New Bill risky to kids’ identity due to ease of conversion, says IRF
By SHAILA KOSHY firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Sunday June 30, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM Updated: Sunday June 30, 2013 MYT 9:55:55 AM
KUALA LUMPUR: The Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) is concerned about the precedent the new Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 will set with regard to the conversion of non-Muslim minors.
They are similarly concerned about the Syariah Criminal Procedure (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2013 and the Syariah Civil Procedure (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2013 that have been tabled for debate during the first meeting of the 13th Parliament.
“We will be reading the Bills very closely in the coming days but as it stands, we are deeply concerned at the precedent they might set, namely in how it implicates the religious identity of non-Muslim minors who can be easily converted by only one of their parents,” said IRF researcher Ahmad Fuad Rahmat.
“This risks leading to more inter-ethnic and inter-religious complications in the future,” he said.
“Additionally, we remain firm that the Constitution should remain Malaysia’s primary legal framework that cannot be overridden by religious laws,” Ahmad Fuad said when contacted.
He was referring to Section 107 (the old Section 95) in the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, which relates to the conversion of minors.
This provision became controversial in 1993 – although the English version states a non-Muslim below 18 years of age may convert to Islam if “his parent or guardian consents to his conversion”, the Malay version of Section 95 amended “ibubapa (parents)” to “ibu atau bapa (mother or father)”.
Sisters In Islam (SIS) also joins the Bar Council and others, who have asked why the Government had not amended the “controversial provision, which allows for unilateral conversions” since it is tabling an entirely new Bill.
The Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, if passed by both Houses of Parliament next month, will repeal the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993.
“Given the many experiences of gross injustice faced by Malaysians – both Muslim and non-Muslim – in such cases, Section 107(b) should have been amended,” said SIS programme manager Suri Kempe.
“It is a loophole which allows for the perpetration of injustice and leads to a situation that tears families apart.”
She added that, on the whole, it was difficult to comment on the Bill because so little time had been given to parliamentarians and civil society to scrutinise it.
“In a vibrant democracy, the practice of railroading bills without sufficient discussion, especially one that has repercussions on the lives of millions of Malaysians, cannot be accepted.”
Government withdraws appeal; CEDAW has the force of law (27 June 2013)
Government withdraws appeal; CEDAW has the force of law
If it wasn’t crystal clear before today, it is now: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has the force of law in Malaysia.
In January 2009, when Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin had her job offer retracted by the Education Ministry because she was pregnant, she sued the government for discrimination. She won. The landmark High Court judgement asserted that CEDAW “has the force of law and [is] binding on member states, including Malaysia.” Regrettably, the government chose to appeal the decision.
Today, the case was heard in the Court of Appeal. We are elated that the government withdrew its appeal, and by doing so affirmed the High Court’s judgement.
This withdrawal is not just a victory for women’s rights activists, the legal team, and of course Noorfadilla and her family, it is a victory for all women in Malaysia who face gender discrimination in their lives. There can be no more excuse for an employer, be it the government or private entity, to deny a woman her right to work and to the same employment opportunities as men, on the basis of gender.
This is also a victory for Malaysia, and we would like to congratulate the government for its decision to withdraw the appeal. We also urge the government to honour its legal obligations under CEDAW, including by:
1. Ensuring that all state and federal laws prohibit gender-based discrimination, in line with CEDAW and Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution.
2. Submitting the government’s combined third and fourth periodic report on CEDAW, which was due in August 2008, to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) consists: Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) All Women's Action Society (AWAM) Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS) Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO) Sisters in Islam (SIS) Tenaganita Women’s Centre for Change Penang (WCC)
For more information: Yu Ren Chung, (010) 225 7971 / email@example.com
The Star - Sharing The Nation - Don’t chase after pyrrhic victories (23 June 2013)
Both sides of the political divide must work together for the very survival of this country.
IN the heyday of Malaysia’s success story, I used to tell friends in Africa and the Middle East that what made an ethnically divided country like ours work was because we eschewed a zero-sum game. From the time of independence, our political leaders and their parties saw the wisdom that no party could survive without inter-ethnic accommodation. Nor could Malaysia as a nation survive.
From the Alliance to Barisan Nasional to Pakatan Rakyat, that imperative to live and work together for the very survival of the country underscored the Malaysian body politic.
The result of GE13 is now throwing the granddaddy of all that pioneered the politics of accommodation, the Barisan, into a conundrum. In winning, its dominant partner has decimated its erstwhile allies. Umno won 88 seats to MCA’s seven, MIC’s four and Gerakan’s one.
