‘OUR STRUGGLE IS FOR ALL WOMEN’
HANA NAZ HARUN KUALA LUMPUR email@example.com
WANITA Umno has evolved from an ordinary wing set up in 1947 to become the backbone of Umno. Its chief, Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, talks about the wing’s way forward in the years to come, explaining its role in empowering Malaysian women through economic independence.
The former women, family and community development minister also talks about how Wanita Umno — with a membership of more than 1.39 million — is gearing up for the 14th General Election, and how it will continue conducting community work through the newly-launched Jalinan Rakyat Plus.
Shahrizat also explains at length the importance of loyalty as Umno celebrates its 71st anniversary
Question: How much has Wanita Umno evolved in the past seven decades from a regular party wing to an Umno backbone?
Answer: Very substantially. This is in keeping with the remarkable transformation Malaysian women have made over the last seven decades.
Wanita Umno has been the number one proponent and pressure group for most of the transformation that has happened on issues concerning women, family and their welfare, and other social issues.
We understand the responsibilities that come with this. Our influence as a political force is far-reaching.
This is because we are steady, responsible and also because Umno is the backbone of the government. Our voices are always heard.
Q: How important is the role being played by Wanita Umno in making Umno the strongest political party in the country? A: Firstly, my members are made up of women who are committed, dedicated and passionate about the “raison d’être”, the “perjuangan” (struggle) of Umno.
While we believe in the struggle for religion, race and the nation, the development of a better multiracial society is our vision. We are able to ensure a steady flow of women leaders.
Wanita Umno currently stands at 1.39 million members out of 3.5 million Umno members nationwide.
We have quality and quantity, and we are focused and disciplined.
You can count on us to keep our feet on the ground no matter what tsunami hits the country or the party. That is why we have become a very significant component of Umno and Barisan Nasional.
We are here to serve not only Malay or Bumiputera women, but the people of Malaysia.
While we might not always be glamorous, we are reliable, dependable and loyal. These, I think, are precious traits in any political party.
Q: How did past leaders inspire you to see the direction you wanted for Wanita Umno, into what it has become today? A: The journey for the emancipation of women in Malaysia can be traced back to the day Wanita Umno was formed in 1947, 70 years ago.
We had great leaders, starting from (Puan Sri) Putih Mariah Ibrahim Rashid, Ibu Zain (Tan Sri Zainun Sulaiman), Khadijah Sidek, Tun Dr Fatimah Hashim, and later during my time, Tan Sri Aishah Ghani, Datuk Seri Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.
I have great respect for each and every one of our past leaders. Each of them was relevant during their time and they gave their all.
They delivered to us a strong grounding. Through the years, I learned the dos and don’ts, and it was not difficult for me when I became Wanita chief to push forward my agenda for women, because I’ve been with the grassroots for over 30 years. So, I knew what ails women and what needs to be done.
During my time, my biggest challenge since day one when I became minister 10 years ago was to bring women and family issues into mainstream politics and government.
Q: Was it difficult? Because people back then never really wanted to discuss issues on women.
A: Yes, it was not easy, but it was not difficult either. I did this by sheer grit and determination, and having a clear, focused vision and mission.
I convinced the government to amend Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution to ensure that there shall be no gender discrimination. That took Malaysian women to another stratosphere altogether.
Q: What is Wanita Umno setting its eyes on, going forward, now that Umno has reached 71 years? Is it looking at further empowering Malay women to play a more pivotal role?
A: I want to make it very clear that our struggle has never been just about Malay women. Even though I am Wanita Umno chief, I am also Wanita BN chief.
Whatever I do, it is for women in general. Every stride that we make on Wanita BN has a positive impact on women in general.
This term, I am pushing for economic independence of women, wherever they are.
I believe that every woman must have her own wallet, her own income, because this will stabilise her and she will feel good about herself.
It is also imperative that this country builds a strong infrastructure for women to be in the workforce, such as more childcare centres, flexible hours, home officers, caregivers and the like.
Q: Umno’s 71st anniversary happens to coincide with a potential election year. What is the Wanita Umno machinery doing to gear up, especially with the new Jalinan Rakyat Plus (JR Plus) that has just been launched?
A: We have never stopped working. We believe in our cause and we love being with the people. That is why we do a lot of community service. We look at ourselves as mothers who bring about unity, the glue that holds everything together.
In JR Plus, we invite any interested party to join us. We are not just a political machinery, but also the eyes and ears of the people. JR Plus will then be the bridge between the people and the members of parliament, or the powers that be.
I strongly believe that a political machinery doesn’t need to be “political” all the time. We have to be realistic about this. For me, service to the people is the strongest machinery, and JR Plus is just that.
Q: Umno has faced a lot of obstacles throughout the years and Wanita Umno has remained loyal. How important is it for party members to pledge loyalty and how does Wanita Umno encourage this among its members?
A: To me, loyalty is the mainstay of every member of any organisation, what more in politics. When you join an organisation, you surrender part of yourself to the organisation and you subscribe to its tenets.
You can contribute your views no matter how different because that is how an organisation evolves. But, loyalty to the tenets of the body cannot be sacrificed.
To be honest, I never had much difficulty in encouraging Wanita Umno to be loyal. It comes naturally to us. Just like how mothers are very protective of our family, Wanita Umno is very protective of the party and our leaders.
This loyalty to the party and its beliefs is what has kept Umno going for 71 years.
Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil