Contrary to claims by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, Sisters in Islam (SIS) said feminists should not and will not support the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
The proposed amendments, which would empower the syariah court to impose higher punishments, is not the solution to protect women from alleged discrimination under the law, SIS said.
"If PAS and Putrajaya were really concerned about women’s rights, they would have supported our call to amend the present Islamic Family Law Act 1984 (IFL) – a call which SIS and our supporters have made loud and clear since the inception of this organisation.
"Simply increasing punishments for ex-husbands who do not pay maintenance fails to tackle the root of the problems in syariah courts," SIS said in a statement yesterday.
Among others, the NGO cited provisions in the existing IFL that discriminate women, poor implementation of the law and the absence of gender sensitivity among syariah court staff as problems that would remain unaddressed with the proposed amendments.
"Therefore SIS, as a Muslim feminist organisation, reiterates our objection to Act 355, for it is a law that is unfeminist, unjust and most importantly, un-Islamic," it stressed.
Ashraff Wajdi (photo) had last week claimed that women and feminists should support the proposed amendments to Act 355 as it would protect them from victimisation.
"At present, the syariah court can only impose a fine of RM5,000 for failure to give alimony. This is inadequate for divorcees," Ashraff Wajdi was quoted as saying.
Commenting further, SIS also challenged PAS and Putrajaya to provide evidence to show that the proposed higher punishments would lead to better conditions for women seeking justice in the syariah court.
"If PAS and Putrajaya are really concerned about feminism, they would have supported SIS and other women’s rights groups’ call to review the present Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE), which have mostly been applied against women, transgender people and individuals who are of lower economic status.
"If the existing fine amount of RM5,000 under Act 355 is already affecting the livelihood of most transgender women, the passing of the amendment that proposes a RM100,000 fine, will definitely cause more discrimination against them," SIS argued.
At the same time, SIS also said, feminism does not aim to achieve justice and equality through imposing higher punishments, but rather through addressing systemic barriers, such as unjust laws, poor implementation of laws and limited access to the justice system due to strained economic conditions.
"These systemic barriers, unfortunately, are not at all addressed (in the amendment bill)," it said.
The bill to amend the Act was tabled in Parliament by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and is expected to be debated and passed in the March sitting.
The proposed amendments, if endorsed, will see the present punishment cap raised to 30 years' jail, RM100,000 fine and 100 strokes of the cane.