Whether Barisan survives as a grand coalition of ethnic-based parties is now dependent on Umno. Which direction will it go? Appeal even further to its conservative rural core or embrace the changing mood of the electorate and push for real change?
The Malay right wingers and their orchestrated battle cry of “Malays and Islam under threat” stoked Malay anxiety – enough to win Umno support and make a nine-seat gain over 2008. Malays who saw Umno as its protector bought into the emotive appeal that their special rights would be eroded by a Pakatan coalition that stood for affirmative action based on need, rather than race, and ketuanan rakyat rather than ketuanan Melayu.
But the very political strategy that won Umno support in the rural areas and among other segments of the Malay community, cost Barisan support among the Chinese, Indians and Malays in urban and semi-urban areas.
The trend is very clear. According to analysis on the GE13 done by the Centre for Strategic Engagement (Cense), Barisan won only 54% of the Malay votes, down from 58% in 2008, and 44% of the Indian vote, down from 47%. Its support among the Chinese plummeted from an already dismal 35% in 2008 to a mere 13%.
Research by Politweet.org showed that Pakatan swept all 16 Chinese urban seats, 10 out of 14 Malay urban seats, 12 out of 13 urban mixed seats, and 34 out of 54 semi-urban seats.
It is clear that the vote swing to Pakatan was not just among the Chinese, but also among the Malays in urban and semi-urban areas. This is even clearer looking at the state seats. For example, in Selangor, 22 out of the 36 Malay majority seats and all eight mixed seats went to Pakatan, enabling it to gain a two-thirds majority in the State Assembly.
This is the stark reality facing Barisan. There are many in Umno who want the easy way out. By hook or by crook, get PAS to leave Pakatan and join Umno and in one swoop, Umno’s dominance is further entrenched and, best still, it will be the death knell for its arch rival Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and PKR.
Should this alliance of the two dominant Malay parties come true, it would be the end of any pretence at finding an accommodation to manage the competing demands of a modernising, ethnically diverse nation. The victory will only be short term and, in the end, costly, as it comes with near exclusion of parties that represent some 35% of the population and dismissing the demands and interests of a significant percentage of dissatisfied urban Malays.
It will also mean that Umno no longer sees itself as the backbone of a grand coalition that for decades had projected itself as the party that Malaysians could trust to represent, mediate and accommodate competing and diverse interests. The tough reality for Umno and Barisan is that Malaysia is increasingly urbanising with more than 70% of its population already living in urban areas. Public pressure is mounting for a fair and equitable redelineation of constituencies to redress the gross gerrymandering and malapportionment of past decades. This could only lead to more urban and semi-urban seats. The first-past-the-post system is increasingly being questioned.
The days of Barisan winning two-thirds majority are over. The days of it winning over mixed constituencies with its assumption that the Chinese would never vote for PAS are over. The days of it winning urban Malay majority seats with the assumption that the Malays would never vote for DAP or that urban Malays would never vote for PAS are over. There are no safe seats for Barisan in the urban areas. And eventually, as Pakatan re-strategises its message and tactics, even those safe rural seats would be up for grabs.
The writing has been clear on the wall since 1999 when the sacking and mistreatment of Anwar became the tipping point for change. Barisan popular votes went down by 10% then and Umno and Barisan were saved by support from the Chinese, many of whom were spooked by reformasi in Indonesia. The year 2004 was just a blip in the downward slide with excitement over promises of change by a new prime minister. The trend that began in 1999 steamed ahead into GE12 and now GE13.
The Malaysian electorate wants to see change in the way this country is governed, how law is applied, how politics is conducted and how business is run. The long-standing public demand for greater transparency and accountability, independence of the judiciary, a free and responsible press, free and fair elections, a more just and open political system, an end to police abuse and misuse of power, and an end to the intricate web of business and politics that breed cronyism and corruption largely remain unmet.
Is it any wonder then that the stomping mood for change continued unabated into GE13? Obviously, the quick-fix repair jobs undertaken by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi before he was ousted, and his successor Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, to address some of the concerns of the Chinese and Indian communities and the demands of the better educated urban electorate were not enough. What more when this government’s message of 1Malaysia to heal divisive wounds was consistently being undermined by its failure to distance itself from the Malay right wingers and all that such characters stood for in their supremacist rhetoric of race and religion?
