Don’t build public policy on women’s clothes

I find it extremely disturbing that there still are people in public office who insist on turning women’s clothing into a reason for public policy. I am referring to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof’s recent announcement to introduce a “syariah-compliant” dress code for Muslim women in the private sector.

His statement follows the comments of two PAS Members of Parliament in the Dewan Rakyat that the uniforms of Malaysian air stewardesses were more revealing than their American counterparts who they claimed wore only pants (with tops, of course!).

Like Transport Minister Anthony Loke’s rebuttal, “If too sexy, then don’t look!” I add: You are not man enough to control your sexual urges? Why blame women when the men can’t control themselves? And, why must women change to adjust to what the men can’t do? This is not only gross sexism but it is also legitimised injustice!

The stance of such men depicts this underlying medieval perspective that men’s urges are natural and can’t be controlled. Really? What about all those other men for whom this is not an issue? This is just an excuse because some men can’t handle themselves.

Instead of controlling how women should dress, it might be better for these men to learn how to control themselves. Instead of coming up with a dress code for the private sector, Mujahid — since his portfolio is religion — should, perhaps, advise and encourage the spiritual leaders of his religion to teach men how to control their sexual desires.

That would be a better way to deal with this issue rather than introduce a “syariah-compliant” dress code as public policy. He later clarified it wasn’t “syariah-compliant” but just a non-binding dress code “that is cultural and ethically right”. If it’s non-binding, why introduce it?

Is it the government’s business to control the way women dress?

Mujahid latter explained that the dress code was aimed at protecting Muslim women who cover up, from discrimination. Maybe, the saintly Mujahid is unaware of how the world works. Discrimination in myriad ways happens every day. The woman, the coloured person, the poor, the oppressed, the powerless minority, persons of faith, refugees, the “too smart”, and even the rich and the beautiful are discriminated against in some way. That’s the reality of life.

I know of very brilliant and beautiful women who can’t get jobs that match their skills because of the way they look. The reason given why they didn’t get such jobs was: “The men won’t work!” What senseless stupidity is this? Men are driven to distraction by a woman’s looks and, to protect the men, she doesn’t get a job of her choice?

Well, that’s how the world works and what do such women do? They fend for themselves, finding alternatives so that they can be who they are. They don’t go scrambling to the men-led government to come up with a code of behaviour for men (which I, nevertheless, will strongly support!) in the workplace! Anti-sexual harassment laws, however, are the exception because it protects all women, not just a few!

Women who cover up should do likewise. They shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently! They should just do what the rest of us have always been doing: find a way to make the best choices we can live with.

Mujahid needs to understand that a dress code will limit the rights of others. He would be instituting a public policy that protects only a minority but at the expense of the majority. Government policies must protect and benefit everyone, not just a few.

Besides, why this obsession over women’s clothes when there are other more urgent issues to address, such as MPs using foul language in the Dewan Rakyat? When the MP for Kinabatangan Bung Moktar uttered the “f” word in the Dewan Rakyat, which he retracted at the request of the Speaker, why wasn’t Mujahid quick to come up with a “syariah-compliant” code on how MPs should speak in Parliament?

Using the “f” word may be a very masculine way to dismiss your opponent, but it is also the rudest way to do so. In Parliament, it was crass behaviour in plain sight. The whole country now knows what kind of person Bung Moktar is. That might backfire on him. It was unbecoming behaviour in any circumstance. So, why wasn’t there a call for a code on how men should talk?

This is gender discrimination. The men are not called out but the women are! Mujahid is now in government and he must be seen as being professional and neutral and serving all Malaysians not just the religious few.

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A health issue that must not remain unresolved

Recent reports have revealed that a small number of companies owned by politicians of the previous administration monopolize the supplies of medicines to government-owned medical facilities. As a result, prices of medicines have shot up making it difficult for hospitals to buy the medicines and make them available free or at subsidized prices to the public.

Despite the expose, the issue remains unresolved. People are not getting the medicines they should or getting less effective but cheaper medicines. I know for a fact that this is the case with Universiti Hospital which manages a couple of chronic medical conditions I suffer from.

I’ve been under UH’s medical care for more than five years but this year my rhinitis/sinusitis condition took a turn for the worse and even after several months of treatment, I wasn’t getting better. Finally I decided to query the medical officers who attend to me and found out that they don’t have the better but more expensive medicines to give the treatment they want to.

I was on Rhinocort and loratadine but the doctors switched to cetirizine and loratadine which was effective treatment but the cetirizine made me drowsy all day though I slept well on it! I couldn’t get up on time and was drowsy right up to 5pm! I would also nod off at the wheels. So, I requested for a change of medicine.

