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)
Protect Our Children From Rapists and Paedophiles (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)
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)