And now, rightfully, there are calls for reconciliation. But this cannot begin by blaming others for your failures and shortcomings, by telling those who disagree with you to leave the country; it has to begin with dialogue, cooperation, goodwill and honesty and with the need to recognise each other’s fears, uncertainties, frustrations and aspirations.
If the Opposition is serious about bringing about change and about winning the next elections, it should focus its energy and attention in preparing for the redelineation exercise due to take place by the end of the year. It has to figure out how it will assuage the fears and insecurities of the Malays and improve the standard of living of those in the rural areas and the underclass in the urban areas.
And, most importantly, it should focus on convincing the nation that it is truly a viable alternative by appointing its Shadow Cabinet, showcasing its huge pool of talented young leaders, and its alternative policies to deliver a better Malaysia. It needs to get serious about being a worthy government-in-waiting.
So, to both sides, I say, don’t waste time chasing pyrrhic victories.
It’s a crime against women - The Star - Musings (20 June 2013)
How can we call ourselves moderate when after 56 years of never whipping women we now want to engage in public spectacles of such a barbaric nature?
SOME time last week, one of our state religious departments proudly announced that it had subjected 24 women and 17 men to a whipping for the “crime” of incest and sex outside of marriage. They even recommended that the next round should be done in public because the sight of the agonised faces of the victims is apparently sure to induce fear in anyone watching, thereby lessening these crimes.
Actually, if anyone has ever watched public spectacles such as canings and any sort of public humiliation of individuals, the last thing that happens is that the audience feels empathy for the victims. Instead they tend to take the side of the punisher and encourage them even more, partly in the belief that this makes them seem more righteous. Few ever put themselves in the shoes of the humiliated, believing that it will never happen to them.
So the logic that such a punishment will act as a deterrent is faulty, just as the death penalty has never deterred anyone from trafficking drugs in our country. Those who say that without these laws, things would have been worse have never been able to provide the evidence for it.
It’s interesting that our morbid interest in public punishments only extends to women and only for sexual crimes. Why not for murder or drug trafficking, where the perpetrators are more likely to be men? Would that not deter men from such crimes?
More faulty is the logic behind punishing women for incest. As in statutory rape, incest is equally a problem of power dynamics, where one party, usually the woman, is unable to refuse sexual overtures from someone who has more power than her. In this case, the person is her father, uncle or brother.
Often the abuse has been happening for years effecting all sorts of trauma for the victims. Why compound it by punishing her, and then multiplying it by wanting to do it in public? Why do we shake our heads in disgust at Western men who lock up their daughters in basements in order to rape them and yet feel nothing when the same happens to our girls?
In this case, the “partners” in these crimes were also whipped. However, there were considerably less men punished than there were women, and the media chose to highlight only the women. Perhaps this is because they were keenly aware that our Federal Constitution forbids the whipping of women and therefore, despite the entreaties of our authorities, immediately sensationalised the case.
What sort of a country do we live in when, after 56 years of never whipping women, we now do so? How is this progress? How do we call ourselves moderate when we want to engage in public spectacles of such a barbaric nature?
If my 13-year-old daughter reads that women are being caned for incest, what do I tell her? Don’t commit incest so you won’t be whipped? Does that make sense when it is unlikely to be her fault?
Our society has such an aversion to serious self-reflection that we fall back on the most medieval approaches to any issue even though none have been proven to work. Instead of the hard work that it takes to truly do prevention, instead of the care that should go into the protection of women and children from abuse, we choose the easy and lazy route. It must surely be the victims’ fault and we must therefore punish them.
Then we wonder why, when we allow the true perpetrators of such crimes to get away, the issue keeps recurring. Does it occur to no one that if we have harsh, and unjust, punishments for victims, it will send the message that they can never hope to get justice for the suffering they have undergone? What would be the incentive then to report the abuse that is happening to them?
Unless of course our leaders do not think this abuse is serious or warrants much concern. How else do you explain the silence with which our political leaders have greeted this barbaric act by the state religious department? Apart from women’s groups, no women politicians have said anything about this. Are the women who were whipped and their families not voters? Does winning allow impunity?
This shameful whipping episode illuminates the illness that besets our society today, where the fear of what others think overrides the fear of being unjust to another. Indeed, the injustice being perpetrated is not just against 24 women but all Malaysian women who now feel that the state is the last place to go to for help.
