N15 – PADANG LALANG
The Iron lady
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” – Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Current DAP Wanita Chief and MP for Bukit Mertajam, Chong Eng has joined the likes of Karpal Singh, Lim Guan Eng and Chow Kon Yeow as a household name. She continues to stand up for Malaysian women across the nation. Interestingly enough, this “iron lady” had humble beginnings.
She became interested in politics after the 1990 General Elections as she found the DAP’s dedication to their principles and their goal of a better Malaysia to be inspiring. In 1990, she was hired by Penang DAP to prepare for the General Elections. She did her best to learn and work with the veterans of the party’s struggle.
Her moment of truth came when the Penang State Assembly was dissolved in 1995 to make way for a General Election. This was a crucial election indeed as the DAP was hoping to push for the takeover of the Penang State Government which it had nearly captured in the 1990 elections. DAP sought to return Penang to its prominence after many viewed the then-administration as an UMNO puppet. Chong Eng was offered a seat. Having advocated for greater female participation in politics, she decided that it was time to join the political battlefield.
That election, DAP was nearly wiped out from the Penang electoral battlefield. The sole survivor however, was Chong Eng in the Batu Lanchang State Seat and she had to immediately adjust herself to be the sole opposition member of the Penang State Assembly fighting a hostile and powerful BN Penang state government.
“There were chauvinistic reactions in the Penang State Assembly, but I wasn’t going to allow them to intimidate me,” remarks Chong Eng as she recalls the atmosphere then.
Chong Eng moved to the parliamentary battlefield in 1999. Contesting at and eventually winning the Bukit Mertajam parliamentary seat. She felt that despite the extremely chauvinistic presence of UMNO backbenchers, she actually enjoyed parliamentary proceedings as she had the opportunity to raise critical issues with regards to women’s rights and gender equality.
Chong Eng, with her NGO background, has always believed in citizen empowerment and gender empowerment. She cites Peter Paul Dason as a mentor of sorts who influenced her with some philosophies that she still believes in today:
‘When you cannot change, you endure’
‘Everyone has a quota for mistakes, but everyone must learn from them as well’
A long-time resident of Bukit Mertajam, she remarks that it is every bit as good, if not better than the island. She acknowledges that there is still work to be done especially flooding problems in Padang Lalang which she is working on together with the State Assemblyperson Michael Tan. She is also working hard on the Bukit D.O Hill Recreational Park in Bukit Mertajam which has been gazetted as a green lung. Parks need to be established for the people even as the state progresses, a balance of development is important.
Chong Eng has sacrificed a lot for her career in politics as she has to be in parliament for nearly 90 days a year, not to mention various functions in between. Originally living in Tanjung Bungah, she relocated her family to Bukit Mertajam to be closer to her constituents.
“It is always tougher for women in the political world. If a man is an MP, it is almost expected for his wife to manage the home and take care of the children. If a woman were an MP though, it is usually hard for a man to assume the role in reverse,” quips Chong Eng. In her case, her husband has assumed the role of the house manager as Chong Eng is constantly away fighting for the rights of all Malaysians.
Chong Eng has started the BM Women’s Rights Centre to help women in need of protection. Her protégés Steven Sim and Tan Xin Ying has established the Good Governance and Gender Equality Society (3Gs) of Penang to push for the welfare of women. Recently the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai (MPSP) has formed a working committee for a gender responsive budget. Today, both Steven and Xin Ying are MPSP councilors.
The fight is long and hard, but Chong Eng is committed to fighting all the way.