Press Statement from the Joint Group for Gender Equality
JAG welcomes the government’s removal of three reservations to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and urges the government to remove the remaining five reservations
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) welcomes the government’s announcement that it has removed three of its reservations to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).1 This move – which addresses discrimination against women in public life, child marriage and stereotyping of women and girls – is a step in the right direction towards Malaysia’s commitment to end discrimination against women in all aspects of our public and private lives. In addition, the government must also take every measure necessary to fully implement the provisions of CEDAW in order to fulfil its international obligations and to truly give effect to the principles of equality and non-discrimination.
JAG also congratulates the government on its appointment of the first two female Syariah Court judges for the Federal Territories of Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. We urge all state governments to follow this example, which is a concrete step forward in the process of ending the discrimination against women in holding public office as Syariah Court judges.
The appointment of the two female Syariah court judges is in line with the government’s removal of its reservation on Article 7(b) of CEDAW, which requires governments to enable women’s participation in the formulation and implementation of government policy, to hold public office and to perform all public functions at all levels of government. It is also in keeping with the 2006 national fatwa on the right of women to be appointed as judges.
While JAG agrees with the statement made by the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in condemning child marriage as a human rights violation, we urge her and the government to take the next necessary steps to amend the civil and Islamic family laws to set the minimum age to marry at 18 years, with no exceptions.
This would comply with the Child Act 2001, as well as Malaysia’s obligations under Article 16(2) of CEDAW, which prohibits child marriage, and Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines children as anyone under the age of 18. It would also conform with the government’s duty to protect children’s well-being and ensure their right to education, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and generally agreed upon in the international community.
Currently, non-Muslims in Malaysia can marry at 18 years of age for both males and females, though non-Muslim females between the ages of 16 and 18 can marry with the authorisation of When a government accepts an international convention such as CEDAW, it can assert reservations to parts of that convention. Reservations are not meant to be permanent as they prevent the full and effective implementation of that convention. the Chief Minister. For Muslims, the minimum age to marry is 16 years for females and 18 for males, with an exception for Muslim girls below 16, who are able to marry with the Syariah Court’s consent.
Recent data showing the rates of pre-marital HIV testing in Malaysia indicate that there are high numbers of girls under 16 years of age who intend to marry.2 Shockingly, 32 girls under 10 years of age undertook the pre-marital HIV test in 2009. No boys in that age group were tested, and only 2 boys in the 10-14 age group were tested, compared to 445 girls. The data indicates that girl children are getting married, and to men who are much older than them.
It is appalling that the government would allow girls to marry at such a young age and that the law provides for this. The government must amend both civil and Islamic family laws to ensure that all boys and girls are protected from child marriage.
JAG welcomes the lifting of the government’s reservation on Article 5(a) of CEDAW, which requires the government “to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”
Given the government’s professed commitment to end all laws that discriminate against women, as well as its position as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, JAG urges the government to remove its five remaining reservations, which relate to nationality and marriage and family relations, and to amend the related domestic laws.
The laws that must be amended include several provisions in Islamic Family Law that discriminate against women and the constitutional provision that recognizes only Malaysian men, and not Malaysian women, as having the right to confer citizenship on children born overseas. This leaves Malaysian women with considerable difficulties upon their return to Malaysia, as their children are considered foreigners and do not enjoy the rights of citizenship, such as attending government schools.
JAG congratulates the government on its initial steps to remove reservations to CEDAW and urges the removal of all of the remaining reservations and a more active commitment to implementing the provisions of CEDAW to move towards ending all forms of discrimination against women in Malaysia.
Women’s Aid Organisation
1When a government accepts an international convention such as CEDAW, it can assert reservations to parts of that convention. Reservations are not meant to be permanent as they prevent the full and effective implementation of that convention.
2UNGASS Country Progress Report – Malaysia, March 2010 (http://data.unaids.org/pub/Report/2010/malaysia_2010 country_progress_report_en.pdf)
For and on behalf of Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) which comprises:
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
P.O. Box 493 Jalan Sultan,
46760 Petaling Jaya,
Tel: +60 3 7957 5636 / 0636
Fax:+60 3 7956 3237
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
7 Jalan 6/10,
46000 Petaling Jaya,
Tel: + 60 3 77856121
Fax:+60 3 77858737
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
13 Lorong 4/48E,
46050 Petaling Jaya,
Tel: +60 3 778449777
Fax: + 60 3 77844978
All Women’s Action Society(AWAM)
85 Jalan 21/1, Sea Park,
46300 Petaling Jaya,
Tel: +60 3 78774221
Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
24 Jones Road,
10250 Penang, Malaysia
Tel:+60 4 2280342
Fax:60 4 2285784