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Pushing For An End in Child Marriage (20 May 2013)
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Press Statement

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)
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Malaysians Deserve More Women in Cabinet

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)
Protect Our Children From Rapists and Paedophiles (13 May 2013)
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13 May 2013

The alleged rapist: a 40 year old restaurant manager, the victim; a 13 year old girl. According to the Star and the Sabah Daily Express on 8 May 2013, the 40-year old man was applying for the withdrawal of the rape charge before the Sessions Court in Kota Kinabalu as he is going to marry the girl. Shockingly, the Deputy Public Prosecutor had not objected to the case being withdrawn, pending the marriage approval before the Syariah Court.

Is this the way our society treats underaged girls where an alleged rapist may be allowed to escape jail sentence by promising marriage? Should parents be allowed to marry off their girl-child for reasons such as poverty, culture or tradition? Surely, laws like the Child Act 2001 and the Penal Code are legislated to protect our vulnerable children and the government has a duty to protect them and ensure that justice is being served. When rape happens to a Muslim child, should she be treated differently from a non-Muslim girl?

Last October, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, made strong statements about amending criminal laws so that mandatory jail terms will be imposed on those found guilty of statutory rape to address the high incidence of rape involving underaged girls and to protect them against such vulnerability. The government must take action beyond talk to stop alleged rapists and paedophiles manipulating religion and culture to escape jail sentence.

In the Sabah case, since the permission to marry is allegedly pending before the Syariah Court, the issue is whether the Syarie Judge should allow a 40 year old man charged with the serious crime of rape to marry the victim? Secondly, how would a girl-child who is only 13 years old said to be “ready for marriage”? Why is there an exception to the protection accorded to all children in Malaysia, merely because a child is Muslim?

It is well documented that underaged girls who are married off are more likely to face domestic violence and sexual abuse, and that there is an increased risk of death in childbirth for young brides.

At the end of the day when a child needs protection and justice, laws and institutions have failed when a marriage certificate is used to legitimise sex with children. What happens to society when the promise of marriage is a means to escape prosecution of statutory rape? Can we expect an alleged rapist to treat his victim-wife with decency and respect, worse still if she is a child?

The Attorney General’s Chambers and the Syariah Court should exercise their good judgment and discretion to prevent such deplorable acts from continuing, and preventing abusers from manipulating the justice system.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) unequivocally calls for the following:
1. That the Syarie Judge rejects the marriage application for the 13 year old girl, due to her inability to give a valid consent or that she is mentally unfit for marriage.
2. The Public Prosecutor to reconsider allowing the withdrawal of rape charges merely due to marriage, based on the existing clear facts of statutory rape, taking note of the huge age gap and the power differentials between the accused and the child.
3. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) prohibits all child marriages and betrothals. As Malaysia has acceded to CEDAW, our government must take action to ensure all Malaysian laws comply with this principle.
4. Immediate protection, counselling, support and assistance be provided to the victim and her family by the relevant authorities. The Child Protector should be using the full powers of the Child Act 2001 to intervene for the best interest of the child.

Laws and practices that are harmful to children’s well-being must be challenged and rectified. We cannot allow our children to be sexually assaulted and yet do nothing to stop it. Our children need protection and we have a duty and obligation to protect them at all costs.

Loh Cheng Kooi and Melissa Mohd Akhir
on behalf of Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)

JAG comprises the following:
Women’s Centre for Change Penang (WCC)
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Perak Women for Women (PWW)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita (PSWS)
13 May 2013
GE13: A very Malaysian result - The Star - Musings (9 May 2013)
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GE13: A very Malaysian result

Thursday May 9, 2013


We gave every party just enough; not enough to make anybody ecstatic but enough that they can console themselves that they did partly well.

FOR the last year, it was almost imaginable that we would get to this day, after the general election.

Everything was put on suspended animation first because we did not know when the elections would be, then because we did not know what would happen afterwards.

Now we know and in many ways, it was a very Malaysian result.

We gave every party just enough; not enough to make anybody ecstatic but enough that they can console themselves that they did partly well.

It may not be good enough for the people who want all or nothing but the one thing about democracy is its unpredictability.

As Plato said: “Democracy ... is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.”

This general election, Malaysians turned out in record numbers, which speaks well for our growing awareness of the importance of voting.

