A few days after this year’s Mother’s Day, I announced the launching of a new website, Mothering, in honour of all mothers in the country. Ever since, I have been inundated with queries about why I launched the website and what role being a “mother” has in our country’s political leadership.
My simple answer: A lot. I am a mother as well as a politician. Both roles require patience, tenacity, sensitivity and the skills to juggle varied and sometimes competing interests. But right now, political leadership the world over, including in Malaysia, is heavily dominated by men.
Men and women approach politics quite differently. Studies have shown that testosterone-driven leadership tends to be more aggressive and exclusionary. On the other hand, the fairer sex is known to be more emphatic and consultative, without necessarily being weak or ineffective. In fact, in many instances women have displayed leadership attributes and effectiveness that surpass that of men.
At the risk of stereotyping gender traits, I am not saying that women leaders are superior to men or vice versa. But we need to recognise that in today’s world which is driven by division and polarity, a political leadership imbued with maternal instincts can make a significant difference in the lives of the people.
The rise of extremism we now see in the West – and which has encroached into this part of the world, including in Malaysia – is chiefly due to the sense of alienation the people feel from the political processes.
When voters feel left out and ignored, they fall prey to demagogues who manipulate the masses’ anger, prejudices and sense of disillusionment at the expense of the society’s long-term interests.
From Washington DC to Paris to Kuala Kubu Baru, the public is feeling more and more detached from the political process and their so-called “leaders”. Many do not get the kind of empathy from political leaders, the way a toddler typically gets his or her mother’s full attention after bruising a knee from a fall.
In 2019, former US president Barack Obama, during a talk delivered in Singapore said that if women ran every country in the world, there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes.
Women, according to the well-liked US leader, “aren’t perfect”, but are “indisputably better” than men. The one- time leader of the most powerful nation on the planet said that most of the problems in the world came from old people, mostly men, holding onto positions of power.
Women leaders are more adept at dispensing motherly care. To mother is to care. To mother is to grow. To mother is to love. Whether it’s mothering my family, my children, my home, my office, my workforce or the world around me, I relish my role as a mother, as do many female political leaders.
Mothering is what will ultimately transform us from being weak to being a rock. Mothering our community, our environment, and our world is what will make our planet a better place for all of us.
As the founding president of the Council of Malaysian Women Political Leaders (COMWEL), I have made it a point to encourage and give opportunities for women to be active in politics.
In the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC), women make up 34 per cent of board members and other positions in the various agencies under its purview.
This was practised even before the Ministry of Finance mandated in stages that all public listed companies appoint at least one woman into its board of directors starting from Sept 1 this year.
In MPIC, we recognise the roles played by women and want to ensure they are given a fair representation. Women have great potential and are very dedicated and often go beyond their expectations to ensure excellence in their work.
Among the women board members and those in senior positions in agencies under MPIC include Datuk Zunaidah Idris (Institute of Malaysian Plantation and Commodities (IMPAC); Datuk Dr Hafsah Hashim (Malaysian Rubber Board); and Datuk Hazimah Zainudin (Malaysian Palm Oil Board).
All the women in our agencies are professionals and well qualified. I do not subscribe to, and abhor tokenism.
Now is the time for women leaders to rise to the challenge and change the world – one loving-motherly-care step at a time.
*Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin is the Minister of Plantations Industries and Commodities and also the founding president of Council of Malaysian Women Political Leaders (COMWEL).
Image by Miera Zulyana.