for the national well-being that can unite us. So I welcome the TN50 dialogue initiative which I hope will start a national conversation on the kind of Malaysia we aspire to by 2050. Will it buttress the recognition of Malaysia’s plurality in the 1957 Constitution or submit to the demands for an exclusive identity based on ethnicity and religion, and even then, one that embraces only a certain kind of Malays and Muslims, while others are labelled deviants?

Will we continue to see our diversity as our strength rather than a curse and a threat as these extremists portray? Do we want to live in fear or in hope?

The proponents of the initiative (I am one of them) to make the Rukunegara the Preamble to the Constitution is embarked on an effort to reinvigorate and reaffirm this national commitment and turn it, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, into “habits of the heart”.

The objectives and principles of the Rukunegara, carefully crafted after the trauma of 1969 and launched by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on National Day in 1970, were designed to rebuild a sense of national unity and purpose – of a government and its citizens committed to building a democratic, just and progressive society with a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions.

They contain values that recognise our diversity and represent our commitment to inclusiveness, and our belief in democracy, justice, equity, and unity.

While some of us embrace these values until they become “habits of the heart”, too many others in powerful positions, in their rhetoric and actions, are determined to upend the best in the Malaysian character to refashion a new identity where those different are demonised and labelled, and therefore to be feared and excluded.

Make no mistake the project to create a new ideological infrastructure for Malaysia has been many years in the making. If the leaders continue to ignore this real threat or to be complicit in this for short-term political gain, and the rakyat continue to be blinded by demagogues who abuse ethnicity and religion for narrow sectarian interests, then we will end up fighting for crumbs indeed come 2050, or even earlier.

As expected, any effort to be inclusive, consultative, realistic in facing the challenges of today and the future, is regarded as a threat by these ethno-religious extremists.

Revitalising the Rukunegara to make it the preamble to the Constitution is damned as an effort to erode the special status of the Bumiputeras and undermine Islam as the religion of the Federation.

Dialogues to provide a platform for young people to envision the Malaysia they want by 2050 is criticised for not using Islam as its framework.

Image result for Zainah Anwar

Malaysia’s Gutsy Public  Intellectual

Such myopic attitudes reveal the intent of these supremacists to turn Malaysia into a mono-ethnic and mono-religious country or at least, one that serves the interest of only one group of citizens.

We want to move forward and embrace the values and ideals of the Rukunegara that remain relevant today, if not even more.

We want to explore new ideas and build new understandings that will keep us together and promote our collective well-being as we face the difficult and complex challenges of an uncertain new world order.

We want to stride into the future with knowledge and confidence, not with self-inflicted fear and myopia.

Four decades of a Malay Myth


February 2, 2017

Four decades of a Malay Myth

by Masturah Alatas

Masturah Alatas

Masturah Alatas (pic above) takes a close look at the legacy and impact of her father’s seminal study of ‘Malayness’, The Myth of the Lazy Native, which turns 40 this year.

“Our Production Manager estimates that we would very likely have finished copies of both books in December, and would therefore be able to publish in January, 1977.”

With these long-awaited words that reached Singapore in a letter dated 14 September 1976, Malaysian sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas (1928-2007) received confirmation that his books, The Myth of the Lazy Native and Intellectuals in Developing Societies, would finally be published in London by Frank Cass.

Image result for The Myth of the Lazy Native

The Myth of the Lazy Native is Syed Hussein Alatas’ widely acknowledged critique of the colonial construction of Malay, Filipino and Javanese natives from the 16th to the 20th century. Drawing on the work of Karl Mannheim and the sociology of knowledge, Alatas analyses the origins and functions of such myths in the creation and reinforcement of colonial ideology and capitalism.

The book constitutes in his own words: ‘an effort to correct a one-sided colonial view of the Asian native and his society’ and will be of interest to students and scholars of colonialism, post-colonialism, sociology and South East Asian Studies.–www.routledge.com

Murray Mindlin was the Cass editor who wrote the letter. He also happened to be the Hebrew translator of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a fitting fact since The Myth of the Lazy Native (henceforth Lazy Native) was caught up in its own, long-drawn-out publishing odyssey. Shunned by publishers in Malaysia and Singapore, Alatas first submitted Intellectuals to Frank Cass in early 1972 at the suggestion of social anthropologist, Ernest Gellner. In corresponding with Cass editors about that book, later the same year Alatas casually mentioned that he was completing the Lazy Native that he had started working on in 1966.

“At the moment I am finishing a manuscript of about 100,000 words on the myth of the lazy native in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, from the 16th to the 20th centuries. It is a study of the function and origin of this myth in the colonial ideology. Dutch, Malay and English sources are used. The discipline applied is the sociology of knowledge. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first work of its kind,” Alatas wrote.

Young editor Jim Muir, who would later become the BBC’s correspondent for the Middle East, immediately asked to see the manuscript. Struck by the title and subject, he felt Lazy Native “would probably fit very well into our Library of Peasant Studies.”

The story of the publishing vicissitudes of Lazy Native is documented in my book, The Life in the Writing (2010), as is the work’s international reception by the likes of Victor Gordon Kiernan, Edward W Said, Ziauddin Sardar and many others.

There are several ways to assess the status of Lazy Native in the 40 years of its existence. We can check databases to see where it has been cited and syllabi to know where it is taught. Social media will give us an idea of who is reading it, talking about it, and going to conferences, seminars and festivals where it is studied.

Image result for The Myth of the Lazy Native

One could say that a revived interest in the book is due, in part, to the efforts of his son and my brother, Syed Farid Alatas, a sociologist at The National University of Singapore, not just through teaching, public speaking and his own writing but also because he solicited a reprint of a paperback and more affordable edition of Lazy Native from Routledge (2010). Malaysians will remember that the hardback Cass edition of Lazy Native once went for over 400 ringgit (roughly $US90 in today’s money). Syed Farid Alatas was also proactive in getting a second edition of the Malay translation of the book, Mitos Pribumi Malas, reissued with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (2009).