Pemansuhan Undang-undang Kesalahan Jenayah Syariah (14 Jun 2013)
PEMANSUHAN UNDANG-UNDANG KESALAHAN JENAYAH SYARIAH
Berita pelaksanaan hukuman sebat terhadap 24 wanita dan 17 lelaki yang didakwa melakukan sumbang mahram dan mengadakan hubungan seks luar nikah membawa kerengsaan kepada Gabungan Kumpulan Bertindak bagi Kesamarataan Gender (JAG). Pengumuman tersebut menimbulkan beberapa kebimbangan: 1. Hukuman sebat melanggar prinsip-prinsip hak asasi manusia, khususnya hak kebebasan dari segala perlakuan yang kejam, menganiaya, menghukum dan yang menjatuhkan kehormatan diri seseorang. JAG menyokong sepenuhnya kesataraan yang membawa kepada pencapaian hak tersebut. Hukuman sebat seharusnya dimansuhkan. 2. Diskriminasi terhadap wanita beragama Islam. Artikel 8(2) Perlembangaan Persekutuan menjamin kesetaraan dan kebebasan dari diskriminasi atas dasar agama dan gender. Maka, sebarang undang-undang yang menghukum wanita atas dasar agama melanggar prinsip anti-diskriminasi ini. Tambahan pula, Kod Prosedur Jenayah dan Peraturan-Peraturan Penjara jelas melarang hukuman sebat ke atas wanita, tidak kira umur. 3. Jenayah sumbang mahram. Adalah tidak adil bagi mangsa sumbang mahram dikenakan tuduhan persetubuhan luar nikah atas dasar suka sama suka dibawah Undang-Undang Kesalahan Jenayah Syariah, malah ianya suatu penganiayaan terhadap mangsa tersebut. Ini menunjukkan kegagalan pihak mahkamah untuk memahami penyalahgunaan kuasa oleh seseorang dalam keluarga sendiri yang seharusnya menjadi pelindung dan penjaga. Mangsa tidak patut dihukum atau didakwa bagi jenayah sumbang mahram. 4. Bilangan wanita yang disebat dan dihukum lebih tinggi berbanding lelaki. Ketidakseimbangan ini dapat dilihat di negara-negara Islam yang lain yang menggunapakai undang-undang Syariah di mana bilangan wanita yang disabitkan kesalahan jenayah seksual adalah jauh lebih ramai berbanding dengan lelaki. 5. Percanggahan undang-undang. Kedua-dua Kanun Keseksaan (s.376) dan Enakmen Kesalahan Jenayah Syariah Johor (S. 20) mengandungi peruntukan yang khusus mengenai sumbang mahram, tetapi hukuman yang berbeza. Keadilan akan dicapai dengan lebih baik jika mereka didakwa di bawah Kanun Keseksaan, di mana pihak yang bersalah boleh dikenakan penjara selama tempoh tidak kurang daripada enam tahun dan tidak lebih daripada 20 tahun. Hukuman ini mencerminkan betapa beratnya jenayah yang dilakukan. Walau bagaimanapun, di bawah enakmen jenayah syariah negeri, seseorang yang melakukan sumbang mahram boleh didenda tidak melebihi RM5,000 atau dipenjarakan selama tempoh tidak melebihi tiga tahun atau disebat tidak melebihi enam sebatan atau dihukum dengan mana-mana tiga hukuman di atas.
Penggunaan undang-undang mestilah tekal dan selaras untuk menegakkan keadilan bagi mangsa sumbang mahram, maka undang-undang Persekutuan hendaklah diterimapakai dan semua jenayah sumbang mahram perlu didakwa di bawah Kanun Keseksaan.
6. Hukuman yang menjatuhkan kehormatan diri seseorang bertentangan dengan ajaran al-Quran. Jabatan Agama Johor kini mencadangkan individu yang disabitkan hukuman disebat di ruang awam seperti masjid atas pemerhatian subjektif bahawa pihak Jabatan Agama Johor ”melihat riak keinsafan pada wajah setiap pesalah yang dihukum”. Ianya mustahil untuk mengukur tahap kekesalan dan taubat berdasarkan air muka seseorang. Selain itu, masih tiada bukti kukuh bahawa jenayah ganas atau seksual dapat dihalang oleh penyaksian hukuman sebat.
