This morning I had the pleasure of speaking at the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur. It was a great honour for us to host the event, and an ever greater honour to share the stage with some of the leading lights in women’s advocacy.
Women are at the heart of our society. They deserve the best – in healthcare, in education and in the workplace. So as I walked to the stage to give my speech, I thought about the people who have inspired me with their commitment to improving the lives of women and girls – not just in Malaysia, but in the world. People like Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who guards our economic success; Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, who has done so much to improve maternal, public and mental health for women
I also thought of my time as Women’s Minister and Education Minister, about the challenges I have faced. In government, our job is to make sure we reach developed nation status without leaving any Malaysians behind. I believe that Malaysia’s future will only be really sustainable if we give our women and girls the best start in life.
We have focused our energy on education and healthcare, with fantastic results. Today, 65% students enrolled in tertiary education are women. And we have one of the lowest maternal mortality ratios in the region – in 2011, 29 out of every 100,000 live births against 540 for every 100,000 just after independence. As I gave my speech I felt proud to have played a part in those achievements. But I also felt keenly my responsibility to go further.
Malaysia is in the bottom quarter of the latest World Economic Forum gender gap index. We are improving, but others are improving faster. Our challenge now is to make sure that our successes in healthcare and education translate into successes in the workplace and the community. Women are not as active in the labour force – and not as well represented in politics – as they should be.
There are things the government can do to change that, and our re-election gives us a platform to work harder to deliver for our girls and women. But it is also up to all Malaysians to pay tribute to the women that inspire them, by working together to create a more stronger, more equal society.