Women’s rights groups laud higher number of women in Cabinet

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PETALING JAYA: Women’s and seniors’ rights advocates have voiced mixed responses to the Cabinet reshuffle announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.


While some noted that the appointment of a woman deputy minister in the Finance Ministry was a positive step towards women’s representation in key ministries, others cautioned that the new appointments could be disruptive.

“We welcome Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad, Datuk Aiman Athirah Sabu and Lim Hui Ying in their new portfolios which have a strong gender focus and look forward to working with and supporting them in advancing gender equality,” said founder of NGO Engender Consultancy Omna Sreeni-Ong.

“Globally only 11% of finance ministers and central bank governors are women and so we laud the appointment of a female Deputy Finance Minister.

“With the institution of gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) across government, we hope that with this appointment, there will be greater attention to accelerating the GRB process and in turn equitable distribution of fiscal resources to benefit all Malaysians,” says Omna.

With the reshuffle, Noraini replaced Aiman as the Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister.

The latter is now the Deputy Local Government Development Minister while Lim is the Deputy Finance Minister; she was formerly the Deputy Education Minister.

Women’s Centre for Change, Penang advocacy director Karen Lai, however, said that the reshuffle could come at a price.

“The disruption prevents the accumulation of ministerial policy expertise at the risk of poor policy outcomes.

“The question is, on what basis was the reshuffling made? Political power struggles and internal horse trading is to my mind not an acceptable excuse for decisions which impact critical and vulnerable sectors of society, including women and children.


“While we welcome the increase in women’s representation in executive decision-making, numbers alone are not enough. The women appointed as ministers or deputy ministers must prove themselves as substantively capable of leading their respective portfolios,” said Lai.

She added that Noraini, when she was Higher Education Minister in 2020, was involved in “a fiasco” and that her appointment “has not inspired confidence” among women’s groups.

“(She) was involved in a fiasco of a last-minute change to move university registration and classes online following a surge of Covid-19 cases in the country. She has been strongly criticised in that previous portfolio. Given the above track record, her new appointment has not inspired confidence among women’s groups. That said, it’s important to keep an open mind and move forward towards a constructive working relationship,” said Lai.

In October 2020, Noraini (as the Higher Education Minister) called off in-person registrations and classes at public universities a day before students were set to register. She received a lot of complaints from parents, students and the public as this last-minute move left many students stranded on campus, some with not enough funds to return to their hometowns. She also faced other criticisms during her tenure.

Meanwhile, gerontologist and seniors’ rights advocate Lily Fu felt that the reshuffle was timely with the new year just around the corner.

“We don’t want seat-warmers and shoe-polishers. All in the Cabinet should pull up their socks and put their shoulders to the plough,” she said.

Fu then added that her biggest concern is for the new Health Minister to look into setting up more Rumah Ehsan for long-term care for the elderly as there are only two nationwide at the moment

“Healthcare may be affordable at government clinics and hospitals but it’s unbelievable that our senior citizens have to wait for months to see a doctor for a checkup. For the elderly, time is not on their side,” she said.

With Malaysia set to become an aged nation, all ministries should come together to make our public buildings, our parks, our towns and cities more age-friendly. Get the grassroots involved in dialogues,” added Fu.

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