Penguatkuasaan undang-undang moral dan pendakwaan terpilih (”selective prosecution”) bertentangan dalil al-Quran, seperti "tidak mengorek rahsia orang lain" (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:12); "janganlah kamu masuk ke dalam mana-mana rumah yang bukan rumah kamu, sehingga kamu lebih dahulu meminta izin serta memberi salam kepada penduduknya; jika dikatakan kepada kamu "baliklah", maka hendaklah kamu berundur balik; cara yang demikian adalah lebih suci bagi kamu;."(Surah An-Nur 24:27- 28) dan "apabila kamu menjalankan hukuman di kalangan manusia, tetapkanlah dengan adil "(Surah an-Nisa 4:58). Sebuah hadith Nabi (SAW) dalam Sunan al-Tarmidhi juga menyatakan "Jangan membahayakan umat Islam, dan jangan mencela mereka, mahupun meneruskan ketidaksempurnaan mereka ... ". Apabila seseorang itu ditegur, adalah penting untuk memastikan bahawa hak-hak atas keadilan, kesaksamaan, dan kehormatan diri seseorang ditegakkan pada setiap masa dan tidak dianiaya oleh mereka yang berhasrat untuk menjatuhkan hukuman yang mengaibkan.
Tamadun manusia zaman dahulu, di Barat mahupun Timur, sering menjatuhkan hukuman berbentuk fizikal yang berat, lebih-lebih lagi ketika Zaman Pertengahan. Tiada apa pun yang “Islam” tentang hukuman yang berbentuk fizikal malah, ajaran-ajaran Islam menghadkan hukuman sebegitu yang diamalkan sebelum itu. Ianya lebih menekankan sikap kasih sayang serta keinsafan dan taubat bagi mereka yang berdosa. Sifat Allah SWT yang Maha Pengampun dan Maha Mengasihani merupakan sifat dan tema yang sering diulang di dalam Al-Qur’an.
Dengan ini, JAG mengulangi saranannya kepada Kerajaan untuk mengkaji semula dan memansuhkan undang-undang Kesalahan Jenayah Syariah atas dasar bahawa peruntukan-peruntukan tersebut tidak berasas dari segi teori dan amalan undang-undang Islam. Selain itu, terdapat banyak peruntukan yang jelas bertentangan dengan Kanun Keseksaan, Kod Prosedur Jenayah dan Perlembagaan Persekutuan.
Untuk maklumat lanjut, sila hubungi Suri Kempe (Pengurus Program)/ Arnie Ruxana (Pegawai Komunikasi) Sisters in Islam Phone: 03-7960 3357 / 7960 5121 / 7960 6733 Diterbitkan oleh Gabungan Kumpulan Wanita Bertindak bagi Kesamarataan Gender (JAG) yang merangkumi: Sisters in Islam (SIS) Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Repeal Syariah Criminal Offences Laws (14 June 2013)
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is deeply disturbed over the news report that the Johor Religious Department has whipped 24 women and 17 men since 4 April 2013 and sentenced another 22 women and 17 men to the same fate for allegedly committing incest and having sex outside of wedlock.
The announcement raises several issues of concern: 1. Whipping as a form of punishment also violates human rights principles, in particular the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment. JAG supports the highest standard of equality which leads to the fulfilment of rights and not equality in misery. Whipping as a form of punishment should therefore be repealed. 2. Discrimination against Muslim women. Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution guarantees equality and non-discrimination on the basis of religion and gender. Therefore any laws that impose whipping of women based on their religion violate this principle of non-discrimination. Moreover, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Prison Regulations clearly prohibit the whipping of women of any age. 3. Crime of Incest. It is grossly unjust that the Syariah Criminal Offences Laws renders a victim of incest liable to a charge of illicit consensual sex. This fails to recognise the power dynamics in sexual crimes that occur within the family. No victim should be punished or even charged for the crime of incest. 4. A higher number of women have been whipped and sentenced thus far in contrast to men. This imbalance reflects the common outcomes in other Muslim countries with Syariah laws where disproportionate numbers of women are charged and found guilty of sexual crimes, compared to men. 5. Conflict of laws. Both the Penal Code (s.376) and the Johor Syariah Criminal Offences Laws (s. 20) contain specific provisions on incest, but the punishments differ. The cause of justice would be better served if those caught for incest are charged under the Penal Code, where a guilty party is liable to imprisonment for not less than six years and not more than 20 years. This sentencing properly reflects the gravity of the crime committed. However, under the state syariah laws, a person who commits incest is liable only to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to whipping not exceeding six strokes or to any combination thereof. Given the conflict of law, Federal law should prevail and all crimes of incest should be prosecuted under the Penal Code to ensure consistency in the application of the law. 6. Degrading punishments go against the teachings of the Quran. The Johor Religious Department is now proposing convicted individuals be whipped in public spaces such as mosques on the highly subjective observation that the facial expressions of the punished individuals showed remorse. It is impossible to measure the degree of repentance based on someone’s facial expression. Moreover, there is still no solid evidence that whipping is an effective deterrent to violent or sexual crimes.
