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The Star - Musings - Time for restraint, reflection and respect (18 July 2013)
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Time for restraint, reflection and respect

Thursday July 18, 2013

Musings
 By MARINA MAHATHIR

It is also the time to show the strength of our faith, our spirit and our discipline.

IT is the first week of Ramadan and as always the body is taking time to adjust. I feel lethargic and sleepy and it takes enormous will to work up the energy to go to work.

But bills don’t stop needing to be paid, letters answered or columns written during this one month of fasting.

I just have to wait a few days before I get used to the daytime deprivation of food and water and will feel normal again.

I like Ramadan because it gives me a sense of a break from the usual routines. Just because there isn’t a break in the middle of the day for lunch makes me rework my daily schedule so that I can get home early enough to rest before the breaking of the fast.

But I expect there to be days when I work right up till buka puasa and won’t even notice it.

Most of all, I’m hoping for some benefits from not eating after a year of mostly undisciplined indulgence in all the wrong types of food.

For me, Ramadan is a time of restraint, reflection and respect. By that, I mean not just refraining from food and drink but from the worst sides of ourselves.

At other times we may be bad-tempered, inconsiderate, gossipy and unthinking but during Ramadan we are supposed to put those sides of us on hold, at least in theory.

I read about how a woman was beaten by her husband because she didn’t wake him up early enough for sahur. It really makes you wonder why the spirit of Ramadan, on its very first morning, was so lacking that a man could be driven to violence in this way.

No doubt there will be some who blame the wife for being “derelict” in her duty to wake her husband but I have to ask: could he not have woken himself, and even if she woke him late, was violence the proper response to this?

Ramadan gives us time to reflect on many things. I like waking up for sahur because the early hours of the morning, amidst the cool and the solitude, gives me time to think about many things.

Sometimes it’s just practical things, like making lists on what I have to do for Raya. Other times, it’s about what it means to honour the spirit of Ramadan.
I try and think of good things I want to be and do and not about things that make me angry or sad. I make a promise to myself to deal with difficult things with greater equanimity.

If people gave themselves time to reflect more during this month, then perhaps they would not do things hastily without thinking of the possible consequences.

If you set out to do something obviously insulting, would you not expect some reaction to it? Did you think about how you will deal with this reaction?
On the other hand, faced with such blatant attempts at publicity, do we succumb to our basest instincts and provide the reaction that would generate the desired attention? Restraint and reflection should really be practised on all sides, but especially by the ones fasting.

Which leads me to respect another part of the spirit of Ramadan.

Yes, in this country, people need to respect that it is Ramadan and that most people are fasting. But on the other hand, those who are fasting are also obliged to respect others who may not be fasting.

We are, compared with many Muslim countries, already one of the most tolerant in that we don’t shut down totally just because many of us are fasting.

In other countries, they simply turn their daily schedules upside-down. Whatever you do in the daytime, such as eat and work, happens at night instead.

In actual fact, precious little work gets done and the whole month becomes festive.

But the practical side of us knows that the world is not going to stop just because some of us are fasting.

We still need to work during regular hours because that’s when the rest of the world is working.

Indeed I’m grateful for this because sleeping all day just makes me grumpy and lethargic.

But fasting doesn’t mean we have an excuse to do shoddy work. That means we have no respect for our work and those who employ us. Nor does it give us the licence to demand respect from others.

To say that others have to be extra-respectful or sensitive to us because we are fasting is demeaning and disempowering. It is a bit like being disabled and asking for more crutches to shore up our weaknesses.

Ramadan is after all the time to show the strength of our faith, our spirit and our discipline.
Pas MP flayed over ‘indecent dress’ remarks
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Pas MP flayed over ‘indecent dress’ remarks

12 July 2013

By PUNITHA KUMAR AND LAVANYA LINGAN

Women’s groups and lawmakers are seeing red over the remarks by Pas’ Rantau Panjang member of parliament Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff that women could prevent sexual crimes by not wearing shorts and skimpy dresses.

Siti Zailah also earned nationwide ire when she asked the government to consider enacting laws to prevent women from wearing “indecent” clothing.
In voicing their disapproval over Siti Zailah’s comments in Parliament on Wednesday, women’s groups and lawmakers said such remarks were insulting, distasteful and seemingly gave excuses for people to commit sexual crimes against women.
Sisters in Islam (advocacy, legal service and public education unit) manager Suri Kempe said the fact that such comments were repeatedly made indicated there had been no shift in the mindset when it came to violence against women.
“Women do not need to be told, commanded or persecuted for the clothes they wear. What we need is for men to be taught and told not to violate women, regardless of the circumstances. Let’s teach our men to be responsible for their behaviour instead of blaming victims of violence for the abuse they have endured.”

