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Malaysia scores poorly in NGO report on the government’s international obligations to end discrimination against women





Today, Malaysian NGOs launched a report called CEDAW and Malaysia: Malaysian Non-Government Organisations’ Alternative Report assessing the Government’s progress in implementing the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

“NGOs became tired of waiting for the Malaysian government report, which was due four years ago,” explained Ivy Josiah, Executive Director of Women’s Aid Organisation, which coordinated the report.

“So in the absence of the government report, 22 NGOs got together to develop an ‘Alternative Report’ which details the government’s progress in implementing the Convention’s provisions. We urge the government to submit their report by the end of the year,” added Josiah.

Ivy Josiah, Executive Director of WAO, presenting at the launch


The lead writer of the report, Sarah Thwaites, a Programme Officer at Women’s Aid Organisation, said, “Disappointingly, the Malaysian government has not incorporated CEDAW into national law.  There is no gender equality legislation in place to realise substantive equality.”

Thwaites added, “There seems to be a lack of political will to fully implement CEDAW.  Unfortunately, this means that discrimination based on gender is alive and well in Malaysia.”

The government’s non-compliance with CEDAW is stark. Shanthi Dairiam, a former CEDAW Committee member explains, “Globally CEDAW has the least number of overdue reports as compared to other treaties, but Malaysia stands out as going against that trend in fulfilling its reporting obligations.  It now owes three reports: the third, fourth and fifth.”

The alternative report provides examples of the impact of gender discrimination, including the: continued under-representation of women in politics and decision-making positions; consistently low women’s labour force participation; lack of labour rights afforded to migrant domestic workers; non-recognition of refugees’ identity; legal permissibility of child marriage; policing of morality; lack of rights-based sex education; and non-recognition of marital rape.

In the report, NGOs highlighted two issues for the Malaysian government to address immediately:

– Gender stereotypes create a disempowering environment of conformity for women and encourage discrimination against women.  These stereotypes range from housework perceived to be “women’s work”, whether undertaken by Malaysian women or migrant domestic workers, to government-condoned vilification of women of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.  These stereotypes result in, for example, the continued low level of women in leadership positions.  NGOs seek the government’s plan of action to end the perpetuation of gender stereotypes.

– In July 2011, a High Court judgement affirmed the binding nature of CEDAW on Malaysia and declared that the Ministry of Education had discriminated against a woman by withdrawing her job offer as a temporary teacher because she was pregnant.  The government appealed this decision, demonstrating that it wishes to continue to discriminate against women on the basis of pregnancy and disregard the provisions of CEDAW.  NGOs seek the government’s plan of action to fully implement CEDAW in Malaysia.

Speaking at the launch was Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, who won the gender discrimination lawsuit against the Ministry of Education in July 2011.  “An officer asked any pregnant recruits to step forward,” she described.  “I was asked to hand over my job placement letter, and told that pregnant women couldn’t be employed as temporary teachers.”

“I hope no other woman has to face this type of gender discrimination.  This incident was a real eye-opener on gender equality,” Noorfadilla added.

Also speaking at the launch were Datuk Dr. Khaw Lake Tee, Vice Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM); Koyilvani a/p Saminathan, who represented eight former women workers of Guppy Plastics Industries who in 2001 were forced to retire at a younger age than men workers; and Nisha Ayub, who spoke about discrimination transwomen in Malaysia face.

WAO EXCO Board Members at the Launch

WAO EXCO Board Members at the Launch

The Malaysian government acceded to CEDAW in July 1995.  Since then, it has reported to the CEDAW Committee only once – it prepared a combined first and second report in 2004 and appeared before the Committee in 2006. The government is obligated to submit a report to the CEDAW Committee every four years.

The report can be viewed at Women’s Aid Organisation’s website, or at this link.

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