It is worth mentioning—as translation studies scholar Nazry Bahrawi has noted—that the Malay translation, or rather adaptation of Lazy Native from the 1987 Indonesian translation, contains some omissions, including excluded lines and passages that are present in both the English and Indonesian versions. One omission is the line “The degradation of the Malay character is an attempt by the ruling party to absolve itself from blame for real or expected failures to ensure the progress of the Malay community” (Lazy Native, 1977, p 181). The book contains no note from the translator, Zainab Kassim, as to the reasons for these omissions.

Whatever the case, we can conclude that irrespective of the availability of the book in English and Malay, what the quality of the Malay translation is, or how much or little it is actually read and talked about, Lazy Native seems to have found its place in the sun as a classic, and not just because Bahrawi and other scholars recognise it as a seminal text located within postcolonial theory. Not only has the Lazy Native walked right out of the Library of Peasant Studies into the libraries of Malay studies, cultural studies, sociology, history and literature—not to mention the personal libraries of many Malaysians— the book also seems to be sitting in the collective Malaysian imagination as a disgruntled trope, even though Syed Hussein Alatas himself had doubts about how many people had actually read and understood it.

Image result for The Image of the Native Malay

It is therefore legitimate to ask: after 40 years, is the myth of the lazy native still a myth? Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems not to think so. According to him, the Malays are lazy because they don’t study hard enough, they can’t master English and they prefer to become Mat Rempit (motorcycle gangsters). What is missing from the narrative is if it is laziness or hard work that has to do with how the current Prime Minister, Najib Razak, was able to allegedly channel more than $1 billion into his personal bank accounts.

Historian Zaharah Sulaiman, instead, believes that if “Malays are called lazy and not innovative, it’s because the knowledge, the peoples who have the knowledge have gone extinct,” and that ‘foreign invasions’ that led to the ‘grabbing’ of riches has a lot to do with the extinction of this knowledge.

But in the chapter “The disappearance of the indigenous trading class”, Alatas does not so simplistically attribute the destruction of the trading class to foreign invasion. If anything, he provides sociological analysis showing how local rulers were sometimes complicit with colonial masters in bringing about the disappearance of the native trading class — for example when local chiefs acted as agents for the Dutch East India Company.

Alatas framed his critique of colonial capitalism that exploited the image of the lazy native with economic and sociological analyses. Indeed, he called it “colonial capitalism” and not white capitalism. And nowhere in Lazy Native does he blame the other ethnicities of Malaysia—the Chinese or the Indians—for the condition of the Malays.

It is important to understand this to distance the kind of critique Alatas performs in Lazy Native and the language he uses from, say, rants about  “Chinese privilege” in Singapore, in which the term itself makes a direct link of ethnicity—one ethnicity in particular—to majority class and political privilege, and abuse of power. If Alatas has tried to help us see the wrongness in the ideological necessity of giving laziness a Malay face, we are invited to think about the wrongness in the ideological insistence of giving a Chinese face to privilege.

Finally, Lazy Native has inadvertently generated it own myth that needs to be debunked if we are to understand what unique scholarship really means— the claim that the book contributed to Edward W Said’s thesis on Orientalism. This claim has been made by several scholars all over the world.

Orientalism (1978) was already written and sent off to the publisher when Alatas’ book came out the year before Said’s did. At the time, the two men never even knew or corresponded with each other. I know this because both men told me so.

Masturah Alatas is a writer and teacher who lives in Macerata, Italy. She is the author of The girl who made it snow in Singapore (2008) and The life in the writing (2010), a memoir-biography about her father, Syed Hussein Alatas.

http://www.newmandala.org/four-decades-malay-myth/

 

World Economic Forum–Davos 2017–On Leadership


January 21,2017

World Economic Forum–Davos 2017

What does it take to be a great leader in times of change? We asked six experts @ WEF, Davos, 2017

Written by Stéphanie Thomson Editor, World Economic Forum

Watch a Compact for Responsible Business Leadership and Responsive and Responsible Leadership in 2017 from the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2017.

Image result for wef klaus schwabWEF Founder and Intellectual Innovator Professor Klaus Schwab

“Leaders must understand that we are living in a world marked by uncertainty, volatility and deep transformational changes,” World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab wrote at the start of the year.

As thousands of global leaders descend on the Swiss village of Davos to discuss these very issues, we asked six of them this question: what does it take to lead in these times of turbulence?

Adam Grant, Professor, Management and Psychology, Wharton School

In times of uncertainty, a critical skill for responsible leaders is to say “I might be wrong” – and mean it. I work with too many leaders who cling to their convictions with an iron will. As intoxicating as that confidence can be, it’s a huge barrier to making wise decisions and pivoting as circumstances change.

 Adam Grant quote:

The leaders who fare best at predicting the future are the ones who recognize that the future is unpredictable. By embracing doubt, they stay open to new ideas. As a result, they’re ready to act when headwinds turn into tailwinds. So I have a simple message for leaders: if you want to increase the odds that you’ll be right, accept that you’re probably wrong.

Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Authors of Superforecasting

Heightened uncertainty puts a premium on good judgement. And nothing is more fundamental to good judgement than intellectual humility.

Note the adjective. This isn’t self-denigration. Intellectual humility simply means appreciating both the infinite complexity of reality and the fallibility of human beings. It’s invaluable because, taken seriously, three consequences follow.

One, intellectual humility causes the wise leaders to distrust quick-and-easy answers. The intellectually humble always want to learn more and explore different perspectives, in hopes of finding additional bits and pieces of truth.

Two, intellectual humility spurs introspection. Mistakes are inevitable. Only relentless critical examination of one’s own thoughts can catch and correct them.