Wanita DAP national secretary Teo Nie Ching said the remarks were insulting to both sexes.
“It is unfair to put the blame on the rape victim instead of the rapist. Victims need protection, not insults."

“This shouldn’t be the way. We should be discussing ways to strengthen punishment to instil fear in potential rapists or about setting up agencies to help victims, not give excuses for the crime.”
Former  deputy women, family and community development  minister Datuk Heng Seai Kie said it was wrong to force one's values on others. "Decency is subjective to a person's culture, practices and upbringing. It is not right to force one's values and beliefs on another individual."
She said Siti Zailah's remarks would also send the wrong message to men. "Wearing skimpy clothes is not a reason to commit sexual crimes. Even if a man is trapped in a room with a naked woman, this does not give him an excuse to rape or sexually assault her."
Wanita MIC chief Datin Paduka Komala Krishnamoorthy said accusing women of encouraging sexual crimes by their attire was ridiculous. "If dressing was such a crime magnet, then what about the children and elderly women who also fall victim?"
Tawau member of parliament Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching, who is also deputy education minister, said it was not feasible to impose a dress code as this would infringe on the individual's rights.
Echoing the sentiment, Puteri Umno chief and Papar member of parliament Datuk Rosnah Rashid Shirlin said the diversity of the races, cultures and religions in Malaysia meant that it was improper to impose a dress code as this could impede on an individual's right.
National Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Malaysia president Sarojini Ruth Rajahser, who said Siti Zailah's comments were an "insult to men", was flabbergasted.
"Is she saying that all men have no self-control or discipline and will act upon a female who is in 'indecent' attire? It is just distasteful." National Council of Women's Organisations Malaysia deputy president Datuk G. Ramani said a woman's style of dressing had no bearing on sexual crimes. "Fully-clothed women, those in tudung, elderly women and young girls have all been sexual crime victims."
Women's Centre for Change executive director Loh Cheng Kooi suggested all parliamentarians undergo a course on gender sensitivities."It is appalling that this issue is constantly repeated and such sexist remarks are made by people in power, either male or female."
Meanwhile, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim said there was no need to impose a dress code on women."We also can't set a benchmark on what is decent attire, as what is decent to me may not be to someone else," she told The New Straits Times yesterday. Rohani said it was more effective to prevent sexual crimes by educating men to respect women.

Pas deputy president Mohamad Sabu, claimed the issue was blown out of proportion by the media.
"However, I agree that all Muslim women should be dressed appropriately and cover their aurat (parts of the body not allowed to be exposed according to Islam). "But whether dressing 'inappropriately' is an invitation to be sexually assaulted, I have no comment on that."
Working together to find 'cures' - The Star - Musings - (4 July 2013)
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Working together to find 'cures'

Thursday, July 4 2013

MUSINGS by Marina Mahathir


Many issues cut across boundaries and require several different ministries to cooperate in order to find solutions instead of only working in isolation.

WHEN it comes to some issues, I sometimes wonder if they’re too important to leave to mere politicians to handle.

There we were with smoggy skies and unbreathable air again. I repeat, again. After the previous bad experiences and many promises by our leaders that they would do something about it, not only did the haze return, it was actually worse.

Did we learn anything from the last time? It started down south in our neighbouring country. They were choked out completely.

You would think that we would start wondering whether we would be hit next. Instead we twiddled our thumbs and watched as the haze made its way north, disrupting everything along the way.

Could we not have foreseen this? And therefore could we not have done something quicker to at least mitigate it? Or issue warnings to those most vulnerable or susceptible to be alert to the risks to their health? Before the 100% rise in asthma cases actually occurred?

I don’t know what it is about our country that we are so resistant to actually doing anything about prevention. No, I misstate that: we love preventive actions, especially if they involve detention or the prevention of so-called immoralities. Mostly, by methods for which there is no evidence of their effectiveness. But to do the actual hard work of studying and analysing an issue in order to find a fact-based implementable solution seems to be beyond us.

On Monday, I sat in a plenary session at the 7th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pa­tho­genesis, Treatment and Prevention and listened to a doctor from Cambodia talking about their ap­­proach to managing the global epidemic.

He described the progression of their HIV programme as Cambodia 1.0, 2.0 and now 3.0 supported with a lot of analysis of their data. I truly don’t know how accurate his analyses were but I was impressed at the issues that they were striving to address, including sensitive ones like sex work.

