Malaysia and Gender Politics

Gender Politics and the Pursuit of Competitiveness in Malaysia. Women on Board is a new book by Juanita Elias and published by Routledge. It is reviewed for JCA by Juliette Schwak of the Division of Communication, History and Politics at Franklin University Switzerland.

The book examines how agendas for gender equality intersect with policy-making towards the pursuit of national economic competitiveness in contemporary Malaysia. It explores the assumption that gender equality benefits the country’s competitiveness and economy.

Elias shows that such assumptions stem from the fuzzy and flexible nature of competitiveness as a concept. She observes that the co-optation of gender equality in an economic competitiveness policy-making framework happens “because the prioritization of competitiveness in economic policy-making fosters a policy environment in which all aspects of social life are regarded as providing potential market opportunities that could enhance the economic prospects of the country” (12).

But the efforts to promote gender equality through a competitiveness framework are a source of tensions over the implementation of this agenda, and Elias underlines the conflictual nature of this process as inherently political, subject to re-interpretation and resistance.

Her approach is materialist, borrowing from governmentality studies and their interest in discourse. Despite some limitations, the reviewer considers the book an excellent read and of interest for scholars and students interested in East Asian political economy and gender politics.

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