Three, and perhaps most importantly, intellectual humility dispenses with certainty. Indeed, for the intellectually humble leader, “nothing is certain” is axiomatic. All judgements are matters of probability only, with the goal of this “probabilistic thinking” being to accurately distinguish ever-finer degrees of uncertainty.

Want to know if you could predict future trends? Take the survey at http://wef.ch/forecasting

Linda A. Hill, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Leaders must be able to build organizations that are agile and can routinely innovate. People don’t want to follow a leader to the future – that is yesterday’s model. They want to co-create it.

 Linda A. Hill quote:

Innovation is a collective activity, one in which different people – depending on their particular talents – come forward at different times to move the group where it needs to go. Leading innovation is intellectually and emotionally taxing work, much of which takes place behind the scenes. It requires a belief in others’ slices of genius and a sense of generosity to share power, control and credit. Leading innovation is more about being the stage-setter than the performer, not always easy for leaders with star talent themselves.

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

One key skill that all responsible leaders need to have today is a deep understanding of the key global trends driving change. Three tidal forces are sweeping across our world simultaneously.

Image result for Kishore Mahbubani

The first is the return of Asia and the end of Western domination of history. The second is accelerated globalization creating a small, interdependent, borderless world. The third is explosive change in technology, which is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution that Klaus Schwab has spoken so eloquently about. Each of these tidal waves must be understood in depth.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is working out how each tidal wave affects the other. This is why it is so difficult to work out the future of US-China relations. Globalization and technology are creating a deep interdependence between them. The shift of power is driving them apart. Hence, it is not enough to watch personalities like Xi Jinping or Donald Trump. We also need to understand the deeper forces driving their behaviour. Any leader who fails to understand this unique complexity of our time is ill-equipped to provide leadership to their society.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School

The path to leadership is both an inner and outer journey.

Image result for Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School

The role of the inner journey is to create within the leader a deep sense of their values, a narrative that is unique to them, and the courage to act on their values.

The outer journey connects the leader to the world, to understanding the place of their leadership in this time of extreme change, and to use wisely the power and resources that are at their disposal.

Listen to  Philip Tetlock:

How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics


January 15, 2017

The most-watched made-for-TV movie in American history is “The Day After,” a 1983 portrayal of life in Kansas and Missouri in the days just before and after an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If you’ve had even fleeting thoughts that Tuesday’s election could bring about the end of the world or the destruction of the country, you might want to find “The Day After” on YouTube, scroll to minute 53 and watch the next six minutes. Now that’s an apocalypse.

It’s an absurd comparison, of course, but the absurdity is helpful. It reminds us that no matter how bad things seem, we have a lot to be grateful for. The Soviet Union is gone, and life in America has gotten much better since the 1980s by most objective measures. Crime is way down, prosperity and longevity are way up, and doors are open much more widely for talented people from just about any demographic group. Yes, we have new problems, and the benefits haven’t been spread evenly, but if you look at the big picture, we are making astonishing progress.

Watching “The Day After” also might help Americans to tone down the apocalyptic language that so many have used about the presidential race. On the right, some speak of this as the “Flight 93 election,” meaning that America has been hijacked by treasonous leftists who are trying to crash the plane, so electing Donald Trump to rush the cockpit is the only sane choice. On the left, some think that a Trump victory would lead to a constitutional crisis followed by a military coup, fascism and dictatorship.

Nearly half the country will therefore wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed. Those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil. The disgust expressed by both sides in this election is particularly worrisome because disgust dehumanizes its targets. That is why it is usually fostered by the perpetrators of genocide—disgust makes it easier for ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors.

In short, the day after this election is likely to be darker and more foreboding than the day after just about any U.S. election since 1860. Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together?

We think that it is. After all, civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. That can be hard to do when emotions run so high. But if we understand better the psychological causes of our current animosity, we can all take some simple steps to turn it down, free ourselves from hatred and make the next four years better for ourselves and the country. Three time-honored quotations can serve as guides.

“Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” —Bedouin saying

Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict. Our minds take to it so readily that we invent myths, games and sports—including war games like paintball—that let us enjoy the pleasures of intergroup conflict without the horrors of actual war.

The tribal mind is adept at changing alliances to face shifting threats, as the Bedouin saying indicates. We see such shifts after party primaries, when those who backed a losing candidate swing around to support the nominee. And we saw it happen after the 9/11 attacks, when the country came together to support the president and the military in the invasion of Afghanistan.

But with the exception of the few months after 9/11, cross-partisan animosity has been rising steadily since the late 1990s. This year, for the first time since Pew Research began asking in 1994, majorities in both parties expressed not just “unfavorable” views of the other party but “very unfavorable” views. Those ratings were generally below 20% throughout the 1990s. And more than 40% in each party now see the policies of the other party as being “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Those numbers are up by about 10 percentage points in both parties just since 2014.

So what will happen the next time there is a major terrorist attack? Will we come together again? Or will the attack become a partisan football within hours, as happened after the various lone-wolf attacks of the past year? Something is broken in American tribalism. It is now “my brothers and me against my cousins” all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers and even when there is no threat at all.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”Jesus, in Matthew 7:3-5

Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy. It is a general rule of psychology that “thinking is for doing”: We think with a particular purpose in mind, and often that purpose isn’t to find the truth but to defend ourselves or attack our opponents.

Psychologists call this process “motivated reasoning.” It is found whenever self-interest is in play. When the interests of a group are added to the mix, this sort of biased, god-awful reasoning becomes positively virtuous—it signals your loyalty to the team. This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate.

Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google searches now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents’ eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.

“Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but…this tie becomes stronger from proximity.” —Cicero, “On Friendship”

Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.

The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.

But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Since the 1980s, Democrats have been packing into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican. Institutions that used to bring people together—such as churches—are now splitting apart over culture war issues such as gay marriage.