Yet we have kept our cards close to our hearts.

I went to several ceramah from both sides in the run-up to polling day and it was difficult to tell who would come out on top.

If you stay just within those you agree with, then it was possible to get a distorted view of things. But if you cross over to the other side, you get an idea that nothing is certain.

Unlike the cheerleaders, the most circumspect people were also the most cautious and refused to predict a definite outcome.

Perhaps there were a few heightened characteristics of the election campaign this time.

First is the incredible amount of advertising being thrown at voters from every possible direction.

You can’t drive anywhere without seeing banners and posters, some of which should have been taken down by JPJ for obstructing the view of drivers.

Social media talks about nothing else and even the most innocuous update gets connected to politics.

You can’t even play games online without having to first endure a political video.

To be sure, the campaign advertising war was hugely one-sided to the point of overkill.

Besides banners, posters, billboards and T-shirts, there was the free merchandise.

I once counted 12 types of merchandise in one markas.

I’m still wondering how wing mirror covers win elections. The money could have been better used to provide information on what candidates stood for and where you could meet them.

In the last days of campaigning, three human traits became obvious – fear, paranoia and mistrust.

All sides used fear to create paranoia and mistrust and unfortunately many allowed themselves to be used by politicians in that way. It made some Malaysians turn against other Malaysians as well as foreigners and tolerance, understanding and respect went out of the window.

This is not the future that we expected where all humans would enjoy equal rights. Instead, we fell to making distinctions between one human and another, based on suspicion and conjecture.

We should really reflect on how easily this ugly side of us came out when provoked.

No doubt we can blame various parties for creating an atmosphere in which this was possible. But we fell for it.

In the name of democracy, we be­­came undemocratic.

But this is the day after and we have to move on.

Again, do we rely on our leaders of whatever stripe to lead us in moving on or do we do it ourselves?

As the ever-cynical writer Gore Vidal said: “Democracy is supposed to give you the feeling of choice, like Painkiller X and Painkiller Y. But they’re both just aspirin.”

My feeling is that we will learn from this and we will focus on the next elections where we will insist that all sides have to earn our trust and therefore, our votes.

I don’t think we will succumb to manipulation any more.

I also think that the most crucial reform needed is in the media that truly needs to redeem itself from its outrageous behaviour during the campaign, dispensing with any semblance of objectivity or balance.

We need to demand from the media an accounting of how much it thinks it contributes to national unity and healing.

The people voted out the worst proponents of disunity and the media should take heed of that.

Meanwhile, we have to watch as a new government takes shape.

I would really advise the Prime Minister to stop thinking of Cabinet posts as a form of reward but rather as assigning tasks of huge responsibility.

For that he should not choose the same old faces.

To really show he is sincere about change, his criteria for his ministers should be talent, youth and gender, three things that were wholly absent before.

Only then will we believe this is a fresh new beginning.

GE13: Women still running behind - Musings (25 April 2013)
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GE13: Women still running behind

Thursday April 25, 2013


The overall number of women candidates have increased, but as a percentage of the total number of candidates, they still make up only about 10% of those in the running.

ONCE again, we are in election mode and once again, candidate lists are checked to see who might be running our country next.

Some old faces are gone, some are still there but there are also many new ones.

Perhaps, there is also more drama this time, what with people who were expected to stand missing, standing as independents and other bizarre cases.

Elections are obviously when you get to know the true nature of people.

As always, I scrutinised the lists to see how many women are standing this time.

The Election Commission says that there has been a 40% increase in the number of women candidates this time.

It looked like women are finally given the chance they deserve to represent half the population.

But upon closer inspection, the numbers are not as pleasing as they may seem.

Yes, the overall numbers of women candidates have increased.

But as a percentage of the total number of candidates, they still make up only about 10% of those in the running.

This is extremely disappointing.

In the last Parliament, women made up only 10% of the total number of MPs while in the state assemblies, women made up a dismal 8%.

This is far below the 30% allocation for women designated in the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women which Malaysia has signed and promised to implement.

To ensure that we get the 30% of political decision makers, it is obvious that we need far more than 30% of the nominated candidates to be women.

To only have 10% female candidates will mean that even if all of them win, which they won’t, we will never meet the target.

It is even more disappointing when there was so much talk about the need to increase the number of women in the polls in the days leading up to Nomination Day.