The practice and selective prosecution of moral policing go against the injunctions laid out in various verses in the Qur'an, such as “do not pry into others’ secrets" (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:12); “Do not enter other houses except yours without first asking permission and saluting the inmate; If you are asked to go away, turn back. That is proper for you” (Surah An-Nur 24:27-28); and “when you judge among the people, do so equitably” (Surah An-Nisa 4:58). A hadith of the Prophet (saw) in Sunan al-Tarmidhi also states “Do not harm Muslims, and do not revile them, nor pursue their imperfections...” When an individual is reprimanded, it is necessary to ensure that their rights to justice, equality, and dignity are upheld at all times and not trampled upon in the state's overzealousness to enforce evermore degrading punishments.
In past civilizations all over the world, in both the West and the East, severe physical punishments were common, especially during medieval times. There was nothing particularly "Islamic" about physical punishments. On the contrary, the spirit of the Qur'anic injunctions encouraged restraint and limited the then common practices of imposing physical punishments. It teaches the spirit of universal love, and emphasizes repentance and rehabilitation of sinners, and God’s forgiveness and mercy is a constant recurring theme.
JAG, therefore, reiterates its call to the Government to review and repeal the Syariah Criminal Offences legislation on the grounds that many of its provisions have no basis in Islamic legal theory and practice. Moreover, many of them as well conflict with the Penal Code and the Federal Constitution.
For further information, please contact: Suri Kempe (Programme Manager) / Arnie Ruxana (Communications Officer) Sisters in Islam Phone: 03-7960 3357 / 7960 5121 / 7960 6733 Issued by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality which includes: Sisters in Islam (SIS) Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Of toilets and political responses - The Star - Musings (6 June 2013)
Politics is not going to solve all our problems. Our dirty toilet habits are our own and we only have ourselves to blame, not others, nor the Government.
ONLY in Malaysia can I talk about toilets and still get a political response.
I was visiting Japan and commented about the super high-tech toilets there that do everything except make coffee (although that may well be coming soon) and some people still responded by blaming the Government for our dirty public toilets.
It’s enough to make any person get off social media before we lose our sanity permanently but this obsession with everything political is surely unhealthy and often misplaced.
Our dirty toilet habits are our own and we only have ourselves to blame, not others, nor the Government. Even if the Opposition became the government, we are not going to turn overnight into conscientious public toilet users.
That is, pun intended, a pipe dream.
Any visitor to Japan will not help noticing the extreme civic consciousness that the Japanese have.
On every train, there are signs and announcements reminding you to not talk on your mobile phones because it is likely to annoy others.
There are reminders that smoking can be irritating to non-smokers, even in special smoking rooms.
There is no litter to be seen anywhere and public toilets have special sound effects to mask your personal sounds, should you have any.
The service in restaurants and stores is beyond exemplary.
I left something in a restaurant restroom and only realised this an hour later.
A quick call to the restaurant elicited a promise to look for it once they get a chance (it’s a very popular restaurant).
An hour later, I got a call back to say that they found it.
On another occasion, the hotel concierge walked us to a nearby restaurant so we would not get lost.
Any question we asked was responded to with excruciating detail so we could not possibly misunderstand instructions or directions.
Sales assistants walked us out their front doors and bowed us farewell, even if we bought very little compared to others.
All pavements have yellow pathways for the convenience of the sight-disabled.
It is enough to make any visitor to Japan want to return often.
It is safe, clean and hassle-free.
Trains and buses arrive and depart at exactly when they say they will.
The only problem with Japan is the language.
If you don’t speak Japanese, you miss a lot of fine details.
Still, there is more English spoken and written today compared to when I lived there 27 years ago.
Furthermore, all you have to do is to look lost and someone is bound to offer help in perfect English.
The other problem is cost.
No matter how you look at it, and no matter what economic crisis Japan goes through, it is an expensive country to visit.
It is possible to eat and move about cheaply but by Japanese standards, not ours.
Still, for the many advantages of visiting the country, it’s probably worth it.