Ever more of our social life is spent online, in virtual communities or networks that are politically homogeneous. When we do rub up against the other side online, relative anonymity often leads to stunning levels of incivility, including racist and sexist slurs and threats of violence.

So are we doomed? Will the polarizing trends identified by Pew just keep going until the country splits in two? Maybe John Adams was right in 1814 when he wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.”

But we have lasted 240 years so far, and both sides agree that America is worth fighting for. We just have to see that the fight isn’t always against each other; it is also a struggle to adapt our democracy and our habits for polarizing times and technologies.

Illustration: Luci Gutiérrez

Some of these adaptations will require changes to laws and institutions. Some will come from improving technology as we fine-tune social media to reward productive disagreement while filtering out trolling and intimidation.

And many of the changes must come from each of us, as individuals who have friends, co-workers and cousins who voted for the other side. How will we treat them as customers, employees, students and neighbors? What will we say to them at Thanksgiving dinner?

If you would like to let go of anger on Nov. 9 without letting go of your moral and political principles, here is some advice, adapted from ancient wisdom and modern research.

First, separate your feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from your feelings about their supporters. Political scientists report that since the 1980s, Americans have increasingly voted against the other side’s candidate, rather than voting enthusiastically for their own, and that is especially true this time. So don’t assume that most people on the other side like or even agree with their candidate on any particular issue. They may be voting out of fears and frustrations that you don’t understand, but if you knew their stories, you might well empathize with them.

Second, step back and think about your goals. In the long run, would you rather change people or hate them? If you actually want to persuade or otherwise influence people, you should know that it is nearly impossible to change people’s minds by arguing with them. When there is mutual antipathy, there is mutual motivated reasoning, defensiveness and hypocrisy.

But anything that opens the heart opens the mind as well, so do what you can to cultivate personal relationships with those on the other side. Spend time together, and let the proximity recommended by Cicero strengthen ties. Familiarity does not breed contempt. Research shows that as things or people become familiar, we like them more.

Emotions often drive reasoning, so as our hearts harden, our thinking also calcifies, and we become dogmatic. We are less able to think flexibly and address the social problems that we claim to care about. As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” So cultivating a few cross-partisan friendships will make you smarter as well as calmer, even if polarization grows worse.

And if you do find a way to have a real conversation with someone on the other side, approach it skillfully. One powerful opener is to point to a log in your own eye—to admit right up front that you or your side were wrong about something. Doing this at the start of a conversation signals that you aren’t in combat mode. If you are open, trusting and generous, your partner is likely to reciprocate.

Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla.
Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Another powerful depolarizing move is praise, as we saw in the second Clinton-Trump debate. After more than 90 minutes of antagonism, a member of the town-hall audience brought the evening to a close with this question: “Would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

Mrs. Clinton began with weak praise by saying that she respects Mr. Trump’s children. But then she made it strong and generous by noting how “incredibly able” those children are and how devoted they are to their father, adding, “I think that says a lot about Donald.” Mr. Trump responded in kind: “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. I respect that.”

That brief exchange was emotionally powerful—the only uplifting moment of the night for many viewers. Had it been the opening exchange, might the debate have been more elevated, more constructive?

This has been a frightening year for many Americans. Questions about the durability, legitimacy and wisdom of our democracy have been raised, both here and abroad. But the true test of our democracy—and our love of country—will come on the day after the election. Starting next Wednesday, each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins.

Dr. Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute and the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Dr. Iyer is a social psychologist and data scientist at the website Ranker and the executive director of CivilPolitics.org.

Untapped Women Power: The key to a brighter Malaysia


January 12, 2017

Untapped Women Power: The key to a brighter Malaysia

by Dr. Anas Alam Faizli*

Received via e-mail from the writer)

Image result for women empowerment

Free them to pursue their dreams and they will make Malaysia great again

THE High Income Nation ambition or the “number game” has been our central economic discussion for the past seven years. Countless policies have been crafted for this end game but the solution remains elusive.

I have a revelation. The key and the secret to achieve this lies within humanity’s other half; Women. Let me explain.

Women empowerment could potentially unlock an additional income per capita of approximately US$2,300 for the country; which will easily enable an overnight achievement of our target.

The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentioned that: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

However, the world is not ideal. It is true that all humans are equal, but some are more equal than others, and none more unequal than the status of women itself and everyone must be held responsible.

Women form one half of humanity, and are as equal to men in every aspect, except physical strength — hence, weaker sex, and more beautiful to look at — hence, fairer sex. Unfortunately, in this modern and progressive era, gender discrimination and stereotyping is still alarmingly prevalent.

Women in Tertiary Education

Image result for women in universitiesThis is what they do in Iran and Malaysia too is heading in that direction, thanks to our Ulamaks and UMNO salaried  Mullahs

The society at large has always been fast to dismiss women’s achievements. This also include women’s remarkable achievements in tertiary education; where women have shattered a glass sphere that was once only available to men.

This is not surprising considering tertiary education has traditionally been dominated by men throughout the centuries. Some have even argued that this is due to the simple fact that there are more women nowadays compared to men.

Data, however, contradict this. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), as of 2016, Malaysia’s gender ratio indicates that there are 107 males to every 100 females. That brings the actual figure of 16.4 million males and 15.3 million females in Malaysia. Over the past decade, there has been a big shift in the gender balance; women have begun to outnumber men in university enrollments.

This global trend is seen not only in developed countries such America and Europe, but it also prevails in Asian countries such as Brunei, China, Philippines, and Indonesia; with Malaysia being an extreme case in the region.

Image result for woman graduates of the University of Malaya

In 2015, close to 55 percent of higher education intakes (public and private universities, community colleges, and polytechnics) were dominated by females at 280,296 versus males at 230,858. Females showed a higher domination in public universities’ intake at 106,277; equivalent to 63 percent, versus males at 61,850.

