No. 4 Lorong 11/8E, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.​
Press Conference: Press conference on the recent session of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with the Malaysia Independent CSO Delegation
Press Conference: Press conference on the recent session of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with the Malaysia Independent CSO Delegation

Malaysia’s Independent CSO Delegation Participated at the 88th CEDAW Review in Geneva: Demonstrating Strength in Diversity

Malaysia’s track record on women’s human rights and the implementation of the State’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was reviewed by the CEDAW Committee on 22 May 2024. Malaysia became a party to CEDAW in 1995 and had been reviewed in 2006 and 2018, following which it received extensive Concluding observations towards ensuring that women’s human rights meet the CEDAW standards. However, not all recommendations were implemented and in some cases no advancement is to be seen.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) submitted NGO reports on critical issues affecting women across various intersections in Malaysia. A delegation of representatives of Malaysian independent CSOs also made oral submissions before the CEDAW Committee at the Public Informal Meeting on Monday, 20 May that preceded the review of Malaysia’s progress on Wednesday, 22 May 2024. This delegation celebrated a milestone in its diversity and inclusiveness, with the empowerment and representation of indigenous women and women with disabilities. The diversity represented at the CEDAW process further strengthened the critical need to recognise the intersectionality of issues that impact the lives of Malaysian women and girls in all our diversities and identities.

Through oral statements and extensive advocacy, the delegation raised several long-standing issues that had been brought before the CEDAW Committee in its previous review in 2018 and addressed continued violations of women’s human rights under CEDAW. The independent CSOs empathetically urged the Malaysian Government to take immediate action on the root-cause issues of cumulative, continuous, and compounding discrimination against women and girls in Malaysia. 

These include, among others, the following:

  1. Firstly, the lack of progress in ending harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages.
  2. Secondly, patriarchal interpretations and applications of laws that disadvantage women and girls, including Islamic Family Laws, criminalization of women based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE), LGBT conversion practices, and continued harassment and online gender-based violence against women human rights defenders.
  3. Thirdly, the lack of a comprehensive legal framework that recognises and protects the rights of refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls; this lack exposes them to easy arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, refoulement and to continuation of other violations of their basic rights.  

Family Frontiers urged the Government to proceed immediately with the constitutional amendment to grant Malaysian women equal rights to confer automatic citizenship upon their overseas-born children on a retroactive basis. The State must also halt remaining regressive amendments that do not address statelessness and must withdraw all gender-discriminatory provisions from existing citizenship laws. 

The representative of AIDA called for an end to discrimination against women and girls with disabilities through amendments to the Federal Constitution, to include one word – disability – as a protected ground of discrimination. The State must ensure that women and girls with disabilities achieve the same opportunities as non-disabled women and girls, by ending systemic patriarchal ableism. 

The delegation highlighted the glaring lack of gender sensitivity and disability-inclusive accessibility within the criminal justice system and its disproportionate impact on women with intersectional, marginalised identities on death row. 

The delegation further drew attention to the need to take into consideration many newly emerging inequalities imposed on women and girls across the board in Malaysia. In a globalised world with rapid recognition of our finite resources and the impacts of the climate crisis, both representatives from KAMY and PWOAM echoed the call to protect women’s rights to land, identity and self-representation. 

Based on the Government responses on 22 May 2024.

CSO Coalition Members Address Key Issues Raised During the CEDAW Review

In response to the recent CEDAW review, CSO coalition members have voiced their concerns regarding various issues affecting women in Malaysia. The following outlines the responses and recommendations provided.

HAYAT’s Concerns: Women on Death Row

HAYAT acknowledges the Government’s response on issues concerning women on death row during the CEDAW review. The Government noted that institutions, including judicial officers and enforcement agencies, are undergoing gender sensitivity training for death-eligible offences and assured that basic needs for women in detention centres are being met. 

However, HAYAT requests the urgent need for:

  1. Sentencing guidelines that consider the multifaceted vulnerabilities of women involved in capital offences.
  2. Consistency in the provision of healthcare and welfare for all women in detention, including those on death row.
  3. Addressing the heavy punishment of vulnerable women for death-eligible crimes without formal consideration of their circumstances, including those with worsening physical and mental health conditions who remain incarcerated due to rigid new laws.

As Malaysia moves towards limiting the use of the death penalty, HAYAT calls on the Government to establish gender-specific sentencing guidelines for capital crimes and ensure consistent and adequate living conditions for all incarcerated women.

