26 August 2016
On Hari Wanita, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) urges the Malaysian government to close the gaps in our domestic laws that obstruct the elimination of violence against women and girls and the achievement of gender equality in our country, which remain yet unrealized goals.
Even after years of civil society expending critical resources in educating and engaging with policymakers, words have not materialised into concrete actions, and women and girls are still regularly subjected to violence and discrimination, with limited recourse in the law. It is time for all MPs to demonstrate their commitment to eliminating the gender gap and bringing about equality in our society by supporting the law reform initiatives that JAG has been lobbying for consistently over the past decade.
In the more than ten years since JAG has been pushing for crucial reforms to the laws on rape in order to widen the definition and remove discriminatory evidentiary burdens, thereby strengthening protections for survivors of rape, we have seen a 60 year-old man acquitted of raping a 14 year-old girl on the basis that there was no penile penetration, but only penetration with his finger. We have seen perpetrators go free because the testimony of the victim could not be corroborated by a third party, or because that third party was a child, or worse still, because the perpetrator was married to the victim.
In the years since JAG has been lobbying for reforms to the Islamic Family Law Act (Federal Territory) 1984 and the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, we have seen countless women facing extreme financial hardship as a result of their husbands successfully cutting off their access to assets during divorce proceedings or escaping their obligations to pay maintenance. We have seen survivors of domestic violence lose custody of their children when their husbands convert their own religion and unilaterally convert the religion of the children. We have seen girls as young as 12 and 13 years contracted into marriages where their rapists have now become their husbands.
And in the years since JAG has been lobbying for a comprehensive Gender Equality Act to integrate Malaysia’s commitments under CEDAW—which it ratified in 1995—into our domestic law, we have seen the continuation of rampant discrimination against women. This has manifested in overt forms, such as termination of women from employment upon their getting pregnant, or the inability of Malaysian women married to foreigners to pass on their citizenship to their children. It has also revealed itself in more insidious forms, such as the low rate of participation of women in decision-making positions.
The time has come to close the gaps in Malaysia: the gaps in laws and policies that allow women and girls to fall through the cracks, and to suffer from violence and discrimination without access to justice.
JAG has been unwavering in its commitment to bringing about comprehensive changes to the law in Malaysia, with the goal of eliminating violence against women and realising gender equality. We will continue to critically engage with the government to do so, and hope that on Hari Wanita 2016, the tipping point of this engagement—the holistic evaluation and amendment by Members of Parliament of all existing laws and policies that are harmful to women—is imminent.
Endorsed by the Joint Action Group For Gender Equality:
1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
2. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
3. Perak Women For Women (PWW)
4. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
5. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
6. Sisters In Islam (SIS)
7. Women’s Aid Organisation
8. Women’s Center For Change (WCC)