In response to the recent amendments to the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories), the All Women's Action Society (Awam) wishes to voice its grave concerns on the substance of the amendments as well as the manner with which the bill was passed.
We are alarmed by several provisions in the bill including the amendment extending fasakh (a type of divorce) to men, who already have the right to talaq (divorce) while a woman's right to seek divorce remain unchanged; and the loosening of conditions for polygamy, wherein a man now only has to prove that the polygamous marriage is necessary rather than just as well.
This will worsen rather than resolve the problem of irresponsible husbands taking on another wife despite being unable or unwilling to provide for their first wives and children.
Also, Section 107A of the bill erodes a Muslim woman's right to property, which enables a husband to obtain a court injunction to prevent the disposition of property by his wife. It is likely that women who are faced with abusive treatment by their husbands will now stay silent, for fear of being dispossessed of their rightful property when obtaining divorce.
Awam questions the need for the bill to be rushed through Parliament, to the extent that Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz invoked the whip to ensure that Barisan Nasional senators vote for the bill. We have yet to hear a good rationale on why this must be so. Uniformity of Islamic law across all states is an unsound justification to force the passing of a bill upon which many grave reservations have been aired.
Awam believes that the public must be involved in the process of creating such laws. We all have a stake in this. The repercussions of this bill touch every strata of society, including non-Muslims, who live side-by-side with Muslims as their fellow citizens. It is essential for the government to be more responsive to the needs of the people, who should have been consulted from the beginning.
We therefore support the call by Sisters in Islam, as part of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, not to gazette and enforce the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) 2005 pending further amendments. Awam urges the government to immediately deal with concerns on this issue, in line with the prime minister's stance at the Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting in May 2005 that the laws and regulations of this country must not discriminate against women.
The author is president of the All Women's Action Society (Awam)