KAMY’s Response: Climate and Energy Transition

KAMY highlights several shortcomings in the government’s approach to climate and energy transition:

  1. The Government delegation failed to address climate and energy transition from a gender-responsive lens, hindering effective governance and the development and implementation of a legal framework.
  2. The responses on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and just energy transition (JET) lacked substance. Specifically:
  1. The DRR response ignored the absence of a DRR policy and legal framework in Malaysia, with no publicly available data to support the gender framework.
  2. The JET response failed to mention key policy instruments, such as the National Energy Policy, National Renewable Energy Policy, and National Energy Transition Pathway, which lack mechanisms for gender mainstreaming.

KAMY emphasises the importance of recognising women’s rights in climate and energy transition governance, requiring action and accountability. KAMY and its allies are keen to collaborate with the Government to urgently mainstream gender in these issues, aligned with CEDAW and the UNFCCC, to ensure Malaysia does not miss regional and international opportunities for learning and investment. 

This is crucial to protect the rights of women in all our diversities and to uplift our agency for a safe, clean, and healthy environment. KAMY urges the appointment of a gender and climate change focal point under the UNFCCC mandate, with transparent processes and financial support.

CIJ’s Observations: Freedom of Expression and Gender-Based Issues

CIJ raises critical concerns about ongoing issues:

  1. The culture of secrecy and censorship due to archaic punitive laws in Malaysia, which prevents access to information and disaggregated data, which ultimately hinders the participation of women in decision-making processes.
  2. Gender stereotypes, misogyny, and hate speech propagated through legacy media and/or social media.
  3. Insufficient representation of women in the media.
  4. Restrictions and criminalisation of LBTI women’s freedom of assembly and public participation.
  5. Frequent misogyny and gender-based violence against women in politics, especially during elections and parliamentary sessions.
  6. Online gender-based violence and hate speech targeting women human rights defenders.
  7. The use of archaic laws to impose an arbitrary crackdown on women human rights defenders in order to silence dissent against the government and/or public figures.

During the 88th Session of CEDAW, the Government addressed only a handful of these issues and disappointingly mentioned no concrete actions on how to address the ongoing discrimination and violation of rights. Key responses included:

  1. Regarding whether Malaysia has an enabling environment for CSOs, YB Nancy Shukri stated that freedom of expression is guaranteed in Malaysia, subject to the law, and noted the importance of CSOs in policymaking.
  2. On protecting LBTI activists, human rights defenders, and women journalists, the AGC representative emphasised that the legal framework allows citizens to form associations subject to the law, protects all persons equally under article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution, and includes the fact that human rights defenders (HRDs) are entitled to equal legal protection.
  3. On dress codes in government buildings, the AGC representative referenced that freedom of expression was enshrined in article 10 of the Constitution, subject to limitations on national security, morality, and public order, and noted that dress codes were merely guidelines.

CIJ is concerned about the Government’s continued restrictions on freedom of expression based on public morality and justifications based on current draconian laws. CIJ urges the Government to adhere to international standards of legitimacy, necessity, and proportionality, and democratic principles, avoiding subjective and broad interpretations of public morality and other laws restricting freedom of expression in Malaysia.

AIDA’s Position: Women and Girls with Disabilities

As a representative of women and girls with disabilities, AIDA expresses appreciation for the privilege of participating in the CEDAW process for the first time in 29 years since Malaysia became a party to CEDAW. This milestone highlights the imperative to recognize the intersectionality of women’s identities: we are women, girls, and also disabled. This position is especially at the forefront of the agenda in advancing women’s rights, as recognized by CEDAW Co-Chairperson, Ms. Ana Pelaez-Narvaez, herself a woman with a disability.

Through AIDA’s oral statement delivered during the session, critical questions were raised about the systemic barriers and discrimination affecting women and girls with disabilities, particularly in access to justice. The statement highlighted the double discrimination faced — based on gender and disability. Addressing gender issues alone, without tackling the root causes of discrimination due to disability, is insufficient. A key recommendation is to recognize constitutional rights by including the word “disability,” as was done with “gender” in the Federal Constitution. This recommendation, made by the Bar Council of Malaysia, has been submitted to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

CEDAW Committee members raised these issues during the review. However, the Government responded with broad remarks that had no indication of affirmative actions. The Government needs to make extra efforts to engage meaningfully with grassroots organizations of persons with disabilities to close the gap of limited resources and field knowledge.

AIDA also emphasized the importance of cross-treaty obligations; it informed the CEDAW Committee of the non-submission of the initial CRPD report, pending since 2012. The Government indicated that steps had been taken and the report was in its drafting stage. However, similar promises had been heard in the past decade. The urgent need to harmonize domestic laws to protect women and girls with disabilities, especially to support their access to justice, was underscored.