Although I have not been involved in HIV for seven years now, what seems obvious to me is that at most, we are at Malaysia 1.5 when it comes to HIV. That is because we are one of the few countries in the region to have implemented harm reduction programmes and to provide free anti-retroviral treatment to Malay­sians living with HIV. But that was a while ago and although that’s something we should be proud of, we really have not moved on.

Trying to get updated statistics on HIV is difficult enough. But even more difficult is trying to get analyses of the statistics, or of other factors that contribute to the HIV epidemic, whether on the prevention or treatment side.

I listened to a South African professor talk about the issues of transitioning care for children with HIV who grow into adults, and wondered if anyone here was also thinking of the same thing.

The same is true of every government department, not just health.

It would be interesting to know if the new Youth and Sports Minister will commission studies to truly find out why some of our young men become Mat Rempit, or get into drugs, or are so absent from our tertiary institutions. Or are those issues to be left to the police, or to Education?

If there is anything new our current Government can do to truly make a difference, it would be to recognise that many of these issues are cross-cutting and need the engagement and cooperation of several ministries working together and not in isolation.

Similarly, our Women, Family and Community Development Ministry would do well to get someone to do a truly in-depth study of why child marriage or incest happens and what can be done to prevent these. Or why children keep drowning during the school holidays. Do we even really have facts on why so many babies get abandoned?

However, we seem to have no appetite for knowing the real reasons why these issues arise in our society. Instead we would rather rely on speculation based often on someone else’s shallow knowledge or worse, prejudice. This was how we got ridiculous “guidelines” on how to spot gay people, all of which seem to be based on watching a cheap telenovela.

If we are going to seriously right whatever is wrong in our society, we need to face them squarely.

Today I heard a presentation on the dismal state of the Malayan tiger and it’s obvious that the problem is human greed, in all of its forms. But unless we own up to that, then we can bid our tigers goodbye. How sad would that be?

We need to be able to hold up a mirror to ourselves and simply accept what we see. Then find realistic ways to make us be better so that we look
better.

Conversion law easily exploited in custody cases, warns Muslim women group (3 July 2013)
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Conversion law easily exploited in custody cases, warns Muslim women group - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/conversion-law-easily-exploited-in-custody-cases-warns-muslim-women-group#sthash.PGBYweaU.dpuf
Conversion law easily exploited in custody cases, warns Muslim women group - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/conversion-law-easily-exploited-in-custody-cases-warns-muslim-women-group#sthash.PGBYweaU.dpuf
Conversion law easily exploited in custody cases, warns Muslim women group

3 July 2013

The proposed law on unilateral conversions of children to Islam can be exploited to secure child custody in divorce cases, a Muslim women’s group said today.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) programme manager Suri Kempe also said that parents should not convert their children to Islam on their behalf, stressing that religious conversions should be initiated by children on their own free will when they understand the significance of such conversions.

“It creates a loophole that people can exploit,” Suri told The Malay Mail Online today, referring to the Administration of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 which permits unilateral conversion for children below 18 years.

“Why are we encouraging people to convert in silence? Sometimes parents do it out of spite because they want to get custody. It’s inherently unfair and unjust,” she added.

Suri highlighted the case of R. Subashini, where the Federal Court ruled in 2007 that her husband – who had embraced Islam – had the right to convert their children to his faith without her consent, leading to the Hindu mother’s fears of losing child custody.

Non-Muslim groups, the Malaysian Bar and politicians on both sides of the divide have denounced the Bill – which allows children below 18 years to be converted to Islam with the consent of just one parent – as unconstitutional.

Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz also voiced his opposition towards the Bill today, maintaining his stand back in 2009 when he was a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department that both parents must consent before a child can convert to Islam.

The former de facto law minister pointed out today that unilateral conversions of minors to Islam violated the Federal Constitution.

Four years ago, Nazri said the government would ban the unilateral conversion of those aged below 18 to Islam. But Section 107(b) of the Bill was introduced in Parliament last Wednesday.

Suri also noted today that conversions to Islam are especially significant as it is “very hard” for a Muslim to leave the faith in Malaysia.

“In theory, the constitution provides for it,” said Suri. “But in reality, it’s very hard.”

Selangor PAS commissioner Dr Abd Rani Osman said yesterday that the conversion of children to Islam should require the consent of both parents as religious conversions are a “big issue”.

Custodial tussles in cases of unilateral child conversions have been a growing concern over the years and provide a high-profile glimpse of the concerns of Malaysia’s religious minorities over the perceived dominance of Islam in the country.