Is there a lack of sincerity by the political parties in fulfilling these commitments?

Some have commented on the difficulties in getting women to stand for elections at all.

Let us unpack that.

In the first place, Malaysian politics is a field so tainted by scandalous and boorish behaviour that few women with any self-respect will want to join in.

If they joined, they would have to share space with male politicians who are totally unashamed of their sexist attitudes towards women, and who rarely got reprimanded for them.

Indeed, one particularly reprehensible specimen, who regularly tops the list of outrageous male behaviour, is once again defending his seat.

Secondly, women have so much more to consider if they want to stand.

Supportive husbands and families are a necessity.

There is no way a married woman can enter politics if hubby is sulking at home.

Ensuring that the children are cared for while they go campaigning, something men don’t have to consider, is another.

Furthermore, campaigning is one thing, what if they win?

This would necessitate another round of family negotiations and arrangements.

Having said that, since we undoubtedly do need women in Parliament, there is a need to provide some training for aspiring women legislators.

It is no use trying to look for women candidates only when elections are pending.

If political parties are serious about fielding women, they should start talent-spotting and training women way ahead, perhaps as soon as one election is over.

The training would help women understand what they are up against in the world of legislating, and allow them to work through the issues they would face.

One issue would certainly be the condescension of the media towards women politicians, where looks and their personal lives are deemed more important than what they have to say about issues.

It is unbelievable that in this day and age, the best that the media can report on women candidates is on their ideas on grooming.

Finally, there are many people who believe that quotas for women are unnecessary and somehow demean women.

They say that MPs and ADUNs should be chosen for their capabilities, rather than their sex.

It’s interesting that it’s only when we talk about women in politics (or business) that the question of capability comes up.

But 90% of our legislators thus far have been men.

Can we in all honesty say that they were all chosen because of exemplary capabilities?
Sisters in Islam extends condolences on the passing of Tan Sri Aishah Ghani (19 April 2013)
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Sisters in Islam extends condolences on the passing of Tan Sri Aishah Ghani

19 April 2013

A few decades ago, a woman’s role was dictated by a society that believed the public realm had no space for the fairer.

At a time when the pursuit of full-time employment was highly frowned upon and choosing to be a homemaker was seen as an unquestionable sacrifice, Tan Sri Aishah Ghani proved that women are able to excel as leaders and stateswomen.

Simultaneously nurturing her family and a nation, Tan Sri Aishah Ghani served as an exemplary individual who showcased her ability to play multiple roles apart from the one what was expected of her as a woman.

Her loss is greatly felt by SIS, who will fondly remember her as an ardent advocate for women’s rights. An agent of change that has transformed the lives of many women through her principles and courage to stand against the norm, Tan Sri Aishah Ghani’s passing is a loss to the nation.
SIS extends our thoughts and prayers are with Aishah‘s family and friends at this most difficult time. May her legacy live on through the relentless pursuit of justice and equality for women.


BARAZA! 4 - Faith and Feminism
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Working Paper: Women as Judges
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Women as Judges

The appointment of women judges in Muslim countries remains a controversial issue, due to general perception that such appointment might not be in conformity with the shari'ah. There is no clear nass or authority in the textual sources- ie. the Qur'an and the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w) - that allows or disallows women to be appointed as judges. Several juristic interpretations of these sources, however, discriminate against women, going against the spirit of gender equality that is clear woven into fabric of Islam.

Download our full version of working paper: Women as Judges Here
Working Paper: Guardianship Law and Muslim Women
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Guardianship Law and Muslim Women

SIS Working Paper Series - August 2002, deals with the issues on Guardianship Law and Muslim Women in Malaysia. Muslim women continue to face problems in getting access to justice in matters pertaining to their marital rights. The problem range from pluralistic nature of the legal system that vests the administration of Islamic justice for Muslims in independent state jurisdictions, to discriminatory substantive provisions on guardianship of children in the variety of legislation regarding these issues.

Download our full version of working paper: Guardianship Law and Muslim Women Here
GE13: Field more women candidates - The Star - Sharing The Nation (7 April 2013)
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GE13: Field more women candidates

SHARING THE NATION BY ZAINAH ANWARSunday,  April 7, 2013 Political parties should also place them in seats where they stand a good chance of winning.