Justice for Sisters on LBTI women’s unsustainable rights 

Malaysia’s position on LBTI women’s rights is unsustainable as it is rooted in discrimination and dictated by the majority, instead of rights and evidence. 

  1. Evidence clearly shows that institutional discrimination from criminalization, to state sponsored conversion practices, LGBT rehabilitation or spiritual guidance, censorship, among others have a chilling effect on all rights and areas of life. It encourages societal discrimination, increases self-censorship and fosters an environment of impunity. All of which contribute to marginalization of LBTI women. In a democracy, it is important to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. 
  2. The lack of protection of minorities, coupled with the active prosecution and restrictions against them, demonstrate a serious fracture in Malaysia’s democracy.

Family Frontiers on matter of equal citizenship rights and foreign spouses

On the matter of citizenship, CEDAW Committee member, Rangita De Silva de Alwis, highlighted her close attention to the Suriani Kempe court case, emphasising that “the world is watching as it unfolds in Malaysia,” and inquired about the Government’s timeline to amend the Federal Constitution to allow Malaysian women the right to confer citizenship to their overseas-born children by operation of law on an equal basis as men. 

Throughout the dialogue, the Government repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to continuing with the tabling of the Citizenship Amendment Bill at the next Parliament session. Civil society welcomes this assurance and reminds the Government that, while both women and men are given avenues under the Federal Constitution to confer citizenship to their children, these avenues are distinctly disparate. This inequality will persist unless the gender-equal citizenship amendment for women is applied retroactively. Additionally, the three remaining regressive amendments must be decoupled from the Bill and halted to prevent the exacerbation of statelessness amongst vulnerable groups. 

Despite previous recommendations by the CEDAW Committee, Malaysia has also indicated there are no plans to ratify the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, both of which are crucial for addressing the issue of statelessness.

In response to a question regarding the employment rights of foreign spouses, the Government indicated that “foreign spouses do have the right to work,” noting that from 2020 to 2024, 15,090 foreign spouses held work endorsements. However, statistics provided prior by the Government revealed that there were 131,735 foreign wives in Malaysia as of 2023, meaning only 11.4% were employed. The statement of prohibition from employment remains on the foreign spouses’ Long Term Social Visit Pass, severely limiting job opportunities. These restrictive policies curtail opportunities for gainful employment, fostering dependency of foreign wives on their husbands and eroding their agency and economic autonomy. 

This restriction must be removed.

DHRRA issues of intergenerational statelessness

In its CEDAW submission, DHRRA Malaysia highlighted the issue of intergenerational statelessness perpetuated by inequality in the nationality law towards stateless women and girls. A cycle where successive generations remain stateless, facing the same legal and social challenges as their mothers.

The context of statelessness in Malaysia and the largest contributor towards childhood statelessness is the stigma associated with children born out of wedlock and sometimes leading to abandonment of their children.

A further discriminatory step is when stateless women are not allowed to legally register their marriage to Malaysian men, resulting in their children inheriting the mother’s statelessness status instead of the father’s Malaysian nationality.

The CEDAW Committee had raised several questions in this regard to the Government of Malaysia:

One Committee member said discriminatory nationality laws continued to undermine women’s equality. Children were at a high risk of statelessness if their Malaysian mothers were unwilling to acknowledge children born out of wedlock.

  1. Did the State party have any intention to withdraw its reservation on article 9?
  2. Was there any data on stateless women and girls?
  3. What measures had been taken to decrease the number of stateless women and children?
  4. How many children had been refused citizenship in Malaysia?

Unfortunately, the Government’s response failed to acknowledge the impact towards women due to statelessness from the inequalities in the nationality legislation and its practices. While the high approval rates for citizenship applications are commendable, this does not address the root cause of statelessness. Furthermore, the proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution continue to include regressive elements that will severely impact stateless individuals in the country. Moving forward, we hope the Government will collaborate to address the anomalies, causing statelessness among Malaysian families and engage in initiatives to tackle statelessness.  This includes the Government’s consideration of acceding to the Convention on Stateless Persons and the necessary data collection to ensure that evidence-driven appropriate measures are taken to address statelessness.

PWOAM Addresses intersectional discrimination faced by Indigenous Women and Girls (IWG)

  1. Intersectional discrimination in laws, policies, and government programs affecting politics, education, health, and violence against IWGs.
  2. Key suggestions include passing a gender equality law, integrating IWG issues into development plans, ensuring IWGs’ participation in policymaking, incorporating IWG issues in strategic plans, collecting data on IWGs, ratifying ILO Convention 169, and implementing CEDAW 2018 recommendations.