The doctor then recommended Nasonex and Aerius which are expensive medicines but UH didn’t have the supplies. That was when the doctor told me, “These medicines used to be free but not anymore.”

So, they don’t prescribe these medicines to their patients. Sometimes, when they do prescribe, the medicines may be out of stock! I also need omeprazole to manage acid reflux. But, more than once, I was told to come back to collect it because it was out of stock! In the most recent case, I was told to call to check if supplies had arrived and when I did I was told to come very early in the morning to collect because the stock would run out later!

The person at the end of the line told me they only got a stock of 1,000! That’s enough for a hospital serving thousands of patients?! When I went to collect the next day, I was told that I would only be given one month’s supply and to come again for the next month!

So, like me, thousands of Malaysians are walking around coping with their illnesses because good medicines that would restore their health is inaccessible to them.

This is a grievous lapse of service! Health care should be democratised so that the maximum number of people have access to proper medical treatment. Apparently, in the last couple of years, despite a commendable annual economic growth figure of about 5% and a rise in GDP per capita income from US$9,800 last year to US$11,240 this year, government hospitals don’t have money to subsidize medicine for the general public.

Where is all this wealth going when the ordinary person doesn’t benefit from it? I’m a paying patient at UH. And, I’m able to get the better prescriptions from commercial pharmacies. I’m very fortunate to have a pharmacy near my house which sells medicines at reasonable prices because they have a high turnover.

What about those who can’t afford it? The bottom 40% of the population? The Health Ministry can no longer take its time to solve this problem by blaming it on the previous administration or remaining unmoved on the grounds that the government is new and still settling in.

People’s health is at stake. This is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently and swiftly. The ministry needs to assume responsibility and solve this issue immediately. I really hope the Health Minister steps up!

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Waking up to another new day in Malaysia!

These days it’s nice to wake up and not read anything about government misdemeanour! That characterized the previous administration when we were often shocked by scandals in government and high-handed authoritarian practices. Hopefully, that’s behind us.

The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, of course, hasn’t proven itself yet. That will take some time, but, for the moment, the government is unobtrusive! The ordinary citizen can get on with life and not be bothered whether we are properly being governed!

That is good government. When the government does its job and doesn’t put stress on the people.

That’s the new Malaysian day! Free from government stress! So much so, there really isn’t much to write about! I don’t get fodder on poor leadership to write on! That’s good news!

The only “bad” news about our leaders so far has been the deaths of two (Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Sg Kandis assemblyman Mat Shuhaimi Shafie and DAP’s Balakong assemblyman Eddie Ng) and the medical ailments of another two (Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on one-month medical leave and deputy minister in the prime minister’s department Hanipa Maidin who collapsed during a department staff assembly).

Deaths and illnesses are part and parcel of life and inevitable. I wonder though how many other leaders are having health issues after their new appointments. It’s very likely that some may have what one of my doctors calls the “promotion neurosis”! When you get promoted to a higher responsibility you get the jitters and anxiety levels hit high levels.

It’s an effort to focus on your work, you get fainting spells, you can’t sleep, you are easily agitated. These are some of the symptoms, and, yes, you guessed right, I went through it. It was so bad in my case that I had to resign — only because I didn’t know I could get help.

If I had known what I know now, I would have got help and continued with my job because promotion neurosis can be addressed with proper medical treatment. I know because it happened again and I got help and could carry on with my work until I adjusted to the new demands and didn’t need medical help anymore.

So, if the new leaders are coping with promotion neurosis and, maybe, don’t know it, be assured; help is available. Get the needful help to tide over the adjustment period and get on with work.

 

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Same old, same old Umno, hopefully not!

To say the least, Umno’s walkout at the opening of the 14th Parliament was a major disappointment. The point of the exercise totally misses me!

The reason they gave was to protest the appointment of the Speaker, former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof. Umno MPs claim that the appointment letter was backdated to July 2 when his appointment was confirmed after that day, thus breaking the 14-day rule before a speaker could be appointed.

Umno may have a case, which they could have brought up in a debate, providing proof to their claim. If their arguments were solid, surely they might have got at least sympathy for their case? Who knows, they might even have succeeded in upturning the decision to appoint Ariff.

But, none of this happened because they chose to walk out even before the debate began. By doing so, they continued in the same vein they always have: When they can’t call the shots, they bully or throw a tantrum!

This is the “old style” of Umno which no longer has any place in the new Malaysia. What did they achieve by the walkout? Absolutely zero. Zilch! If they had debated their point and, if not making any headway, they walked out, that would have made sense. Instead, they chose to walk out without debate and merely created a ruckus in Parliament.

The only person in Umno who, perhaps, was ready for debate in Parliament was the Rembau Member of Parliament (MP) Khairy Jamaluddin. He was the only Umno MP who didn’t follow his president out for which he was criticised for not showing he is a team player.

