The recent proposal by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to introduce a Gender Equality Act to tackle issues on discrimination against women, though it should be welcomed by all, should also be fully examined in detail before full implementation is carried out by taking into account the local culture and religious sensitivity of the peoples in the country.
Since the wording used in the proposed act is ‘gender equality’, is the meaning similar to the one being used in the west? If it so, it might give rise to misunderstanding to certain peoples as it will be seen to be against local culture and religions like Islam which interprets gender equality in a different way and understanding as compared to the West.
It worth noting also that in 1995, Malaysia had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1979 with reservations to some of its provisions like Articles 9(2) on states parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children,16(1)(a) where states parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women for the same right to enter into marriage; 16(1) (c) on the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution, 16(1)(f) on the same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount and 16(1)(g) on the same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation.
Full implementation of the any international convention including CEDAW or laws should have its limitations. For Malaysia which has a very complex society which includes peoples from different religious and cultural backgrounds, some reservations over the convention or laws which might go against the basic religious principles and cultural value are needed in order to ensure social harmony within the society.
As such, the latest proposal for a Gender Equality Act should be examined first before being tabled in the Parliament. Just a mere suggestion, instead of using gender equality term, the government may also consider using the term ‘anti-discrimination’ for the proposed Act as it would reduce chances of misunderstanding in the future and at the same time would able to focus on the targeted issue which is to put an end to act of discrimination against women in our country.
DR MUZAFFAR SYAH MALLOW is a senior lecturer, Faculty of Syariah & Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (Usim).