In response to the Bill on the amendments to the Islamic Family Law, the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) wishes to voice its grave concerns on the substance of the amendments as well as the manner with which the Bill was passed.
While AWAM acknowledges the need to reform the Islamic Family Law and welcomes the Government’s efforts on this matter, the weaknesses in these amendments mean that they are a step back rather than forward in according justice to all. We are greatly alarmed by the amendment extending fasakh to men, who already have the right to talaq, while a woman’s right to seek divorce remain unchanged. The loosening of conditions for polygamy, wherein a man now only has to prove that the polygamous marriage is necessary, will worsen rather than resolve the problem of irresponsible husbands taking on another wife despite being unable or unwilling to provide for their first wives and children.
Even superficially progressive amendments on the issue of matrimonial property have been shown to be extremely vulnerable to misuse. The use of gender neutral language does not always translate into gender equality in situations where there is already a sharp imbalance of power in reality. A woman’s right to property has already been eroded by Section 107A, which enables a husband to obtain a court injunction to prevent the disposition of property by his wife or former wife. We are concerned that women who are faced with abusive treatment by their husbands will now stay silent, for fear of being dispossessed of their rightful property when obtaining divorce.
AWAM questions the need for the Bill to be rushed through Parliament, to the extent that Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, invoked the Whip to ensure that Barisan Nasional senators vote for the Bill. We have yet to hear a good rationale on why this must be so, as returning the Bill to Dewan Rakyat for further debate seems to be the most efficient method of addressing problems associated with this Bill. Namely: loopholes within the amendments which may lead to further injustice against women, and the lack of reasonable time in which to study the Bill in depth.
“That’s our system” is no excuse for strong-arm tactics on any piece of legislation, let alone a Bill on which many reservations have been aired, not only by women’s organisations but also by members of Dewan Negara. Even if the loopholes in the Bill will be closed in the future, how will it be of use to women who are adversely affected by these amendments before further changes could be made?
AWAM is of the opinion that the public must be involved in the process of creating laws of this nature. We all have a stake in this. The repercussions of this Bill touch every strata of society, including non-Muslims, who live side-by-side with Muslims as their friends, neighbours, co-workers, and even family. It is essential for the Government to be more responsive to the needs of the people, who should have been consulted in the first place. Unfortunately, it is only very recently that reservations over this Bill have become part of public discourse, too late for the people to make their voices heard before the Bill becomes law.
We urge the Government to immediately act on their word in rectifying the shortcomings of this Bill.
ALL WOMEN’S ACTION SOCIETY (AWAM)