WAO’s Message on International Human Rights Day
10 December 2001
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is marking the International Human Rights Day on December 10th, by calling upon the Malaysian government and public to uphold women’s right to live a life free from the fear of violence.
Violence against women, both violates and impairs the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These rights and freedoms include: the right to life; the right to equality; the right to liberty and security of person; the right to equal protection under the law; the right to be free from all forms of discrimination; the right to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health; the right to just and favourable conditions of work; the right not to be subjected to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Yet, domestic violence is still not regarded seriously as a crime, with very little actual protection afforded, women are still being blamed for “inciting” rape, victims of sexual harassment still do not have formal legal recourse, and foreign domestic workers are still not viewed as workers with rights of an employee. In year 2000, there were 3468 reported cases of domestic violence, 136 reported cases of incest, and 1217 reported cases of rape, out of which approximately 69.4% of the rapes occurred in “safe” places (houses, schools etc.).
The fear of violence can be crippling. Women who are in abusive relationships often feel so trapped by their fear that they are unable to even imagine escape. Sexual harassment in the workplace can create such a hostile environment for the victim that it may affect her performance, making her feel powerless, especially if the harasser is someone who is in a higher position. Gender – based violence is discrimination within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Malaysia has ratified to in 1995. This discrimination seriously inhibits women’s full participation in society in the achievement of equality, development and peace.
Essentially, the protection of women’s right to freedom from violence is imperative.
- In terms of domestic violence: after a victim has attained an Interim Protection Order from the court, ensure that her protection is valid by deploying enough resources to arrest the perpetrator if he should breach the Order. This not only protects the victim from further harm, but also prevents a potential crime from occurring. WAO also calls for domestic violence to be included in the Penal Code as a specific crime, and for the definition of domestic violence to be broadened to include psychological, mental and emotional abuse. Standardise and accelerate Protection Orders so that women are ensured protection within 24 hours.
- Widen the legal definition of rape to include any other orifices of the body by any means of objects other than the penis, and recognise and punish marital rape. Preventive measures towards eliminating rape should be taken. We start by educating men and boys that real men do not abuse, and that they can choose to respect women, thereby choosing to act in a non-violent manner towards women. The question that should be asked from now is not what women should do to protect themselves from rape, but what men can do to stop rape.
- Pass the Bill on Sexual Harassment so that victims are given meaningful access to recourse.
- Have a standard employment contract between employers and foreign domestic workers to include minimum wage, working hours, rest days, access to health services and full possession of personal documents (passport, savings book) to the workers. This is to ensure that their basic rights as employees are recognised and fully protected.
- WAO also calls upon the government to set up rape, domestic violence and migrant women shelters so that victims may have a safe place to stay and receive counselling and legal support, and that resources are provided for training of police, welfare and court officials so that they are sensitised to the dynamics of violence against women. A 24 – hour hotline for abuse victims should also be set up to ensure prompt and effective crisis intervention.
All these practical proposals have been put into a Law Reform Postcard Campaign that was carried out from 21st August 2001 – 16th September 2001. WAO have collected more than 6500 postcards from the public urging the government to review, legislate or amend the relevant laws and policies to prevent and eradicate violence against women. With that, we hope that the government and people of Malaysia’s commitment to restore women’s human rights in the elimination of gender-based violence will be renewed and strengthened not just on International Human Rights Day, but on every day of the year.