PM’s daughter urges policymakers to read SIS study on Malaysian Muslim women, not just headlines

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir speaks at the SIS International Conference on Islam and Women’s Rights in Kuala Lumpur October 15, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir speaks at the SIS International Conference on Islam and Women’s Rights in Kuala Lumpur October 15, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Prominent civil rights activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir today urged policymakers to read Sisters In Islam’s (SIS) survey on Malaysian Muslim women.

Marina, who is also the eldest daughter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said they should read the findings for a deeper understanding of the issues at stake and not just skim over news headlines about the civil society’s survey findings.

“My only hope is that policymakers will read the report instead of just the headlines,” Marina said during SIS’ four-day conference on women’s role in fighting extremism at the Istana Hotel here.

In her view, the biggest takeaway from the survey is the disconnect between the expectations of Malaysian Muslim women and what actually happens.

“For example, many expect their husbands to take up their share of household duties, yet are unable to convince them to take up even 50 per cent of those duties.

“The disconnect is further pronounced because people have come to think that this is the way things should be,” Marina said.

The SIS member also touched on shifting religious interpretations in the country, saying what was once considered radical is now viewed as mainstream.

“Once upon a time, wearing the hijab was considered as such, but now it is mainstream. Even the niqab is even thought of as something ordinary.

“Another example is polygamy, which in the past was not talked about or boasted openly. But now some do, as they seem to think it is a measure of success in life,” she said.

As a result, Marina said the politicisation of religion has led to people becoming afraid to challenge it, while those who do are tarred as deviant.

SIS executive director Rozana Isa highlighted the narrative of obedience has been inculcated into children, particularly girls, from young.

“It is something taught to you as a child. Even at that age the image of your husband is drilled into you, that you must obey him. At that age you do not even know what he will look like or if he is a decent person.

“This also extends to the notion that husbands can beat disobedient wives. We need to change this narrative, as Islam does not condone ways in which one is being treated harmfully,” she said.

Rozana also echoed Marina’s sentiments, saying the organisation is willing to assist any policymakers.

“We would be more than happy to meet up with any policymakers and brief them on the report’s contents. This includes political parties, such as PAS,” she said.

The survey was carried out by market research firm Ipsos between 2018 and 2019 in two phases, with the quantitative phase involving 675 Muslim women across the country aged between 18 and 55.

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