I find this reasoning extremely outdated ! If you dissent you are not a team player? So, everyone must follow the leader in a show of unity whether or not they actually believe him or her? If it were an issue that demanded total support, there should have been a discussion for a final vote of unanimous agreement. It requires skill to talk with people of varied opinions to get them around to present a show of unity. On some issues that might be necessary.

In Parliament, however, MPs are there to push the cause of their constituents, not their party or their bosses! They are free to dissent and go against the party line as Khairy did. He was ready for his new role in the opposition and to engage in debate and he made it very clear he was not going along with the “old Umno”. Good for him!

He stood up (in this case, sat still!) for what he believed was necessary reforms in his party. His party members may not agree and he may have to face the consequences, but holding on to a different point of view doesn’t make him less of an Umno member. He has said he is still an Umno member.

An enlightened modern leadership would nurture a culture of diverse exchanges as it reflects what people think and they would be accommodating of such diversity.

That is what I’m looking forward to seeing in Parliament. MPs speaking their mind even when it goes against the grain because they put their constituents first.

I suppose we need to give Umno a little more time to get used to their role as the new opposition. They did perform better in the following days!

It will be good to see if the quality of parliamentary debate improves by leaps and bounds!

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Thai cave rescue — the impossible can happen

After GE14, the best news I have heard so far is the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The rescue, undertaken by an international team of British and Australian divers and medical personnel and Thai navy seal divers, was a phenomenal success! It’s a testament to the fact that no matter how impossible the situation, there is a way out — if we’ll put our minds to finding a solution.

I hope the international team, especially the British divers who discovered the boys holed up in a cave 1km below the ground two weeks after they went missing and who later joined the effort to take the boys out, where adequately paid. They put their lives out on a limb and developed a well-calculated mission to get the boys and their coach out.

There are several lessons we can learn from this rescue effort. Firstly, there is nothing that happens to human beings that can not be solved. No matter how impossible the situation, it is within human reality to find the resources to deal with it — to escape, overcome, resolve or let go. When in such a situation, we need to learn to get help.

The Thais did not have the specialised expertise needed to save the 13 but they asked for help from those who have the experience and skills to deal with it. Working together, they solved the problem.

Secondly, they worked together. Everyone in the team played his part. If one person missed a step it would have been difficult for the next person to carry on.

Thirdly, we need to be part of a community so that when one is lost the others will come together to find the lost one. Clearly, the 13 were. The Thai community and the world community were not willing to abandon the search. They were 12 kids whose lives were at stake and the adults in the world acted swiftly to rescue them. The community didn’t give up. Instead, they sought every help they could to save the 13.

Fourthly, we need to be highly motivated to solve the problem. Yes, the world was watching and the motivation was high not to fail. But, I think, the over-riding motivation was to save the 13. The motivation was that those boys and their young coach must be saved. The rescue team was singularly motivated by that one concern to save them.

Without the motivation, you may be intimidated by the daunting task before you and give up even before you begin!

The skeptics will say, “See. You don’t need God! We (human beings) can sort things out all by ourselves!”

I hope the skeptics are aware that the water pump broke shortly after the last person — the coach — was stretchered out. The timing was perfect! It broke after the rescue operation ended.

Can anyone honestly say that, maybe, God was not in this?

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The value of advisers

It’s really sad that the previous regime in Malaysia ended with the arrest of its last prime minister, Najib Razak. It’s a lesson for all, and, especially for the members of the new Cabinet, that what happened to Najib can happen to any of us.

No one is incorruptible. Every human being, by virtue of being human, is corruptible. The wise among us realise our limitations and act meekly, checking to be constrained by the rule of law and ethics.

If you are thrust into public office that responsibility is even greater because you have access to power to use for the good of the people who placed you in that seat of power or to misuse and abuse.

That’s the reason for checks and balances. They are set up on the premise that human nature is corruptible and needs laws and conventions to keep us in line.

Sometimes, though, leaders ignore the checks and balances. That’s another reason why we must develop the culture of holding leaders to the rule of law and speaking out swiftly when any transgresses.

Such public debate must be encouraged so that leaders are exposed to dissenting voices because the latter might be an aspect of truth that they can’t afford to ignore. Yes, there is much scurrilous politicking in our public debates. There’s a great deal of mud-slinging and name calling. Yet, these shouldn’t be dismissed because they reveal the depth of sentiments people feel.

Good leaders will recognize those sentiments while ignoring the language, and take note. Good leaders are also able to identify the dissenters who speak honestly and argue logically. They take note of the latter, too.

When leaders take note of dissenting views and factor them into their decision-making processes, they protect themselves from being insulated by their own perspective. It is that insulation that stops them from seeing the truth right before them and adjusting their thinking to act honestly.

