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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

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