ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY
24th February 2019, IKRAM Central Headquarters, Selangor
SERI KEMBANGAN, Feb 24 – MIZAN was represented by Vice President, Farhana Roslan and Centre of Research & Excellence (CORE) Head, Nur Izzaidah Abdull Zubi in a Roundtable Discussion (RTD) on Human Rights & Gender Equality. The RTD was held at the IKRAM Central Headquarters and chaired by YB Nor Azrina @ Nurin Aina, Member of Parliament for Merbok and also Chairperson of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Human Rights and Gender Equality. Other than YB Nurin, the PSC also consists of YB Charles Santiago, MP for Klang (DAP), YB Ahmad Fahmi Bin Mohamed Fadzil, MP for Lembah Pantai (PH-PKR), YB Kasthuriraani A/P Patto, MP for Batu Kawan (PH-DAP), YB Ma’mun Bin Sulaiman, MP for Kalabakan (WARISAN), YB Datin Mastura Binti Mohd Yazid, MP for Kuala Kangsar (BN-UMNO) and YB Hajah Zailah Binti Mohd Yusoff, MP for Rantau Panjang (PAS).
In November 2018, Malaysia as a ratifying member state of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), concluded the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This third UPR gave birth to a substantial 400-page joint report by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) in Malaysia. Many efforts have been undertaken to present the findings in this report to stakeholders, including the Government and the PSC on Human Rights and Gender Equality. A parallel but relatively less prominent report had also been submitted by the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review Process (MACSA), offering an alternative set of findings to the CEDAW report by WAO and JAG.
However, the kind of traction that such alternative voices enjoy has been sanguine, despite the relatively larger mainstream majority that they likely represent.
The roundtable was organized by Pertubuhan IKRAM, with the aim of mobilizing and organizing multiple groups of Muslim and moderate multi-religious NGOs into one voice, to represent the voice of the larger mainstream majority of Malaysians. This voice shall take into account the cultural nuances that shape our social fabric and Malaysian life. These nuances include defining aspects of religion, culture, and the socio-economic construct that gave birth to the Malaysian society. The CEDAW reports by WAO and JAG and by MACSA serve as starting points to this discussion. The roundtable was attended by the Chair and some member organizations of MACSA, Pertubuhan IKRAM (Central chapter), and MIZAN.
Issues & Concerns
While Malaysia is a ratifying party to the UN CEDAW convention, we have stipulated eight reservations to the convention, particularly on the commitment to alter social and cultural patterns of conduct for men and women, as well as the complete elimination of differences surrounding marriages, including rights for individuals to enter or dissolve marriages, rights and responsibilities for guardianship of children, and child marriages.
These reservations pay respect to prevailing religious, cultural, and social constructs that are deemed to protect the wellbeing of Malaysians – especially women and children – by way of encouraging healthy practices and conduct, discouraging the opposite, but in no way obstructing the rights of citizenship and livelihood of citizens who do not fall within the definitions of these prevailing norms.
The roundtable acknowledges and agrees the CEDAW Report by WAO and JAG presents evidences of mistreatment of women within the society and gaps in the prevailing legal systems, which brought rise to six cases featured by the report. These 6 cases are marital rape, unilateral conversion of children under custody, female genital mutilation (FGM), injustice towards migrant workers, registration of foreign spouses, and a transgender woman. However, the roundtable wishes to highlight the evident lack of academic discipline within the report, which took on a heavily anecdotal approach. For example, the terminologies utilized by the report, such as the FGM and the concept of within-marriage “rape”, heavily embody its biased and unenlightened position on practices which already have religious and cultural positions (the actual religious ruling on the practice is a completely separate matter, requiring education and nuance).
In contrast, parties to the roundtable believe that a more holistic approach is one that considers the sensitivity and positions of majority of Malaysians, consisting of Muslims and equally culturally-sensitive fellow Malaysians of other religions. Disregarding these sensitivities risks the appearance of condoning, in large and structural proportions, a completely free reign for members of the society to promote and encourage the proliferation of unsafe and unnatural practices, as defined by adopted religions and cultural norms of majority Malaysians. It is our position that an approach that considers the religio-cultural sensitivities, do not only wholeheartedly reject forms of discrimination to women and children of all backgrounds, but in fact offers a superior form of worldview that in fact additionally insists on the lifting of the Martabat (honour or dignity) of women and children, within the existing social construct.
In summary, the resolution of the roundtable is to jointly put forth a balancing view that balances out the position of the WAO-JAG joint report and Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO), in the following ways;
1. That Muslim NGOs are to co-operate in research, participation in discourses and dialogues, as well as promotional and lobbying activities, to put forth a united front to express moderate views of majority Muslims and friends of other faith, incorporating the articles of CEDAW in so far as they do not seriously religious and cultural sensitivities that majority Malaysians subscribe to;
2. That Muslim NGOs in unison, question the definitions utilized by the WAO-JAG report and COMANGO, where such terms – equality, equity, substantive equality, etc. – are used, and the necessity and practicality of the proposed Gender Equality Act in the first place, especially where it already superimposes on clauses prevailing in existing laws;
3. That Muslim NGOs in unison, agree to reject the promotion of unhealthy and unnatural forms of gender and sexual practices that is in direct contrast with Islam and religions ascribed to by citizens of Malaysia, but however;
4. Also reject the mistreatment, discrimination, and denial of livelihood of transgender citizens, such as in their rights for access to healthcare, education, and rights to perform duties as a citizen of Malaysia;
5. That Muslim NGOs in unison, agree to work alongside members of other faiths to construct a value-based framework that leverages on inter-faith and / or political platforms to prepare against the potential threat of louder and more extreme conservative voices dominating the narrative and dampening efforts towards social cohesion within the multi-ethnic multi-cultural Malaysian setting.
The roundtable concluded with a commitment by all present representatives to offer support and assistance to YB Nurin Aina in her current role as the Chair of the PSC on Human Rights and Gender Equality.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.
Muslimah Interest Zone and Networking (MIZAN) is a group of young professional Malaysian women, leveraging on social and digital media platforms, focusing on educating, advocating and leadership capacity building amongst our generation to empower and enable women to become leading voices within themselves, their families and their communities.
Prepared by Farhana Roslan, Vice President of MIZAN; with
Nur Izzaidah Abdull Zubi; Head – Centre of Research & Excellence (CORE)
In particular, the reservations are on Articles 5(a), 7(b), 9(2.), 16(1.)(a), 16(1.)(c), 16(1.)(f), 16(1.)(g), and 16(2.) of the CEDAW convention text.