Discriminatory practices impact IWGs’ culture, knowledge, and identity, perpetuating negative stereotypes and limiting opportunities. Addressing systemic issues and involving IWGs in policymaking is crucial for their well-being and cultural preservation. Despite constitutional protections, IWGs face challenges due to poverty, lack of infrastructure, limited services, and discriminatory policies.

Asylum Access Malaysia (AAM) on issues affecting refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls

AAM remains deeply concerned about the lack of action taken by the Malaysian government to “adopt national asylum and refugee legislation and procedures in conformity with international standards, in order to ensure that the specific needs of women and girls are addressed and codify the principle of non-refoulement” in accordance with the 2018 concluding observations. This recommendation is critical in ensuring protection is afforded to refugee women and girls and addresses ongoing rights violations resulting from the lack of legal status. However, the government in the dialogue session failed to adequately address this and other rights violations including:

  1. The continued denial of UNHCR access to immigration detention centre since August 2019;
  2. The risk of arrest, indefinite detention and refoulement. In addition, the Government in its written reply revealed that between Jan to March 2024 as many as 6769 women and 946 girls have been detained by immigration and as many as 3942 women and 233 girls have been deported;
  3. Lack of access to healthcare due to the exorbitant costs and the existence of Circular 10. Despite calls to repeal Circular 10, the government in its reply justified this circular as needed to discourage unlawful stay;
  4. Barriers to accessing birth registration;
  5. Lack of access to legal aid;

This inaction by the government has led to the failure to address discrimination against refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls, enabling persistent violations of their basic rights and the denial of protection. The Malaysian government must take responsibility for its failure and adopt a comprehensive legal framework for their recognition and protection that complies with international human rights standards, without delay. 

SIS on Challenges for Muslim Women in the Syariah Legal System

Sisters in Islam (SIS) highlighted several profound challenges Muslim women face in obtaining justice within the family, particularly in the Syariah legal system:

  • Lengthy Divorce Process: Muslim women who initiate a fasakh divorce endure a long and arduous process in Syariah Courts, unlike mutual divorce agreements or unilateral divorce by Muslim men.
  • Challenges in Securing Financial Rights: Despite being entitled to file for ancillary matters, Muslim women often do not pursue these rights due to the exhaustive demands of the divorce process. The Syariah legal system does not facilitate women in claiming their rights, forcing many to forgo them.
  • Resistance towards Implementation of Legal Provisions: Legal provisions allowing Muslim women to add conditions (takliq tambahan) to their marriage contracts are not recognized or upheld in practice.

Other Issues:

  1. Female Circumcision: Despite the outcry for change, 93% of young girls are still subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which has no medical benefit and leaves lifelong scars.
  2. Child Marriage: In 2020, 441 out of 445 students who dropped out of school to get married in Perak were girls, highlighting the tragic reality of lost childhoods and shattered dreams under a system failing to protect its most vulnerable.                              

The pressing issues affecting Muslim women must remain at the forefront, and the government must institute more concrete actions. There is a dire need for comprehensive data collection by the government and robust legal procedures to secure women’s financial rights and child maintenance in Syariah courts. Immediate, tangible actions to protect women’s rights and end discrimination must be prioritised.

No longer can we stand silent on these issues. No longer will marginalised and vulnerable women and girls remain invisible and sidelined. Our unified voice as a diverse group of women and girls who have come together today marks a courageous call for Malaysia to look forward to a future of equality in opportunities for all of us in our diverse identities. 

Our engagement and participation in the CEDAW process is grounded in the demands for State action on issues that have long gone unattended and we in civil society seek to work with the State to provide solutions together. The Malaysian Government must no longer look away and ignore the intersectionality of our issues. 

We hope to help pave a new way for Malaysian CSOs and the State to work together to achieve substantive equality for women, in line with the State’s obligation to both article 8 of the Federal Constitution and its ratification of CEDAW.

For further inquiries, please contact Ameena Siddiqi at 012-380 1049 (mobile phone) or [email protected]

This press release is issued by coalition members to address the key issues raised during the CEDAW review and to call for urgent and comprehensive action from the Malaysian government.

The Malaysia’s Independent CSO Delegation in Geneva includes representatives from Sisters In Islam, Justice for Sisters, Family Frontiers, Centre for Independent Journalisms (CIJ), HAYAT, Asylum Access Malaysia, Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY), Pertubuhan Wanita Orang Asal Malaysia, Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group (AIDA), Global Bersih.