THIS must be the first time that a prominent male Umno state leader has publicly called for the party president to nominate more women candidates in the general election.

Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan, pointing to the 19 women heads of department in his home state, said on Thursday that he wants to see more women in Parliament and the state legislative assemblies.

I hope he has translated his words into action by ensuring that the Barisan Nasional candidates list he has submitted to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak includes at least 30% women nominated for the nine parliamentary seats and 36 state seats in Negri Sembilan.

In Pahang, State PAS commissioner Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man seems to think it is a matter of pride to announce he would not field any women candidate because “they are not ready to serve as full-time politicians due to work and other commitments”.

To add insult to injury, he mentioned that two women had been included in his list as “third-choice candidates” for the Pekan and Rompin parliamentary seats. I guess just in case an act of God struck down the two male candidates above them, only then would these women qualify.

One does wonder if Tuan Ibrahim realises that he lives in the 21st century. Or is he out to sabotage his own party?

I hope the PAS national leadership will prove that they are indeed serious about becoming more open and modern by fielding more women candidates.

Already, Wanita PKR leader Zuraida Kamaruddin has announced that the party is unable to fulfil its commitment to fielding 30% women candidates in this general election because it is still searching and pushing for more women “to come in”. However, she said the party is committed to fielding more women candidates than in 2008.

DAP’s Teresa Kok has also promised that more women candidates will be fielded this time. I certainly hope all the other political parties will at the very least nominate not only more women candidates, but also place them in seats where they stand a good chance of winning.

Malaysia has the dubious honour of being ranked 110 out of 134 countries in the area of women’s political participation in the 2010 World Gender Gap Report. That a high middle-income country like Malaysia should find itself at the bottom of the pile should be of serious concern to our policymakers and political leadership.

There were only 24 (10.8%) women out of 222 in the 12th Parliament. This is worse than the Asian average of 18.4% or even the Arab average of 15.7%. It is worse in the state assemblies – 46 women only (7.9%) out of 576. It’s better in the Senate with 16 (26.7%) out of 64 because they were nominated to the position, but still a drop from 2004 figure of 33.3%.

And now we only have one woman minister left in the Cabinet line-up of 29 ministers, and only eight women (20%) out of a total of 40 deputy ministers.

At the state level, Selangor performs best with 40% women in the state exco line-up, while most other states have the token one or two women exco members.

In Terengganu, Perak and Sarawak, not a single woman was appointed.

Are women activists the only people squirming at the sight of these drab official pictures of the federal Cabinet and state excos where you see a line-up of nothing but men in dark suits and the token woman in a corner with a dash of colour?

It is as much foolish and irrational as it is archaic that our political leaders still don’t get it that diversity in representation makes for better decision-making, that women politicians serve their constituents better, if not as well as their male counterparts and that a country that ignores 50% of its talent pool cannot possibly build a democracy and a political culture that represents the diverse interests and values of the nation as a whole.

So where is the country’s transformation programme when it comes to women’s political participation?

In a list of 33 countries which has achieved at least 30% women’s representation in the Lower House of Parliament, 27 have achieved this through some form of electoral quota system.

Only Andorra, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, and Seychelles achieved this critical mass of women in Parliament without any kind of quota.

Interestingly, too, it is Rwanda, not any of the Nordic countries, that has the highest percentage of women in Parliament at 56.3%.
The Global Database on Quotas for Women showed that of those 27 countries, 20 had adopted legislated quotas, while seven countries saw political parties adopting quotas voluntarily.

These were Sweden, Nicaragua, Iceland, Norway, Mozambique, The Netherlands and Germany.

It is obvious that without political will, a strong policy plus an action plan with a timeline for full implementation by all the major political parties, Malaysian women will continue to languish in the political arena.

Our performance in the education field is not at all reflected in our advancement in politics or economics. And the impediments are both structural and cultural.

Given the lack of progress and the resistance from patriarchs to women’s representation, it is time that this country seriously considers adopting a legislated quota system, with an institutional body that monitors implementation and imposes legal sanctions for non-compliance.

Once values and attitudes towards women’s leadership have changed, this quota meant to redress a historical injustice can be dropped.

For now, I can only pray that when the political parties unveil their nomination lists, every major party would have at least increased their women candidates from their 2008 lists and placed them in winnable seats.

That would signal a purposeful start to recognising the reality of women’s status today.

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