Muslim women enjoy fewer rights than non-Muslims here, UN committee told in Geneva

Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam and Musawah noted that there is no progress towards implementing reform of Islamic family laws since 1995. ― Reuters pic
Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam and Musawah noted that there is no progress towards implementing reform of Islamic family laws since 1995. ― Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 20 — A coalition of 37 civil societies and global movement Musawah has reported a lack of urgency in Putrajaya when it comes to women’s rights, while both Muslims and non-Muslims have suffered from Islamisation.

Representatives of the group orally delivered a statement at the 69th session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday evening.

Malaysia’s progress in women’s rights will be reviewed by the United Nations CEDAW committee only for the second time today, despite acceding to CEDAW in 1995. The last review was 12 years ago for its 2004 report.

Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam and Musawah noted that there is no progress towards implementing reform of Islamic family laws since 1995, and Islamic family law has regressed even as civil law reform has resulted in more rights for non-Muslim women.

“Muslim women now enjoy far less [sic] rights in marriage, divorce, guardianship of their children and inheritance than their non-Muslim counterparts,” the coalition said.

“Other areas of gross discrimination against women under the Islamic Family Laws include divorce, polygamy and child marriage.”

The coalition highlighted that Putrajaya still has not removed its reservations on CEDAW and ratified the optional protocol, and no reason was given to explain the delay.

“The coalition has proposed a Gender Equality Bill to the government for their consideration. The government has not set a deadline on when they will propose the Bill to Parliament, if at all,” it said.

“The government has also noted in its answer to the CEDAW Committee that gender mainstreaming is not seen as a national issue and is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.”

Women’s Aid Organisation highlighted the difficulties faced by Malaysian women married to foreign men, the lack of laws to address gender-based violence, and reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders.

Meanwhile, transgender awareness group Justice for Sisters said there is a grave lack of political will in investigating cases of violence, death and murder of trans women and gender-diverse persons.

“The lack of recognition of LGBTIQ persons is exactly the root cause of the marginalisation and increasing violence towards LGBTIQ persons,” it said, referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community.

Countries party to CEDAW are obliged to send regular status reports on the implementation of the treaty, to be reviewed by a committee of experts which will engage in dialogue with government representatives.

Malaysia has sent a 24-member delegation for this review of its 2017 report.

A shadow report has been submitted by the coalition of 37 groups which included among others All Women’s Action Society, EMPOWER, Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysian AIDS Council, Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia, and Women’s Centre for Change Penang.

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and other groups will also be participating.

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