Sisters In Islam (SIS) conference on Islam Unsurrendered: Women Rising Against Extremism began its last day with a rousing panel on the imperative need for upholding international commitments of the state to Muslim Women’s Human Rights.
The panelists each noted that Muslim Women’s and indeed, women’s human rights are critical to development as half of humanity can’t be lagging behind if we want to progress. In fact, Islamic Values of dignity and compassion are well represented in the International Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, the flawed notion of dissonance between Islam and Human Rights is a tired trope that must be rejected on the basis of our common shared values of humanity.
Jerald Joseph, Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), opened with the similarities between SIS’ and SUHAKAM’s work for women’s human rights. He emphasised the importance of “breaking away from the majority-minority trap as the Malaysian State champions and defends the Rohingya, Palestinians and now Kashmir … we are heroes outside but shy away from defending women and minorities in our own country.”
Regarding Malaysia’s failure to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), after a citizen led protest of Muslim rights NGO’s, he highlighted that shortcomings within our education system cause the easy peddling of disinformation to the vast majority of Malaysian Muslims. He also focused on “need to see the violence perpetrated on those unseen”, including underprivileged women and statelessness, women in prisons suffering period poverty and migrant women facing abuses of power from corrupt authorities.
Professor Dr. Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Social & Cultural Development at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), offered a lesser explored perspective for furthering collective action against misogyny and extremism. She expounded on the necessity of engaging intersectional religious leaders as an influential, valuable and critical process for upholding international commitments of the state towards Muslim Women’s Human Rights.
Prof. Dr. Azza stated awareness raising through verbal discourse is instrumental to reclaiming narratives of faith, religious jurisprudence and women’s rights from international governments as there’s a concerted multi-religious, multi-government backlash currently underway against progressive religious narratives being highlighted globally in the public sphere.
She shared that the synergy between understanding of Muslim women’s human rights in scripture and Human Rights Law as never stronger than now. Being intersectional and collaborative across all women, Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical and Hindu suffering under extremism, will be the game changer to strategising for all women’s human rights.
Moderator Melissa Mohd Akhir, Head of Capacity Development at Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) agreed with Prof. Dr. Azza’s call for combining our strengths as informed, educated women across religions to push back against right wing narratives.
Mary Shanthi Dairiam, human and women’s rights Advocate and founder of IWRAW-Asia Pacific, a Malaysian-based international NGO monitoring global implementation of CEDAW, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, had illuminating insights to CEDAW’s origins. She noted that Malaysian government reservations against Article 2 and 16 of CEDAW being incompatible with local cultural and religious sensitivities as problematic.
In fact, Malaysia attended and agreed with the global gathering at the Vienna 1993 Conference on Human Rights that “women’s and girl’s rights are inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.” She also pointed to CEDAW’s drafting at the UN rising from members of the Commission on the Status of Women made up predominantly of women from India, Egypt, Dominican Republic, the Philippines and the USSR.
She concluded with the need for Malaysian and global governments to commit, plan, process and develop benchmarks for achieving universal human rights for not just Muslim women but all women, “as there can be no collective development if women don’t develop in parallel.”
Melissa Akhir was clear in tying together that “Muslim women’s and women’s rights globally are at stake and instead of compromising, we must push back the door when it closes on our faces.”
SIS stands in solidarity with the necessity for holding governments accountable to international commitments of the state. The quest to achieve universal human rights is for Muslim woman and all women in Malaysia and globally, for all our sisters.