Which brings me back to our own. What would it take to become a country like Japan?
If it’s a lack of corrupt leaders, Japan has its fair share.
If it’s a political system that keeps one party in power, except for a brief stint out of power recently, they have the LDP back.
They are governed by a bunch of men in dark suits, and diversity among them is a distant dream.
Japan is one of the most conformist societies in the world; everyone wears a uniform of some kind.
Perhaps it is the simple Japanese need to get along when so many people are squeezed into a small space, and constantly face threats both natural and unnatural.
If you have to share that space with 127 million others every day, then perhaps it makes you work harder at getting along with one another.
What more, when at any time, an earthquake, volcano or tsunami may suddenly strike and everything you have is gone.
Being all in the same predicament, I suppose, makes you more considerate of each other.
Our problem, on the other hand, is perhaps that we are geographically lucky, having a relatively small population with still a lot of space around us.
Having suffered no major disasters, we live our lives just for ourselves, caring little about how others feel.
We dirty public spaces, drive dangerously, provide sullen service and treat our inferiors, especially if they are from poorer foreign countries, like slaves.
When we say we want change, it has to be about more than politics. Politics is not going to solve all our problems.
Corruption or election cheating has nothing to do with dirty toilets or road bullying, for example.
Maybe we should just own up to responsibility for our own behaviour before we can really change.
And we can start by simply being mindful of others.
A tale of two schools - The Star - Musings (23 May 2013)
In Bangladesh, a unique school that teaches English to children living in slum areas provides interesting lessons that we can emulate.
SINCE we cannot expect much change in our education system in the next few years, let me present some observations of two different schools I’ve been to in recent months.
Last April, I had the opportunity to participate in Teach for Malaysia Week at a school two and a half hours from KL.
TFM is a programme where Malaysians who have just graduated from overseas universities go and teach in under-served schools throughout the country for two years.
During TFM Week, various public figures were invited to talk to students in those schools and provide support to the “Fellows” teaching there.
I thoroughly enjoyed my little stint at the school. Perhaps it was because I was lucky enough to get a smallish class of very lively 16-year-olds who were not afraid to shout out any answer to my questions, regardless of whether they were correct or not.
A great majority of the students were girls, which raises interesting questions about what happens to boys at that age. This is probably the reason why our universities are mostly filled with girls.
We need to study why this is so. Otherwise, we are going to have girls far more educated than boys while society insists that they are still less equal. Any astute observer can discern what a recipe for trouble that is.
I was also lucky in that the level of English of my class was fairly good.
I talked about travel and they understood a good part of it.
Still, I wound up mostly speaking Bahasa Malaysia in the end because they were obviously more comfortable in it.
One of my friends was not so lucky. He had a class whose English was no more than Year Six level, even though they were already in Secondary Four.
They were listless and uninterested, making it difficult to capture their attention.
The school I went to, however, does not do well in the Ministry of Education’s rankings, even though the principal tries his best.
One of the problems is the lack of interest shown by most of the students’ parents, despite all attempts by the school to schedule PTA meetings at convenient times for them.
Parental interest is often pivotal to student performance but there is a limit to how you can get parents to participate. Hence, the stagnant results from the school.
Perhaps more innovative ideas are needed. I have just returned from Bangladesh where I had the opportunity to visit a unique school that teaches English to slum children.
Started by 28-year old Korvi Rakshand with a mission to educate the poor some seven years ago, there are now six Jaago Foundation schools in Dhaka and Chittagong that educate about 600 children, all from the slums.
The school uses the UK GCSE curriculum and currently has six levels of classes. The first 17 students are now the seniors, aged 14 but only in Year 3 because of the level they began at.
However, when I spoke to these kids, I found that not only was their English better than the Form Four students I met in Malaysia they also spoke with much more confidence.
They answered my questions very easily and were not shy about asking me some.
When I told them I write a newspaper column, they volunteered that they produce their own bilingual newspaper.
Teaching slum kids is not easy. One early issue was kids disappearing because their parents had to move slums to look for work.
So, Jaago decided the parents needed employment in situ, setting up a garment-making training centre and workshop in the school compound.
Some parents thus get to earn money and keep their children in class. Many kids were also absent, often due to illness.
So, Jaago provides hygiene packs with toothpaste and soap, nutritious food once a week and operates a first aid centre for students and parents.
The result is that the kids love the school and their teachers and think of it as their second home because they feel safe there.