Note: On November 4, Nancy Malkiel, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton visited Churchill College to give a talk to launch her new book “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation — exploring the decision in the 1960s and 70s by several Ivy League universities in the USA and colleges in Cambridge and Oxford to ‘go mixed’.

Her research took her to the archives of the three Cambridge colleges that were the first to go co-educational: Churchill, King’s, and Clare.

Churchill College is proud of being the first men’s college in Cambridge to decide to admit women. So it is salutary to remember that it was the last Cambridge college to be founded for men only. What was unexceptionable in 1960 had become unthinkable by 1970. A wave of reforms swept through higher education, and coeducation was one element in a multilayered revolution. On the larger canvas, Churchill’s decision in 1969 was unremarkable. In just five years, 1969-74, dozens of colleges on both sides of the Atlantic ‘went mixed’, including Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, and Vassar, and three Cambridge and five Oxford colleges. The momentous decision at Churchill is set in the wider context in an impressive new book by Nancy Weiss Malkiel, ‘Keep the Damned Women Out’: The Struggle for Coeducation (Princeton University Press).

Nancy Malkiel speaking to a seated audience in the Churchill Archives Centre

Professor Nancy Malkiel speaking at Churchill College, November 4, 2016.

She argues that, on both sides of the Atlantic, the move to coeducation was largely inspired, not by high principle, but a desire for positional advantage. Colleges were worried, as ever, about their competitive edge for the best students. Young people increasingly did not want to be at single sex institutions. In Britain, whereas Cambridge had just 10 per cent women among its undergraduates in 1965, the new universities reached ratios of around 40 per cent. Admitting women was part of a wider move toward diversifying student cohorts. In the USA that typically involved religion and race (Jews, Catholics, African Americans), in Britain it meant school background (grammar instead of public schools). There was little high-minded talk about justice and equality, and, in so far as general principles were expressed, it tended to be the language of national efficiency: avoiding wastage by exploiting a larger pool of young talent. The primacy of the competitive edge expressed itself nowhere better than in Princeton’s chaotic scramble to admit women in 1969 so as not to be upstaged by Yale.

According to Malkiel, the switch to ‘coed’ was more difficult in the US than in Oxbridge. The alumni were far more powerful and controlled purse strings, and the male dining clubs were more intransigent (it took the New Jersey Supreme Court to force the Princeton clubs to open up). Her book is depressingly rich in examples of visceral hostility. A Dartmouth alumnus expressed the sentiment which she uses for the title of her book. Women students experienced condescension from staff and horrendous misogyny from male students, especially in initiation rituals. She argues that the change in Oxbridge was much smoother (though I think she’s too roseate about the lack of sexism there). True enough, Oxbridge had been educating women for a century, and, similarly, Harvard and Radcliffe had been interacting for decades, whereas at Yale and Princeton the change was more abrupt. One thing certainly made things easier at Churchill: nobody could say that the College’s 600 year heritage was being betrayed. (At Clare, the Master wittily and accurately retorted that in 1870 it had been said that allowing Fellows to marry betrayed a 500 year heritage and would ‘distract’ men from scholarship.)

The relative impacts of college heads, faculty, and students varied as drivers of change. In Oxbridge, college heads sometimes set the pace, especially Sir Eric Ashby at Clare College. At Churchill, the decision was forced by the Fellows against the opposition of the Master, Sir William Hawthorne, with the Senior Tutor Dick Tizard leading the way. When Alison Finch became the second female Fellow in 1972 Sir William told her, ‘Well, Miss Finch, I voted against the admission of women’.

In the early coed years, Yale and Princeton maintained caps on female numbers, declaring that the production of ‘leaders’ (which meant men) must not be diminished. There was a cap at Churchill too, with the parallel case that the College had been founded to produce ‘leaders’ for industry and technology. But the quota, like single-sex staircases, and female tutors for female students, soon lapsed.

It is good to see a key aspect of Churchill College’s short career now becoming the stuff of history books. Malkiel’s Ch. 21 takes for its title a remark by Sir John Colville to Sir Winston Churchill when Winston dared to suggest that maybe his new College could have women. That would be ‘like dropping a hydrogen bomb in the middle of King’s Parade’.

 — Mark Goldie, November 2016

_______________

Nonetheless, their male counterparts have balanced out the numbers in private universities; where the ratio is close to 50:50. The same year also saw 169,198 females successfully graduating from higher education versus males at 120,596.

These numbers are showing that women are in the forefront in higher education. With over 50,000 more females whom have managed to graduate as compared to males in 2015 alone, imagine the existing disparity formed over the past decade.

Unfortunately, significant gains by women in tertiary education have not translated into better labour market outcomes. Aside from the teaching industry, women are not seen to be participating dominantly in the workforce nor as leaders in the corporate, legal, academic, economic or the political scene in proportion to the educational gain demonstrated.

Labour Force Participation Rate

In 2015, our women’s labour force participation rate was at a modest 54.1 percent (out of the total 9.9 million potential women labour force), a far cry from the men’s rate of 80.6 percent.

This number has improved only slightly from 47.2 percent in the year 2000.

Aside from the formal sector, women are seen to be prospering in the informal sector where they are offered more flexibility in working hours.

Aside from the formal sector, women are seen to be prospering in the informal sector where they are offered more flexibility in working hours.

Our neighbours are faring better where women’s labour force participation rate for Myanmar is at 75.2 percent, Cambodia 78.8 percent, Laos 76.3 percent, Vietnam 73 percent and Thailand at 75.2 percent.We are left questioning, “Where have the women gone to and where are they now in our society?”

The next set of questions would be, “what are the socio-economic benefits in empowering women?” and “What are the challenges and how should we address them?”

