Equal Rights Amendment

Sisters in Islam (SIS) greatly welcomes the statement by the Prime Minister that article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution will be amended to include “sex” as a prohibited ground for discrimination. This will make any law or policy that discriminates against women unlawful and unconstitutional.

This constitutional amendment is a major step forward in implementing the Government’s commitment to uphold the principle of equality between men and women in Malaysia. It is hoped that all Malaysian women, Muslims and non-Muslims, will no longer suffer discrimination based on the grounds of religion and sex.

In drafting the constitutional amendment, Sisters in Islam hopes that the term ‘discrimination against women’ will adopt the definition in Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which states, that ‘discrimination against women’ shall mean to be “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” This would mean that even though a law was not purposely intended to discriminate, if the effect of its implementation denies equality between men and women, then that law has discriminated against women.

Since the mid-1980s, women’s groups have submitted several memoranda to the Government to end all laws that discriminate against women, both in the civil and syariah systems. With regard to the syariah system, SIS with other women NGOs have submitted three memoranda on discrimination against women and infringement of fundamental liberties in the Islamic Family Law and the administration of justice in the syariah system, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act and the Hudud Enactment of Kelantan.

SIS is concerned that the use of religion has often perpetuated discrimination against Muslim women and denied them the increasing sphere of rights that is being granted to their non-Muslim counterparts. For instance, the amendments to the Guardianship of Infants Act granting mothers the equal right to guardianship of their children only apply to non-Muslims as Muslim women come under the jurisdiction of syariah law which currently recognizes only the right of men to be guardians. Even though an administrative directive was issued to enable all mothers, including Muslim mothers, to sign official documents on matters related to their children, it is hoped that the right of Muslim mothers to be guardians of their children will also be explicitly recognized by law with the move to ensure that there would no longer be any law which discriminates against women.

Kuala Lumpur
24 July 2001

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