It also highlights the complications of Malaysia’s dual legal systems where Muslims are bound by both civil and syariah laws, the latter of which does not apply to or recognise non-Muslims.

The latest case is that of a Hindu mother in Negri Sembilan, who discovered in April that her estranged husband had converted their two underage children to Islam after he had done so a year earlier without her knowledge.

Link : http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/conversion-law-easily-exploited-in-custody-cases-warns-muslim-women-group
The proposed law on unilateral conversions of children to Islam can be exploited to secure child custody in divorce cases, a Muslim women’s group said today. Sisters in Islam (SIS) programme manager Suri Kempe also said that parents should not convert their children to Islam on their behalf, stressing that religious conversions should be initiated by children on their own free will when they understand the significance of such conversions. “It creates a loophole that people can exploit,” Suri told The Malay Mail Online today, referring to the Administration of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 which permits unilateral conversion for children below 18 years. “Why are we encouraging people to convert in silence? Sometimes parents do it out of spite because they want to get custody. It’s inherently unfair and unjust,” she added. Suri highlighted the case of R. Subashini, where the Federal Court ruled in 2007 that her husband – who had embraced Islam – had the right to convert their children to his faith without her consent, leading to the Hindu mother’s fears of losing child custody. Non-Muslim groups, the Malaysian Bar and politicians on both sides of the divide have denounced the Bill – which allows children below 18 years to be converted to Islam with the consent of just one parent – as unconstitutional. Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz also voiced his opposition towards the Bill today, maintaining his stand back in 2009 when he was a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department that both parents must consent before a child can convert to Islam. The former de facto law minister pointed out today that unilateral conversions of minors to Islam violated the Federal Constitution. Four years ago, Nazri said the government would ban the unilateral conversion of those aged below 18 to Islam. But Section 107(b) of the Bill was introduced in Parliament last Wednesday. Suri also noted today that conversions to Islam are especially significant as it is “very hard” for a Muslim to leave the faith in Malaysia. “In theory, the constitution provides for it,” said Suri. “But in reality, it’s very hard.” Selangor PAS commissioner Dr Abd Rani Osman said yesterday that the conversion of children to Islam should require the consent of both parents as religious conversions are a “big issue”. Custodial tussles in cases of unilateral child conversions have been a growing concern over the years and provide a high-profile glimpse of the concerns of Malaysia’s religious minorities over the perceived dominance of Islam in the country. It also highlights the complications of Malaysia’s dual legal systems where Muslims are bound by both civil and syariah laws, the latter of which does not apply to or recognise non-Muslims. The latest case is that of a Hindu mother in Negri Sembilan, who discovered in April that her estranged husband had converted their two underage children to Islam after he had done so a year earlier without her knowledge. - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/conversion-law-easily-exploited-in-custody-cases-warns-muslim-women-group#sthash.PGBYweaU.dpuf
Child marriage in Islam: a myth?
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Child marriage in Islam: a myth?

June 4 2013

Ikim Views by Dr Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad

We need to understand the cultural-religious issues first to clear the misperception that child marriage is supposedly sanctioned by Islam.

ISLAM has always been an obvious easy target of misperception, misunderstanding. In a never-ending challenge against it, another opportunity for Islamophobes around the globe to maim the religion lurks wide open yet again when the issue of child marriage resurfaced recently.

They claim that child marriage is sanctioned, and thus common in the teachings of Islam. The practice takes place every day in the Muslim world to innocent girls as young as six, making it shockingly widespread.

Moreover, statistics of cases – though questionable – of different Muslim countries proving the prevalent rampage are cited.

Quoting a report by the United Nations, the Islamophobes reveal that “one out nine girls in developing countries will be married by age 15, and an estimated 14.2 million girls a year will become child brides by 2020, if nothing changes”. Are Muslim men to be entirely blamed for their seemingly lack of restraint?

The reality is that child marriage happens all over the world, regardless of religions or civilisations. But it appears that Islam suffers by far the most severe beatings compared to other faiths and cultures.

For the sake of argumentation, why does such a phenomenon befall the Muslim community? The answer is perhaps more cultural than religious. Culture, more than anything else, may have the upper hand.

Because many of these communities are found in countries deprived of progress and cultural practices are steep, hence, culture plays a huge role in their lives more than religion. Any law, be it sacred or profane, is indispensable of culture, and cannot completely escape from cultural influences, good or evil.

It is true that Islam has spread to countless nations, bringing along with it the progressive law (Syariah), but often times, people and cultures in these places are still feudal, semi-feudal or even tribal in character.

We may infer that child marriage perhaps originated from this feudalistic or tribal life of certain people before the society embraced Islam.