A study by the World Bank on Malaysian women participation in the workforce found a pattern that suggested Malaysian women older than the age of 26 are more sensitive to life-cycle transitions as compared to other countries in the world.

Married women both in urban and rural areas have the lowest participation rate. Additionally, Malaysian women also retire earlier than their male counterparts.

The World Bank attributes this factor to women being caught in a “double burden” syndrome of managing both the home and caring for their children or the elderly. Another contributing factor to the labour force participation rate gap is that women that leave the workforce after the age of 26 will never return.

This is called a “single-peaked” profile. As opposed to other countries in Asia, an example being in Japan and Korea, they have “double-peaked” profiles; where there is a recovery in labour force participation after women hit the age of 35.

These conditions leading to a woman’s decision to remain or withdraw from the labour force must be assessed within the context of Malaysian cultural and social values to determine the appropriate policy environment and incentives to retain a larger number of women in the labour force after marriage.

Aside from the formal sector, women are seen to be prospering in the informal sector where they are offered more flexibility in working hours.

One of the most popular routes taken by these women are by conducting businesses through social media platforms.

Women in Politics, Local, and State Governments

Since our independence, Malaysian women have had the right to vote in elections and to hold public office. Today, women comprise one half of the registered voters and are active in political life. However, instead of being political leaders themselves, a majority of women have continued the trend of only engaging themselves primarily in raising financial support, turning out in full force during elections, carrying out routine tasks related to daily campaigning, and facilitating voter participation during the election process for their political parties.

The old-fashioned gender roles remain where women are adherent of male leaders and retain traditional positions in political parties. The number of women gaining electoral office in the federal and state governments is also dismal. Gender inequality still persist in this sphere, as indicated by the extremely low percentage of women at all levels of political office.

Malaysia ranks number 156 out of 189 countries in the number of women representatives in the national parliament at a dismal 10.4 percent or 23 seats of the total 222 parliamentary seats. The state assemblies also indicate a similar trend at a measly 10.8 percent or 55 seats represented by women, of the total 505 state parliamentary seats.

Perhaps Malaysia should take a cue from our neighbours, Vietnam (24 percent), Lao (25 percent), Singapore (25 percent), and the Phillipines (27 percent) where women have higher levels of political participation.

The same situation in the Executive arm of the Malaysian Government also transpires in the Legislature. Since 1957, the number of women ministers has never exceeded three and that remains as of today where of the 35 members Cabinet; one is a Women Minister and the other two are ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office. This scenario is similar across the board for all state governments while Terengganu and Sarawak have never appointed a female Exco.

The Pakatan Rakyat State Government in Selangor made a breakthrough when they lined up four women of the total ten exco positions in 2008. However, they did not do the same for Perak when they were in power, failing to appoint any female excos despite having the second highest number of women to the State Assembly and Selangor reduced their women excos to two in 2013.

Women are also observed to be given limited appointments as local authority council members where they are only appointed to 362 (14.1 percent) of the total 2,567 positions.

Women Leaders in Civil Service and Corporations

As of 2015, there are 718,044 (57.1 percent) women civil servants from a total of 1,257,166 civil servants in professional and support services (Grade 1-54), however in the top management tiers (Grade Jusa C and above), only 1,498 (37.1 percent) women made it from the total of 4,041 government servants.

Subsequently only 5 (11.4 percent) were appointed as director of government’s statutory bodies, 13 (31.7 percent) as deputy secretary-general and 7 (29.2 percent) as secretary-general.

While in corporations, according to Bursa Malaysia for the year of 2015, women held 26.3 percent of top management positions across public listed corporations. However, women only form 15 percent of the total members of Board of Directors in MOF (Incorporated) companies.

Women have previously held high positions as the Bank Negara Governor, Chairman of the Securities Commission, Managing Director of a Bank, Bar Council Chairman, Chief Executive Officers of Air Asia X and SME Corp, and many others. Women remain an exception in these positions and not the norm.

Women as Educators and in the Legal System

There are 421,828 teachers in Malaysia and close to 72 percent of them are women. However, only 3,580 (37.2 percent) women made it as the primary school master, or secondary school principal or the residential school principal out of the total 9,615 positions. There is a sizeable gap here considering the number of women teachers who made it into decision-making positions.

The same disparities persist in Universities, while there are 11,931 (56.6 percent) women lecturers of the total 21,077, and only 13 (19.12 percent) of 68 are appointed as deputy vice-chancellors and four (20 percent) of 20 are appointed as vice chancellors.

Women in the legal system are growing in numbers, which hopefully will be the key to inducing reforms that will improve the legal status of women. Women represent 3 (27 percent) out of the 11 judges in the Federal Court, 12 (41.4 percent) judges from a total of 29 judges in the Court of Appeal and 29 out of the 58 (50 percent) judges in the High Courts.

The Syariah courts are lagging behind where women represent only 8 (10.8 percent) out of the total 74 judges. In the legal practice, women form 8,551 (51.7 percent) of the total 16,537 lawyers.

Like teachers, there still persists a disparity in the gender ratio between junior and senior lawyers as opposed to female lawyers in partner positions and even in the executive committee of Bar Councils in the country. More women should be placed in decision-making positions.

Empowering Women for Socio-Economic Benefits

A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Gender Inequality found that increasing the share of household income controlled by women changes spending in ways that benefit children and family as a whole. The study also found that increasing women and girls’ education contributes to a higher economic growth for about 50 percent in OECD countries over the past 50 years.

Additionally, another study by Dr Emmanuela Gakidou from University of Washington found that; for every one additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality is decreased by 9.5 percent (based on historical data from 219 countries from year 1970 to 2009).

McKinsey & Company (2014) deduced that women’s economic equality is good for businesses. Companies reap bountiful benefits in terms of organisational effectiveness by increasing leadership opportunities for women.

Companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all the measured dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

Women are able to perform better in this particular arena as they generally have higher aspirations and emotional intelligence.

If we are to be on par with the women labour participating rate of Singapore which is at 63 percent; an additional 1.4 million more women in the workforce are needed and if we are to use Canada as a model at 74 percent; that’s an additional 2.3 million women needed in the workforce. That’s only half from the total missing women in action of 4.5 million.

The World Bank estimated that the 2.3 million women missing in action from the workforce can leapfrog our income per capita by 23 percent from entrepreneurial activities (six percent) and “absent” women workforce (17 percent) translated to about US$2,300 per capita, which will enable an overnight achievement of the high-income status for Malaysia.

Image result for Working Graduate Mothers

Working Mothers Produce Better Sons and Daughters

A comprehensive study of 50,000 adults from 25 different nations by the Harvard Business School inferred an interesting result contrary to popular and admittedly traditional beliefs. The study found that growing up with a working mother improves future career prospects for daughters and sons and is unlikely to harm children socially and economically when they become adults.

Women growing up with working mothers show better performance in the workplace. They are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.

But the study found no effect to their sons’ performance at work as men are naturally expected to work. However, sons of working mothers do better in domestic duties and spend more time caring for family members.

The study also found that sons who have working mothers spend nearly twice as many hours on family and child care as those hailing from more traditional households; a weekly average of 16 hours compared to 8.5 hours.

Barriers and Challenges in the Workforce

Where do we rank in the gender inequality charts? Malaysia ranks 111 out of 145 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. In contrary, based on the UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), Malaysia did better; coming in at 62 out of 188 countries. Regardless, there is still much to be improved.

A study by the United Nations have found that women bear disproportionate responsibilities for unpaid care work. Women devote one to three hours more a day to housework than men; two to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and one to four hours less a day for paid labour.

This is similar to Malaysia. These differences, deeply rooted in gender roles, reduced women’s leisure, welfare, and well-being. As a result of these different domestic responsibilities, men and women have different patterns of time usage; periods of leisure and high activity.

These patterns have implications for women’s ability to invest in education, their ability to take up economic opportunities and entrepreneurship, and to participate more broadly in current economic, political, public and social life.

In Malaysia, 67 percent of women cite care and other familial and personal responsibilities as the reason for not being in the labour force, versus only two percent of men. This is a wide difference from EU’s 25 percent. This directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the labour force in Malaysia.

Women are also more vulnerable to economic shocks considering a majority of women are employed in low and semi-skilled positions.

Salary disparity between men and women is still prevalent in Malaysia where women earn less than men in all occupational sectors, notably in elementary occupations in the range of between 10-40 percent compared to men. (Source: Salaries & Wages Survey, 2014)

Additionally, a safer environment for women to commute to work is also a challenge considering crimes, especially snatch thefts, are on the rise; with women being their primary target.

Discrimination against Pregnant Women

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)’s Workplace Discrimination Survey found that 40 percent of women polled have experienced job discrimination due to their pregnancy.

The survey revealed that the top five ways used by employers to discriminate pregnant women are by making their positions redundant, denying them promotions, placing them on prolonged probation, demoting them, and terminating their jobs.

The survey also showed that about 20 percent of women have had their job applications rejected or job offers revoked after they disclose their pregnancy.

Survey results indicate that 30 percent of women are likely to delay their pregnancy plans because they fear losing their job or promotion. But only about one in eight women who have lost their jobs or have been looked over for promotions due to pregnancy, have actually lodged formal complaints.

Majority of women do not know their rights or fear backlash and harassment for speaking up. Additionally, both the Employment Act 1955 and the Industrial Relations Act 1967 provide very minimal relief, if any at all. Existing legal safeguards are insufficient and there are no specific laws in Malaysia that deal with pregnancy related discrimination.

Sexual Harassment against Women

Sex-based discrimination takes on many forms at the workplace and in public. Sexual harassment may include verbal, non-verbal/gestural, visual, psychological, and physical harassment.

As with pregnancy discrimination, there is no specific law in Malaysia that deals with sexual harassment. Currently, women can lodge a complaint under The Employment (Amendment) Act 2012 which has expanded the definition of sexual harassment and put into place legal ramifications for sexual harassment at the workplace.

Unfortunately, the law only applies for harassment in the workplace; which is, at most, limited. The act only covers women in employment and excludes those working in the informal sector.

Provisions in the Act also excludes many sections of the female community, such as Member of Parliament (MP)s who are sexually harassed by fellow male MPs, domestic workers by employers, students by teachers, nurses by patients, patients by doctors, and passengers by bus drivers.

The Federal Court in June 2016 made a landmark ruling paving the way for sexual harassment suits to be heard in civil courts beyond the current narrow limits dictated by the Employment Act and the judges too agreed that the Employment Act is insufficient.

Barriers and Challenges in Politics

There are five major obstacles that stand in the way of women who wish to participate in politics, namely, social perception of women’s leadership abilities, role conflicts, religious and cultural constraints, structural constraints within political parties, and finally, limited financial resources.

Structural constraints within political parties exist, where the existence of women are in subordinate status modes confined to the women’s wing within the parties; being only party auxiliary. The real power remains within the firm grasp of men who hold the gate to party positions and electoral candidacy.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat is paving the way for change with its woman party president and one woman vice president who is also in charge of its electoral candidacy. For supreme council members, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Parti Maju Sabah are leading at 26.7 percent and 23.1 percent women representation while BERSATU, UMNO, MIC, DAP behind at 13 percent, 11.7 percent, 10.3 percent, 10 percent respectively and both PAS and MCA at 8.6 percent. AMANAH and UPKO most behind at 6.9 percent and 4.5 percent.

