In October 2000, Dato’ Shahrizat, then Deputy Minister of the Women’s Affairs Secretariat (HAWA), now appointed Minister for the new Women and Family Development Ministry, initiated a National Steering Committee on Violence Against Women (VAW). The committee comprises governmental agencies and non-governmental organisations. WAO joined this committee in the hope of bringing about change on a national level to stop VAW, to push for changes in the laws and protocols, and to network with governmental agencies on issues of violence and gender inequality.
After much deliberating, the Steering Committee recognised that the definition of violence is not limited to physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse, but that VAW is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedom on a basis of equality with men.
The Steering Committee planned on a short-term and long-term approach to eliminate violence from society.
The scope of the work is:
- Review, set-up and improve immediate services for victims of VAW.
- Review laws, policies and protocols pertaining to VAW.
- Raise public awareness and bring about attitudinal change.
- Eliminate discrimination against women.
With regards to item 4, the Steering Committee also agreed to look into:
The elimination of all forms of discrimination with specific reference to the amendment of Article 8 (2) of the federal Constitution.
Article 8 (1) of the Constitution provides that:
“All persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law” (Article 8 (1).
Yet the protection against gender discrimination guaranteed in Article 8 (1) is not upheld in Article 8 (2),
“Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, decent or place of birth in any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.” (Article 8 (2).
This absence of State sanctioned protection against sexual discrimination in the Federal Constitution has failed to protect against a legal system and social structures in which equality between the sexes is apparent – and in which violence against women, a glaring example of discrimination, continues to inhibit women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on the basis of equality with men.