Thus, it is simply cultural in nature as the practice was not only common to the Arabs, for example, but to other races as well.

This tribal custom plays a role, for instance, in the belief that a young bride can be moulded into a good filial obedient wife and give birth to more offspring.

With the coming of Islam, these people had the “perfect” justifica­-tion to legitimise their “lifestyle”. To a certain extent, even religious leaders could not avoid from being influenced by their culture and cultural inclinations.

There is hardly anything Islamic about child marriage. One may argue that the practice is even unislamic as it runs counter to the true spirit of Islam. Marriage is a contract and the Quran in Surah al-Nisa’, 4:21 prescribes the institution as a “strong solemn covenant” (mithaqan ghaliza).
Underage girls, say at the age of nine, cannot enter into such a covenant as it is too strong a contract. A minor has neither the ability nor capacity to understand what a covenant means and implies.

In addition, in any given family life, both husband and wife may and can stipulate conditions. If either party fails to keep good their agreements, the marriage may collapse. In this sense, a child cannot stipulate conditions.

Marriage is a partnership for life. We cannot expect a child to have the necessary experience or intellectual acumen to rightly choose her breadwinner. Thus, from this perspective, child marriages can neither be considered Quranic nor Islamic.

The perceived dominant practice of child marriage in Muslim regions, or even the non-Muslim territories for that matter, may also be linked to economic reasons, and nothing strictly religious.

We have heard of cases whereby young girls were married off to ol­­-der spouses in an understanding between two men to wed each other’s sisters to escape paying expensive dowry (mahr); to settle personal and family debts; and the inability of poor families to reject certain interesting amount of monies offered for their daughters.

Therefore, gripping poverty and other pressing economic factors hinder effective initiatives being taken to reduce let alone eliminate child marriages.

While the Islamophobes attempt to ridicule the so-called child marriage in Islam by referring to the hadith of Prophet Muhammad tying the knot with Aishah purportedly at the age of seven and consummated the marriage when she was nine, the conservative Islamists, on the other hand, are using the same tradition to justify their stand in allowing the same.

Both camps are, in fact, mistaken. One argues that the hadith appears much later after the demise of the Prophet. In-depth studies by reliable scholars clearly expose the fact that Aishah was not less than 17 years old at the time of the marriage, and consummated it at about 20. So, Aishah was not below the age of puberty when consenting to the marriage.

In Islam, this is the true position of a girl achieving puberty or the age of proper understanding when it comes to marriage. The religion basically prescribes that a child ceases to be a minor upon her first menstruation, regardless of age.

Once approached with a marriage proposal, she has the option to accept or reject it. Her consent is a necessary prerequisite for a valid marital contract. Her guardian enjoys no liberty to force her to accept any proposal if she is unwilling.

It means that in a pre-arranged marriage, it may be annulled if the girl so wishes. Imam Abu Hanifah holds that the guardian does not have an absolute authority to give away the child in marriage. In fact, all Sunni schools of thought are unanimous that forced marriages are strictly forbidden. The reason being Islamic marriages are primarily contracts between two consenting parties referred to as ‘mithaq.’

The preceding discussion attempts to explain that, as aptly put by al-Azhar al-Sharif, the highest religious body in the Sunni world, “Marriage in Islam is regulated by certain rules, namely, children must reach puberty and maturity so that they can get married.” Here, no specific age limits have been fixed by Islam.

If there is any problem with the marriage, it is not because of Islam per se, but we must examine other surrounding factors as well. Religion should prevail over culture and not vice versa. Most of the times, domestic violence and abuse cannot be associated with or attributed to religion.

This explains why most Muslim lands have now statutorily prescribed 18 as the age of marriage for bridegroom while 16 for his counterpart. And in our case, for example, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 states that should the age go lower than the minimum limit aforementioned, a written permission must be obtained from the Syariah Court, in certain circumstances.

The Star - New Bill risky to kids’ identity due to ease of conversion, says IRF (30 June 2013)
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New Bill risky to kids’ identity due to ease of conversion, says IRF
By SHAILA KOSHY 
koshy@thestar.com.my

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)
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Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)

Press Statement
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 / renchung.wao@gmail.com

The Star - Sharing The Nation - Don’t chase after pyrrhic victories (23 June 2013)
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Don’t chase after pyrrhic victories

Sunday June 23, 2013

Sharing the nation by ZAINAH ANWAR

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)
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It’s a crime against women

Thursday June 20, 2013

MUSINGS By MARINA MAHATHIR

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)
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SURAT KEPADA PENGARANG
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)


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