The CEDAW CSO Coalition, that had submitted a joint report coordinated by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), includes  the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group (AIDA), Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY), Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA), ENGENDER Consultancy, Family Frontiers, Global Shepherds, Justice for Sisters, KRYSS Network, Pertubuhan Wanita Orang Asal Malaysia (PWOAM), Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS), Sisters in Islam (SIS), Tenaganita, Women’s Centre for Change (WCC). Additionally, the following contributed in an individual capacity: Shanthi Dairiam (Founder and Director of IWRAW-AP); San Yuenwah (Co-Founder-Member, The OKU Rights Matter Project), with inputs from The OKU Rights Matter Project team, persons with diverse disabilities and advocacy allies.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

NGO descriptions

AIDA (Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group)Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group (AIDA) is a non-profit based in Asia led by actual autistics and its allies championing the rights of the autistic community.
A logo for a companyDescription automatically generatedAAM (Asylum Access Malaysia)Asylum Access Malaysia has been protecting and advancing the rights of refugees in Malaysia’s challenging legal environment since 2014.   
A close-up of a logoDescription automatically generatedCIJ (Centre For Independent Journalism)We are a feminist, freedom of expression watchdog and non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all peoples will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek and impart information. 
DHRRA Malaysia (Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas)Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA) Malaysia ( is an independent non-profit organisation established to promote strong and self-reliant communities through people’s empowerment initiatives. Since 2003, DHRRA has been a pivotal local organization addressing statelessness in Malaysia. It played a key role in compiling accurate baseline figures on statelessness in West Malaysia through its community-based paralegals and continues to conduct training on legal empowerment approaches to address the issue. DHRRA has collected numerous cases on statelessness, identifying cross-cutting issues including socioeconomic development issues that contribute to and hinder the reduction of statelessness. Notably, DHRRA has pinpointed the necessary administrative and legal measures needed to find solutions for stateless individuals in Malaysia. 
A logo of a familyDescription automatically generatedFamily FrontiersFamily Frontiers (FF) is a Registered Society in Malaysia, it aims to advance, promote and strengthen family unity and development so that no family is left behind. Family Frontiers focuses on the issues of citizenship and identification, family, livelihoods, policy advocacy and women and children’s rights.  
A close-up of a logoDescription automatically generatedGlobal BersihA movement by overseas Malaysians to support to Bersih 2.0‘s mission to bring about free and fair elections and democratic reforms in Malaysia, and to defend the fundamental human rights of all in Malaysia. 
A white circle with red textDescription automatically generated    HAYATHAYAT is a human rights organization based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. HAYAT, which means life in Malay, is an organization committed to community mobilization and advocacy on the Right to Life and other intersectional issues. HAYAT believes in empowering grassroots communities to become active participants in advocacy on the Right to Life and torture prevention through provision of education, capacity building, and the promotion of dialogue and cooperation. HAYAT envisions a society where the Right to Life is universally respected, and torture is unequivocally condemned. 
A black text on a white backgroundDescription automatically generatedJFS (Justice For Sisters) Justice for Sisters is a human rights group working towards meaningful protection, promotion, and fulfilment of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ+) and gender diverse persons in Malaysia. 
A red logo with textDescription automatically generatedKAMY (Klima Action Malaysia)Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) is a climate justice and feminist organisation that advocates for Malaysia’s declaration of a climate emergency and the recognition of environmental rights in the constitution through a human rights-based framework and the empowerment of vulnerable communities in climate governance. We believe that nurturing meaningful partnership, peacebuilding and strengthening constituencies across civil society organisations and vulnerable groups like Indigenous communities, women and youth, set the foundation for people-led climate action. 
A purple and black textDescription automatically generatedSIS (Sisters in Islam)Sisters in Islam is a non-governmental organisation working towards advancing the rights of Muslim women in Malaysia within the framework of Islam, universal human rights principles, constitutional guarantees, as well as the lived realities and experiences of women. 
A person with a green leaf in her handDescription automatically generatedPWOAM (Indigenous Women’s Organization of Malaysia)The Indigenous Women’s Organization of Malaysia (PWOAM) was established on 7 May 2022 and registered at the Malaysian Organizations Registration Department in January 2023. 

Appendix 2

Name of speakers:

1Abinaya Mohan, Advocacy Director Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
2.Thilaga Sulathireh, Executive Director Justice for Sisters (JFS)
3.Bina Ramanand, Lead Coordinator Family Frontiers
4.Joeann Chuah, Project Coordinator/Paralegal DHRRA Malaysia
5.Tham Jia Vern, Research Lead HAYAT
6.Rozana Isa, Executive DirectorSisters in Islam (SIS) 
7.Wathshlah Naidu, Executive DirectorCentre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) 
8.Beatrice LeongAutism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group (AIDA) 
9.Anise Kaz, Gender and Climate Researcher KLIMA Action Malaysia (KAMY)
10.Lim Jih-Ming, Communications OfficerCentre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)