The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) welcomes our Prime Minister’s promise that “the government would hasten effort to make changes to legislation, regulations, practices and thinking that obstructed the progress of women.” We look forward to seeing action match the rhetoric and call for pro-women legislation to be passed without delay, by the government of the day.
We trust that the promise made by Dato’ Sri Najib Razak, who is also the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, that “something good will not take seven years” demonstrates his cognisance of the seventeen years it took to amend the Domestic Violence Act and a new determination to prevent further delays to law reform.
Law and policy reforms that ensure justice and challenge discrimination should not take seven or more years before being passed and implemented. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Yet, in our experience, such delays are the norm. In just over a decade, JAG has submitted 22 memoranda to the government that highlighted urgent areas for reform and action. Most of these have received scant attention or response. Efforts to adopt pro-women laws and policies can begin with a review of these memos and the recommendations contained within.
In particular, we call for the following reforms to be prioritised:
- Ensure that all state and federal laws prohibit gender-based discrimination, in line with Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, and that all national legislation is consistent with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
- Table the pending amendments to the regressive Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Act 2006 that were agreed upon by members of the Syariah Community Meeting organised by the Attorney General’s Chambers in 2006.
- Amend our rape laws to expand the definition of rape to include rape with an object and marital rape.
- Expand the Domestic Violence Act to cover intimate partnerships, to harmonise it with all relevant pieces of criminal justice legislation, and to institutionalise support for victims of domestic violence.
- Introduce comprehensive laws on sexual harassment, with sensitive procedures and remedies attached
In 2008, JAG called for elected representatives to ‘Kotakan Kata!’ and make good on election promises to end gender-based discrimination and uphold women’s rights. Five years hence, we are once again at the cusp of a general election. And once again our politicians repeat their promises. Which pledge is genuine and which blatant appropriation of women’s issues?
In the upcoming days, not only will JAG be measuring the performance of potential parliamentary candidates on our demands, we will also be educating women constituencies around the country on how to monitor whether their representatives take women’s rights issues seriously and ways to hold them accountable.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Action expresses priorities.” Similarly, credibility rests in action.
A government that prioritises women should demonstrate its ability and willingness to change laws that work against women. Enough talk: now is the time to act.