When leaders reach that state of insularity, they won’t be able to see no matter what people say and advise. That’s a sure sign that it’s time for them to go.

There is, however, one group of people who can break the insularity — the advisers. Leaders should nurture a group of advisers who will speak the truth — no matter what the consequences.

These are the advisers who correctly read the pulse on the ground and present the alternative points of view with facts, statistics and logical argument to their leader. They will fight for what is right at personal cost because they know their allegiance is to a higher authority rather than their bosses.

These advisers are not the types who feel they must show their loyalty to their bosses by conforming to his or her perspective and insisting and imposing on others to do the same. The latter are the yes-men and they are as dangerous as insular leaders because they put a burden on the people to conform, even when they know it isn’t right or necessary.

Notice that none of Najib’s so-called advisers have spoken up to his defence? If, from the start, his advisers had advised him to change to a better course of action, I wonder if he and they would be where they are now.

On the other hand, if an adviser is willing to break ranks to show his boss the “error of his ways”, he or she may just save him. Take US president Donald Trump, for instance. Isolated in his own world, he really believes it is for the good of the nation to build a wall between the US and Mexico and separate children from their parents caught crossing the border. Until his wife tweeted it was wrong and other First Ladies did the same! Then, he backed off.

It took one person — the First Lady — who broke convention and spoke up against her husband to get him to change his mind.

I’m not implying here that advisers should go against their bosses. Nothing of that sort. But when advisers are caught up conforming to their bosses’ expectations, they will be unable to make a stand for what is clearly right. Such advisers usually give excuses such as “We have no choice”, “I need the job” or “They are paying us to do the job. Let’s just do it and keep quiet”!

Operating in such a culture where conformity is equated to loyalty to your boss, they’ll not expose a wrong-doing for fear of losing their jobs.

When something is not quite right, whether as an adviser or an ordinary citizen, speak up. Our silence means tacit approval. Our dissent means an opportunity to rethink an issue, confront the wrong and correct ourselves.

To the new leaders, I hope they will get good, fearless counsel!

 

 

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It’s human nature to do unto others what we don’t want them to do to us

A report on polygamy in the papers recently gives a quick glimpse of how people, no matter what their political, social, economic or religious hues, will ultimately act according to their nature.

The story was on two Canadian polygamists who were sentenced to house arrest in Ottawa. I’m totally against polygamy — for myself. For me I’m either Number 1 and the only Number 1 or nothing at all! But, I digress.

What I don’t understand is why Canada — a supposedly modern, progressive nation that has sanctioned same sex marriages and where minorities have the right to live according to their cultural contexts — has NOT thrown out the 130-year-old law to ban polygamy.

To me, it smacks of hypocrisy. On the one hand, the country accommodates minority concerns like that of the gay community, but makes another minority community’s choices illegal. Its argument is that polygamy has “inherent harms”. Harms? Their wives are not complaining. So, where’s the harm?

Some people would also argue that same sex marriages have “inherent harms” but that would make lawmakers in Canada and other modern Western democracies extremely unpopular and they may lose their votes. Worst still, they would be silenced as being out of step with the current realities of freedom of sex and multi-culturalism.

It’s quite clear that in modern-day Western democracies, the current fashionable whipping dogs are the conservatives, who are seen as aligned with all the ways that threaten the liberties modern Westerners currently enjoy — free sex and multi-culturalism.

It is similar to the case of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, USA by the owner who said the reason was because Sanders worked for the President of the United States (POTUS). The owner further explained that the restaurant had gays and other minorities working there and they were uncomfortable with Sanders’ presence and called her about it. As a result she asked Sanders to leave.

Doesn’t this also smack of hypocrisy? Liberals accuse conservatives of discrimination against blacks and minority groups but they do the same to others?

This is just human nature. When you are fighting for your rights you can stand on the high moral ground of what is right and what is just in terms of public policy. You can argue that everyone deserves to be treated equally under the law. Definitely. That involves everyone, including conservatives, and those you don’t agree with!

If you own a place, you have the right to ask someone to leave — only if they misbehave or commit a crime. You don’t ask a customer to leave just because you don’t like him or her. In Sanders’ case, she was asked to leave because some of the workers there felt insecure because she represents a president who is supported by the conservative agenda.

The root cause is insecurity, not the fear of discrimination. She represented a threat to who they are and their lifestyles. Commendably, she left without a fuss.

It is human nature, when we are insecure, to assert ourselves to make ourselves feel more secure. That’s when we do all sorts of things to make ourselves more secure. Usually, we will do it to other people; we ourselves won’t change or stop ourselves from acting in the same way we accuse others of.

That’s human nature, I suppose.

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