Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mulsim Women's Rights in Malaysia

Freedom of speech?

I obtained this article from an e-mail which is currently circulating around. The author is purportedly Marina Mahathir, and this is a piece which she wrote for The Star. The newspaper however, saw it fit to censor and block the article from ever seeing the light of day on grounds that it was unneccesarily harsh on our government.

Was this a right decision, or is it just another case of over zealous censorship? You read and decide.

Marina Mahathir for The Star

In 1948, one of humankind's most despicable ideas, apartheid, was made into law in South Africa where racial discrimination was institutionalized. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of "white-only" jobs. Although there were 19 million blacks and only 4.5 million whites in South Africa, the majority population were forced to be second-class citizens in their homeland, banished to reserves and needing passports to travel outside them, even within their own country. It was only in 1990 that apartheid began to crumble and South Africans of all colours were finally free to live as equals in every way.

With the end of that racist system, people may be forgiven for thinking that apartheid does not exist anymore. While few countries practice any formal systems of discrimination, nevertheless you can find many forms of discrimination everywhere. In many cases, it is women who are discriminated against. In our country, there is an insidious growing form of apartheid among Malaysian women, that between Muslim and non-Muslim women.

We are unique in that we actively legally discriminate against women who are arguably the majority in this country, Muslim women. Non-Muslim Malaysian women have benefited from more progressive laws over the years while the opposite has happened for Muslim women.

For instance, since the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, polygamy among non-Muslims was banned. Previously men could have as many wives as they wanted under customary laws. Men's ability to unilaterally pronounce divorce on their wives was abolished and in its place, divorce happens by mutual consent or upon petition by either spouse in an equal process where the grounds are intolerable adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion of not less than two years, and living separately for not less than two years. Compare that to the lot of Muslim women abandoned but not divorced by their husbands.

Other progressive reforms in the civil family law in the late 1990s were amendments to the Guardianship Act and the Distribution Act. The Guardianship of Infants Act 1961 was amended to provide for equal guardianship for both father and mother, rather than the previous provision where only the father was the primary guardian of the children. In contrast, the Islamic Family Law still provides for the father as the sole primary guardian of his children although the mother is now allowed to sign certain forms for her children under an administrative directive.

The Distribution Act 1958 was also amended to provide for equal inheritance for widows and widowers, and also granted children the right to inherit from their mothers as well as from their fathers. Under the newly proposed amendments to the Islamic Family Law, the use of gender neutral language on the issue of matrimonial property is discriminatory on Muslim women when other provisions in the IFL are not gender-neutral. Muslim men may still contract polygamous marriages, may unilaterally divorce their wives for the most trivial of reasons (including by SMS, unique in the Muslim world) and are entitled to double shares of inheritance.

These differences between the lot of Muslim women and non-Muslim women beg the question: do we have two categories of citizenship in Malaysia, whereby most female citizens have less rights than others? As non-Muslim women catch up with women in the rest of the world, Muslim women here are only going backwards. We should also note that only in Malaysia are Muslim women regressing; in every other Muslim country in the world, women have been gaining rights, not losing them.

In this country, our leaders claim to stand for all citizens. Our Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of all Malaysians, our Ministers work for all Malaysians in their respective fields. There are two exceptions to this. The Minister for Islamic Affairs is obviously only for Muslims; even though some of the things he does affect others. While the Minister for Women purports to work for all Malaysian women, even though not all Malaysian women benefit from that work. Perhaps we should consolidate the apartheid of women in this country by having a Ministry for Non-Muslim Women which works to ensure that Non-Muslim women enjoy the benefits of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a UN document which Malaysia signed and is legally bound to implement, and a Ministry for Muslim Women which works to gag and bind Muslim women more and more each day for the sake of political expediency under the guise of religion.

Today is International Women's Day. Unfortunately only about 40% of the women in this country can celebrate. The rest can only look at their Non-Muslim sisters in despair and envy.



Blogger cheng sim said...

i don't think Marina Mahathir should made that kind of statement against the Islamic law. Islamic Law was created based on their religion guidelines and not made to serve the rights of Muslim women in general like the non-muslims. technically, she's questioning the authority of Islam in Law.

then again, its just another non-muslims point of view.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Bernard Yong said...

I think it is the right of all living, breathing human beings to question the things around them, including laws and regulations irregardless of their origins.

Only through questioning and probing, can a clearer understanding be obtained.

We also should know that if something claims to be 'divine' in nature, in this case religious law, then it would and should be able to stand up to scrutiny.

Cheng Sim : Your second sentence says it all, 'Islamic Law was created based on their religion guidelines and NOT made to serve the rights of Muslim women in general like the non-muslims'.

The strange thing is, from what I've heard from my muslim friends, the Prophet Muhammad was supposedly a staunch advocate for women's rights back in his days. I find it ironic that people who openly claim to be his followers, do not emulate this aspect of his character.

12:20 PM  
Blogger ::Lord Apprentice:: said...

Its quite obvious actually. religion is simply being used as a front to abuse power and abuse the rights of muslim women.

isnt it obvious?

Marina Mahatir is right to question. I always enjoy her articles, but am not surprised this one didnt make it through to the newpapers

1:22 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

Unfortunately these sort of restrictions are being placed on groups all over the world, not just Muslim women in Malaysia.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe this post/article HAS already been published in one of The Star's edition. Not 100% sure though.. Try doin a search on The Star's online archives.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Bernard Yong said...

Is it? That's good to know, perhaps freedom of speech still stands a chance after all eh

9:30 AM  
Blogger F.O.N. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:07 AM  
Blogger F.O.N. said...

I did made it to the media. I read the article on BBC and CNN.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous chop5t1ck said...

hey, i just noticed that you spelled muslim in your title as "mulsim".

1:46 PM  
Anonymous pheroxia said...

haha, yeah u did bernie... mulsim =p

i honestly think it's a bunch of ..... these "islamic laws" were made like agesss ago. so basically they're trying to live like how prophet mohammad lived, like centuries ago? time check? 2006.

ok, seriously,in my humble oppinion, the problem is not with the religion, like how nimal said... it's how some ppl have taken the religion into their own hands and are trying to use it and exercise it on others for certain reasons(lets not assume it's for their own benefits now should we). (oops!) =)
who DOES NOT know that religion is the most powerful political weapon?

quote cheng sim "Islamic Law was created based on their religion guidelines and not made to serve the rights of Muslim women in general like the non-muslims."

islamic law based on religion GUIDELINE. according to WHO? why is there a need to create an islamic LAW when there are guidelines? if an actual law was needed to control muslim women, shouldn't it already be stated and created BY God himself?

God IS the creator of ALL. Should not God be the only judge and decision maker? should not God be the only one qualified to tell us what to and not to do? should not only God be qualified to pass these kind of "LAWS"?

i have no doubt of my faith and religion. it is because of it i see through doubt.

God our creator has blessed us with freedom and choices, why rob others of it?

6:24 PM  
Blogger Ph3RoXi4 said...

oops... i just noticed my comment post is very looooong...

hehe, sorry la! veli cheong hei today!


6:29 PM  
Blogger Bernard Yong said...

pheroxia : It's alright, I always welcome long comments :)

8:16 AM  

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