More women wanted in Malaysia's military groups

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

It is a line of work dominated by men.

But the fairer sex is steadily proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the uniformed services in Malaysia.

This is based on the growing number of women who have chosen to don the uniform to serve and protect the country and its people over the past few years.

Three uniformed forces - the military, police, and Fire and Rescue Department - have recorded increases in the number of women among their ranks.

The fairer sex now makes up 10 per cent of the overall strength of the Malaysian Armed Forces, which comprises the army, navy and air force - a jump from the 4 per cent recorded in 2003.

Many of these women hold positions in combat support and services, including posts in intelligence and strategy units as well as serving as military doctors and nurses.

While women are generally not foot soldiers in the infantry or engaged in direct combat, those in the air force are roped in as fighter pilots and paratroopers, while women in the navy have been appointed as warfare or logistics officers.

There are also more women at the top when it comes to busting crime and keeping our streets safe, with an increase in female police officers ranked Super-in­ten­dent and above.

The number of high-ranking women in blue rose by 25 per cent from 59 in 2012 to 74 this year.

Ladies also lend their strength to the total of 119,628 rank-and-file police officers, making up 12 per cent or 14,477 officers.

The percentage is even higher for police officers ranked Inspector and above, with 22 per cent of them being women.

As for the Fire and Rescue Department, the number of female officers has increased by 9 per cent from 477 in 2012 to 520 in 2015.

With men and women receiving the same training and opportunities, both sexes are equally involved in extinguishing fires and rescue missions.

Some female officers have also been recognised for their superior sky­diving skills while others are part of the department's Rapid Intervention Motorcycle Unit, which deploys firefighters on high-powered motor-cycles that allow them to rush to the scene more quickly.

Some women have also been trained to handle wild animals (yes, includ ing cobras) and can assist members of the public who may be threatened by them.

This upward trend of women in uniformed forces is set to continue, with plans to draw in more women sign-ups.

Bukit Aman Management department director Comm Datuk Zulkifli Abdullah says the police aim to increase the percentage of female police officers from the current 12 per cent to 15 per cent.

"We encourage women to apply to join the police force and we will be happy to achieve our 15 per cent target," he says.

Comm Zulkifli adds that there are no restrictions on the number of women in the force, adding that many have risen up the ranks to become directors.

"The numbers must be proportionate. The police do not discri-minate against women," he says, adding that women officers have charted excellent performance in the force.

Acknowledging the increase in female officers, Comm Zulkifli says the number has been going up every year and is expected to rise further.

To get more women to join the Fire and Rescue Department, corporate division management assistant director Siti Rohani Mohd Nadir says the department will increase promotional activities to boost recruitment.

"We will do this by showcasing success stories of high-flying female officers through social media, print media and other platforms.

"We will also intensify recruitment and career opportunity announcements for women so that the public will be able to understand the profession better," she says.

Stressing that the participation of women in the department must be maintained, Siti Rohani says female officers are crucial in filling roles that require meticulous work such as forensics, investigations and fire prevention.

"Women are also able to provide a different point of view in a situation, especially in tasks that are normally performed by men," she adds.

Like the police, Siti Rohani says the department does not have a quota for the number of women officers.

"As long as they qualify and pass the various tests and the interview, they will be hired," she says, adding that men and women are exposed to the same kind of training.

She says women officers can take on responsibilities in all divisions, including the operations branch normally dominated by men.

"Female officers have contributed to the development and advancement of this department and have upheld our vision and mission.

"Women are essential in the department and their role cannot be taken lightly as their service is of equal merit to their male counterparts," Siti Rohani emphasises.

She advises women who are interested in signing up to log on to www.bomba.gov.my for more details.

While she cannot disclose exact numbers due to security reasons, Malaysian Armed Forces personnel services division manpower branch director Brig-Gen S. Suriakala says that more women have joined the military over the past decade.

The training undergone by women and their opportunities for promotion are parallel to men, she adds.

"Women are not part of direct combat roles but we are very much involved in policy-making and combat support and services.

"Men and women are considered equals in the military. As long as you wear the uniform, we do not differentiate by gender," she says.

Giving the example of the Lahad Datu intrusion in 2013, Brig-Gen Suriakala says women were not deployed for direct combat but were involved in formulating strategies.

She says women tend to be more detail-oriented, making them suitable for roles in the medical and intelligence departments.

"Women are also not as easily bored with desk jobs as men, who generally tend to be more restless," she adds.

But while women in the military are trained to be tough, Brig-Gen Suriakala says she encourages female officers to maintain their feminine side.

"In this job, we cannot be timid and naive. But there are qualities you should maintain as a lady as they can also be your strengths.

"It is important to carry yourself well and not lose your sensitive and gentle side, especially when dealing with civilians," she says.

Brig-Gen Suriakala says it is important for someone to have the heart to serve their country if they are interested in enlisting in the military. She points out that there are also options to join as a reserve.

The Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), which is part of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), lauds the increase in female strength in the uniformed forces.

However, WAO executive director Sumitra Visvanathan points out that the numbers are still comparatively low.

"It is good to see an increase of women in these forces but the numbers are far from what they should be.

"Ideally, women should make up 50 per cent to achieve absolute gender parity. Right now, the percentage of women in these services is still rather small," she says.

Nevertheless, Sumitra says she is happy to know of the rising trend of women in these professions and hopes more efforts will be taken to allow women to advance in such fields.

"It is also important for the uniformed forces to make such data more easily available so that Malaysians are aware that women are given equal chances," she adds.

She says the stigma in society that such jobs are not suited for women will be removed when they are given more opportunities.

"When we see more women in the police, Fire and Rescue, and military, then that stigma will be irrelevant," Sumitra says.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun views the increase as a sign that Malaysian society is becoming more open-minded and equal when it comes to gender matters.

"This is also due to advancements in technology and the enhanced quality of education. In the past, things were more labour intensive but now, a lot is driven by talent.

"Our society has also grown to recognise the abilities and strengths of women. Women themselves are more confident to take on different roles. Their experiences have proven to be of equal standing to those of men," she says.

She adds that women tend to be more careful when it comes to planning and decision-making, and this makes them capable leaders.

However, Chew, who is also MCA vice-president, feels that men and women complement each other across the board in the various sectors and professions.

"We need each other to ensure that plans and efforts are comprehensive and successful," she says.

On the ministry's aim of having women hold 30 per cent of decision-making positions, Chew says it is getting closer to that target.

"We started our efforts with the public sector and now, our focus is on the private sector.

"A lot of private companies have pledged to fulfil this target and we see that it is gaining momentum," she says.