Korvi Rakshand is one of those people who always finds solutions to problems.
As there is a shortage of teachers for all the schools, they have started an “online school” where one teacher sits in the main school in Dhaka and gives lessons over the computer to the other schools “live”.
All that is needed is a good Internet connection and reliable electricity.
Recently, they started a parents’ club where parents get together to talk about anything they want, not just about the school.
I have to wonder how is it that a much poorer country like Bangladesh can come up with so many smart and successful ideas in education. And our relatively rich country cannot.
Pushing For An End in Child Marriage (20 May 2013)
Sisters in Islam (SIS) is highly concerned with the Syariah’s court decision (where) of expediting the approval of marriage of a 40 year old man who had been accused of committing statutory rape to a 13 year old girl.
Pertinent to the issue, Malaysia has to address the recent rise in child brides in spite of a worldwide movement by the United Nations pushing for an end in child marriage.
As reported by UNICEF, girls married young are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later. This is further supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), that, ‘Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-19. Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better life for themselves and their families’.
Muslim and non-Muslim children must not be treated differently, and it is deplorable that marriage is being used by alleged rapists as a way to escape prosecution. The government must act upon its pronouncements and stop rapists and pedophiles from manipulating religion and culture, thereby denying protection to our children.
For this reason, to prevent Malaysia from being ridiculed as a country that abets rapists and pedophiles, the onus to defend and uphold the rights of children lies with us to ensure that their rights are not contravened when they depend on us to provide them the protection that they seek. Malaysia’s institutions, including Syariah courts, must serve the people, and the state’s duty and obligation is to protect its citizens, particularly children, at all costs.
With this subject in our hands, we must consider and think whether this is in tandem with the fourth challenge posed in Vision 2020 on 'establishing a fully moral and ethical society, whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest of ethical standards'.
Sisters in Islam 20 May 2013
Malaysians Deserve More Women in Cabinet - JAG Group (17 May 2013)
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) congratulates the seven women appointed as ministers and deputy ministers in Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak’s newly formed Cabinet. The marginal presence of women however, is extremely disappointing. Out of the 35 full ministerial positions only two, or 5.7%, have been filled by women. This falls far short of the government’s own target of women comprising at least 30% of decision-making positions.
Women representation in Najib Razak's cabinet has been consistently poor. In each of the 2009, 2010, and now 2013 cabinets, there have only been two women ministers, with this number dropping to one briefly when the Prime Minister appointed himself placeholder Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development. There were three women ministers in Tun Abdullah Badawi’s 2004 cabinet.
Worse, the percentage of women ministers has decreased across Najib Razak’s three cabinets. While the number of ministerial posts have increased from 32 in 2008, to 33 in 2009, to 35 in 2013, the number of women ministers has remained stagnant at two. In its election manifesto, Barisan Nasional made a pledge of “increasing the number of women participating in national decision making”. This was Najib’s first opportunity to fulfil this promise and lead by example; his failure to do so reflect his priorities, or lack thereof.
The importance of appointing more women to the cabinet cannot be underestimated.
Appointing women to high political positions acquaints voters to women in leadership. In 1993, an amendment to India’s constitution mandated that one out of three village councils be randomly reserved for women pradhans (head of council). A study found that these villages were more likely to elect women pradhans in future unreserved elections, compared to villages that had never been reserved.
Having more women in cabinet will help ensure that the diversity of issues important to women do not remain sidelined. Despite numerous calls by women’s group, gender budgeting has not been implemented, nor has CEDAW been incorporated into our legal system. When will the regressive Islamic Family Law Act 2006 that discriminates against Muslim women be amended? When will the definition of rape in law include rape with an object and marital rape? When will the Domestic Violence Act be amended to cover intimate partner relationships? Women, who make up half the electorate and half the population of this country, deserve to have fair representation in policy-making bodies.
Having more women in the cabinet can also help improve good governance. There is evidence that women political leaders support policies that benefit the public more than their male counterparts. Moreover, gender-balanced teams are collectively smarter and make better decisions than predominantly male teams. All Malaysians will benefit, not just women.
The low number of women in the top table of politics mirrors the scarcity of women in leadership in many areas of public life, including politics, the judiciary, and in business. The Prime Minister will be hard-pressed trying to convince the public and private sectors on the importance of meeting the minimum 30% target of women in decision-making positions, when he himself is unable to walk the talk.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) Sisters in Islam (SIS) Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER) Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)