The gaps in laws and policies allow women and girls to fall through the cracks, warned the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) in a statement in conjunction with Women’s Day. “They don’t have access to justice.”
There are more insidious forms, cautioned JAG in a statement by Natasha Dandavati, Advocacy Officer, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO). “This includes the low rate of participation of women in decision-making positions.”
As a result, said the coalition, women and girls continue to suffer from violence and discrimination. “It’s time to close the gaps.”
The gaps obstruct the elimination of violence against women and girls and the achievement of gender equality, it added.
It called, in conjunction with Women’s Day, for an evaluation of all existing laws and policies harmful to women.
JAG has pledged to eliminate violence against women and realise gender equality. “We have been unwavering in our commitment,” said JAG in the statement signed by nine NGOs. “We want comprehensive changes to the laws in Malaysia.”
It recalled that civil society had spent years educating and engaging with policymakers. “The words have not materialised into concrete action.”
The women and girls have limited recourse in law, it reiterated. “It’s time for all MPs to support law reform initiatives.”
JAG reminded that it has been lobbying for over a decade for such initiatives. The lobbying touched on crucial reforms to the laws on rape.
By widening the definition and removing discriminatory evidentiary burdens, argued the coalition, it will strengthen protection for survivors of rape.
JAG cited the case of a 60 year-old man who was acquitted of raping a 14 year-old girl. “The court said that there was no penile penetration but only with his finger,” noted the coalition.
Elsewhere, said JAG, it has seen perpetrators go free when the testimony of the victim could not be corroborated by a third party, or when the third party was a child, or worse still, because the perpetrator was married to the victim.
The coalition cited several other situations:
(1) Women facing extreme financial hardship when husbands cut off access to assets or escape obligations to pay maintenance;
(2) Domestic violence victims losing custody of children when husbands convert, and unilaterally convert, the children;
(3) Girls as young as 12 and 13 years being contracted into marriages where rapists become husbands;
(4) termination of women from employment upon getting pregnant;
(5) the inability of Malaysian women married to foreigners to pass on citizenship to their children.
JAG wants reforms to the Islamic Family Law Act (Federal Territory) 1984 and the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.
It also wants a comprehensive Gender Equality Act to integrate Malaysia’s commitments under CEDAW — ratified in 1995 — in domestic law.
The JAG statement was also signed by All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), Perak Women For Women (PWW), Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO), Sisters In Islam (SIS), Women’s Aid Organisation, and Women’s Center For Change (WCC).