The Joint Action Group on Gender Equality (JAG) regrets the denial made by the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development that the Islamic Family Law ( Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2005 is flawed.
The Minister now appears to be turning back from her previously uncompromising stand in protection of the rights of women and children on this issue.
JAG wishes to remind the Minister that on the day the women senators were forced to vote against their conscience to support the Bill, the Minister herself was in Parliament and assured the senators and women’s groups that the cabinet has agreed to amend the unjust provisions in the bill, after passage by Parliament . She claimed that she had more objections to the bill than the NGOs. She had raised these objections with the cabinet and she had even mentioned that indeed the bill was flawed.
Moreover, between 2002 until the law was submitted to Parliament, the Minister and her officials raised no points of disagreement to the objections and concerns raised in the 42-page memorandum submitted by Sisters in Islam on behalf of JAG. It was on the basis of that memorandum that the Ministry negotiated with JAKIM for amendments to be made – to no avail.
The Minister’s allegations that certain NGOs have poisoned the minds of women is to underestimate the intelligence of the women senators who scrutinised the bill and consulted lawyers assigned to them by Parliament. Malaysian women can read for themselves what the bill stated and what it meant to their interests and sense of fairplay. Women feel the injustice of their unequal status in life and in law. When amendments are made to the law which further discriminates against them, political authorities should expect outrage from women and fair-minded men. Just to take one example, it does not take much imagination to know that giving a man the right to claim a share of matrimonial assets from his existing wife at the point of polygamy is grossly unjust.
When members of the public have demonstrated confidence in the Ministry by directly communicating their concerns about the Bill, it becomes the duty of the Minister as a representative of the rakyat in our country’s democratic process to respond with care and compassion. Instead of trying to gloss over acknowledged flaws by claiming greyness in interpretation, we urge the Minister to clarify her position in this matter. Such a turning back on words can only result in further doubts.
Notwithstanding the Minister’s statements, JAG welcomes the negotiation process with the Attorney-General. All voices should be heard and considered so as to reach common understanding to address the concerns of Muslim women that any amendments to the Islamic Family Law must pass the test justice and equity.
Maria Chin Abdullah
Women’s Development Collective
Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG);
Womens Development Collective
Sisters in Islam
Womens Aid Organisation
Womens Centre for Change, Penang
All Womens Action Society
Malaysian Trades Union Congress Womens Committee