Furthermore, in politics, women face the same problem as in the workforce, carrying “double burden” which remains an inhibiting factor to their full political participation. These challenges result in lower women representatives in both federal and state legislature; providing direct causal effect to the number of executives in the government. So how do we move forward to face all the barriers and challenges in women empowerment?

Women’s Institutions and Decision Making

The Malaysian government in 1975 introduced the National Advisory Council on the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID) as a machinery to mobilise women’s participation in development. It was tasked with advising the entire government on women’s issues.

In 2001 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was formed with Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil acting as the Minister to solely focus on the development of women.

Three years later, the scope of the Ministry was widened to include family development and social welfare and the name was changed to its current name, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

NACIWID has then been placed under this ministry and is called as Majlis Wanita. Instead of advising the entire government, it now only advises this one ministry.

To begin addressing women’s challenges and spearheading a way forward, the “toothless” Majlis Wanita must be revamped as the National Women’s Commission given the prime authority and power to direct, oversee, and monitor national implementation of Gender Equality and Woman Empowerment.

In accelerating women’s political leadership, an independent, non-partisan Women’s Political Institute must be set up to flourish and nurture women leadership abilities. More studies and institutes for women like the Kanita (Institut Kajian Wanita) at USM and the Gender Studies department at UM must be established and supported.

More women should be placed in decision-making positions in all spheres of life; politics, civil service, corporations and the general public.

The current simplistic target of having at least 30 percent women in decision-making positions in both the government and the private sector is beneficial. Unfortunately, we end up with an hourglass structure.

Women’s participation is observed to be heavy on top management (within the 30 percent target) and entry-level positions with hollow participation in between. More measures are required to strengthen the occupational pipeline.

Unleashing Women for a Brighter Future

While current initiatives to leverage and highlight women’s talent are laudable, other policy options must be explored, evaluated, and tailored, to enable Malaysian women to fully contribute to Malaysia’s transformation towards a high-income, inclusive, and sustainable economy.

Initiatives must be taken to end all forms of discrimination against women, to eliminate all forms of violence against women, to ensure women’s full and effective participation in all political, corporate and public affairs, to undertake reforms to equal rights to economic resources, and most importantly, to recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work.

Women are leading both in class and extracurricular activities over their minority men cohort within the higher education environment and it is pertinent for this to continue after leaving universities. A change in the stereotype of women as only housewives and child bearers must take a paradigm shift.

The status quo has been broken. Women are fast becoming income earners and providers equivalent to men but at the same time unpaid care work is not recognised. Women are tasked to work and at the same time no efforts are made to lessen their care burden. This is not healthy and is not sustainable.

In the long-term, prevailing social norms need to evolve for gender gaps to be bridged. A social re-engineering and going back to the drawing board is required to formulate the best solution for this new emerging social dynamic.

Gender sensitive education must start from school, enforced by the legal system, engendering government institutions, and also the authorities; including the police force.

Legal Support for Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is synonymous as an international bill of rights for women.

It has a prominent preamble and 30 articles, defining what constitutes discrimination against women and measures to end such discrimination.  As a ratifying member to CEDAW, Malaysia must integrate these articles into domestic legislation and enact the Gender Equality Act.

A revisit on existing legislation must be conducted to amend legislations which are discriminatory against women. Subsequently, every state must establish its own Gender Policy guided by pressing national concerns.

This will ensure Gender Equality will be mainstreamed in all policies and programmes from federal to state governments. Comprehensive laws must be in place to protect women from sexual harassment by enacting the Sexual Harassment Act.

Gender discrimination must be halted at all cost by penalising government departments or companies found to condone such acts and its perpetrators.

We need to protect pregnant women by adopting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Both Acts will provide legal protection to women and ensure that they feel secure at their workplace and in society, as a whole. Remember, anything that makes a woman feel inferior and takes away her self-respect is abuse.

Making Work Family Friendly

The existing tax relief for enrolling children aged 6 years and below to registered nurseries and preschools is not enough. Free nurseries at all government agencies and linked companies are severely required to assist in reducing the burden of childcare and to assist families in achieving work-life balance. This must be implemented in achieving a family friendly workplace.

As of 2015, there are 3,193 registered private child care institutions, and on top of that there’s 118 government offices and 24 private offices that provided child care. This illustrates a huge demand of private child care institutions that the government and private offices should be providing.

The government sector is slightly ahead compared to the corporate sector. Both are lacking in initiative and is largely failing to provide working mothers with better access to child care, flexible working hours and longer maternity and paternity leaves.

Childcare is a shared responsibility; which means that the attitude and treatment towards fathers will also need to change. More measures must be undertaken to ensure women have more social protection in the informal sector. This would drastically reduce the number of women leaving the workforce. Support must also be given to inculcate more women entrepreneurs.

To address the different needs between women and men, these issues have to be reflected in public transportation policy, healthcare delivery, women in politics, and strengthening corporations in promoting gender diversity.

Stakeholders’ Responsibility

All of the above calls for every stakeholder to relentlessly push for changes with full support from the government; including the agencies and the private sector.

Third party players from the civil society must be supported as they will be able to dive deep into the grassroots level, increase the awareness of Malaysians at large, and will be supplementing both the government and the private sector.

A prime example would be The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), formed in 1985, a coalition of 12 non-governmental organisations that work towards gender equality by the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Tenaganita and others.

JAG must be credited for spearheading multiple campaigns and legal reform efforts, leading to the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1994 and the inclusion of “gender” under Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution in 2001.

Emerging NGOs such as Lean In Malaysia, Women: girls, The G-Blog, and also a social media initiative like the Leading Ladies of Malaysia and others must also be supported and sustained.

There exists a huge socio-economic benefit of tapping into and unlocking women’s potential that this country badly needs.

*Anas Alam Faizli holds a doctorate in Business Administration. He is a construction and an oil and gas professional, a concerned Malaysian and is the author of Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians and tweets at @aafaizli‎