More women should be represented in leadership and decision-making roles, engineering, technological innovation and cutting-edge medical research, said Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar.
She was delivering her keynote speech via Zoom at the opening of the 4th Pan-Commonwealth Training Programme on ‘Women Leaders: Shaping the Future for a Sustainable World’ at WOU City Campus on 1 August 2022.
The workshop on the themes of leadership, technology and climate change was organised by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and WOU from 1-3 August. About 30 women leaders of open distance learning institutions from 15 Commonwealth countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean attended the event.
“Ensuring gender equality and promoting gender sensitivity within the country should be a priority for every leader, in government or otherwise, regardless of their portfolio,” she stressed. She welcomed the recent passing of the Anti Sexual Harassment Act by Parliament to protect the wellbeing of women and men.
She acknowledged the importance of women’s voices in spaces of leadership and decision-making. “Nothing can truly be ‘sustainable’ if we fail to include different voices at the table. If more women for example are involved in decision-making, there is a greater probability that more family-family policies will be designed,” she said, highlighting the need for inclusivity.
She lauded COL and universities like WOU which promote and practise open and distance learning, which are inherently inclusive.“Improving access to education is an important way to increase inclusivity, which then can accelerate action on policy matters that meaningfully contribute to a nation’s sustainable development.”
She said women however lack power over resources and decision-making, and disproportionately bear the impacts of disasters, including increased violence.
Nurul remarked that internationally only 22 countries have an elected woman head of state or government, while 119 nations have never had a woman leader, according to UN Women. “At the current rate of progress, gender parity at the highest positions of power will not be reached for 130 years. The analysis also showed parity would not be reached in national parliaments before 2063, and in ministerial positions before 2077.”
She reiterated the need for more women representation, including as political party members and on party executive committees. “When gender sensitivity is not well understood at a political party level, how will the same people who then potentially go on to govern a country, adopt these principles at a national scale?”
She continued, “Infrastructure, laws and regulations, progressive policies around maternity and paternity leave – these are all key to ensuring women are able to thrive in an environment that is safe and caters to their needs. When these needs are met, only then will more women be willing to take the leap into public life.”
Nurul elaborated, “We also need more women, not only in policy-making but also in engineering, technological innovation and at the forefront of cutting edge medical research. Females are still routinely left out of biomedical research, and ignored in analyses of data.”
She also called for a gendered dimension to the issue of climate change and environmental policies, pointing out thatthe devastating floods last year were not “natural” disasters but the impact of climate change. “Applying a gendered lens, even to environmental disasters, is crucial for truly sustainable solutions to be formulated and ultimately executed.”
She said women, as leaders, should build “green skills” to adapt to the harsh impacts of climate change, e.g. global warming, and soft skills, e.g. problem-solving, to apply their knowledge in the real world.
She advocated:“If we find ourselves in a position of privilege, it is our duty to empower those without it, whatever their identity labels and categorisations.”
Meanwhile, WOU Chief Executive and Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Lily Chan, in her earlier welcoming remarks, said that one way to overcome biasness and bring positive changes in the workplace and other areas was to “have more women in positions of leadership, providing the support and role models they need to advance in their careers”.
Prof Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of COL, presented on ‘”Towards Innovative Leadership”, urging women to stay updated on key current issues, like the Covid-19 pandemic, lifelong learning, and climate change.She said women must prepare themselves against stereotypes and build their capacities in innovative leadership, which entails “applying innovative thinking to leadership tasks.”