NB: This speech was delivered at the launch of the April Issue of the Penang Monthly on 7 April 2012. The following reproduction is abridged.

As we advance towards a high-tech, knowledge-based economy, where traditional factors of labour such as physical strength and other gender considerations are fast losing relevance, it is timely to reflect upon the past contributions, present successes and future potential of women in the development of Penang.

As we all like to say, Penang leads. In this case though, it may be more appropriate to say Penang women lead. Our female labour force participation rate of 53.4 per cent is significantly higher than the national average of 45.7 per cent. This means that either the women in Penang are more hardworking, or that the men are lazier. Regardless of which, it also means that Penang women are more independent.

Institutionalising gender equality

In the last four years, gender mainstreaming has been increasingly institutionalised in Penang. Not only have unprecedented resources been allocated to women’s affairs and family development, we have seen the establishment of two state-sponsored child care centres, a women’s service centre and of course the recent formation of the Penang Women’s Development Corporation (PWDC), with the objective to inculcate gender-sensitivity with regards to state policies. Amongst the PWDC’s immediate goals include the introduction of gender responsive budgeting as a tool for policy formulation.

As further proof of the trail-blazing achievements of the ladies of Penang, in the last four years we have also seen the unprecedented appointment of women to key leadership positions within the state. The first two women council presidents in Peninsular Malaysia, Puan Patahiyah Ismail who heads the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) and Puan Maimunah Shariff who heads the Province Wellesley Municipal Council (MPSP), are both Penangites.

In the same period of time, we have also seen the appointment of Penang’s first female District Officer, Puan Rohani Hassan. And lest we forget, our key state agencies such as the George Town World Heritage Inc, InvestPenang and Penang Global Tourism are all headed by women.

“The Women Issue”

Therefore, it is only apt that the Penang Institute has decided to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day in a big way. The April issue of the Penang Monthly is entitled “The Women Issue”. It is both an issue that celebrates women as well as a campaign to highlight issues faced by women.

As an ode to the successful women of Penang, the editorial team has selected and profiled a coterie of 16 iconic women, including the likes of UN heavyweight Judy Cheng-Hopkins, arts activist Janet Pillai and MPSP President Puan Maimunah Mohd Sharif. Also included will be a review of the highly anticipated memoirs of another iconic lady Penangite, Tan Sri PG Lim.

We have also decided to give away 1,000 copies of our magazine to participants of this expo as well as to all secondary girl schools in Penang, in the hopes of inspiring our future women leaders. Our aim is to show them that gender is no barrier to scaling great heights in any field, be it in business, government or the arts.

The future

The Penang Institute is committed to further advancing the economic, socio-political and cultural role of Penang. We believe that gender mainstreaming and gender equality fits squarely within these goals, and are glad to play our part in furthering the efforts on this front.

Before I end, I would like to take this opportunity to convey our sincerest appreciations to YB Lydia Ong for agreeing to launch this very special issue of the Penang Monthly, Hunza Properties Bhd for graciously sponsoring our booth for this event, and PenExpo Events Sdn Bhd, for kindly allowing us the use of their stage. Lastly, I would also like to thank Daisy Ooi and Ooi Geok Ling, our special speakers for today, for taking time off their busy schedules to impart some words of wisdom to us. No doubt, we will learn much from these very successful ladies.

We hope that today’s event will be a meaningful one, and that Penang will not only continue to uphold its tradition of female empowerment, but also to pave the way towards eventual gender equality in Malaysia. After all, Penang women lead.

Thank you.