On 28 July 2017, the UN CEDAW Committee published a hard-hitting list of issues and questions, directed to the Malaysian government, on the status of women’s rights in the country, as such information was missing from the government’s report to the CEDAW Committee.
The Committee’s list includes questions on the progress made by the government to enact legislation to incorporate provisions of the CEDAW convention into domestic law (such as through the Gender Equality Act); the measures that have been adopted by the government to protect lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women from violence—including state-sponsored ‘rehabilitation’ camps; the protections that have been afforded to migrant domestic workers who are being abused by their employers; the steps taken to reconcile inconsistencies between civil and Syariah laws around marriage and family relations; and the actions taken to ensure access to healthcare for all women, including those who are stateless or in detention.
The government must submit responses to the questions by the Committee within six weeks, and these responses will subsequently inform the discussion between the government and the CEDAW Committee at Malaysia’s February 2018 review in Geneva.
According to Shanthi Dairiam, Malaysian women’s rights activist and former CEDAW Committee member, “The CEDAW review is an international mechanism for monitoring the compliance of the government with their obligations to fulfill women’s right to equality undertaken at the international level. A timely submission of its CEDAW report to the UN, and the quality of the report, marks the Government’s commitment to honour its obligations to women in the country.”
Malaysia’s 2018 review will be public, and will culminate in the CEDAW Committee issuing a set of recommendations to the Malaysian government containing specific measures it should take to eliminate discrimination and ensure the enjoyment of human rights for all women in Malaysia.
Ms. Dairiam emphasised the importance of these recommendations, stating that, “The expert findings of the CEDAW Committee must be seriously taken note of by all, as they will indicate the progress of women in this country.”
37 Malaysian NGOs provided a written submission to the CEDAW Committee as well as an in-person briefing to members of the Committee on 24th July in Geneva, highlighting critical areas of concern.
“CEDAW provides an important mechanism for holding the government accountable in fulfilling its obligations to protect and promote women’s rights. We were pleased to see a number of the issues we flagged for the Committee—from Malaysia’s continued failure to criminalise marital rape, to the increasing occurrence of child marriage—prioritised in the Committee’s questions to the government,” said Hui Ying, President of the Association of Women Lawyers, who attended the NGO briefing in Geneva.
CEDAW, or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is the primary source of international law on women’s human rights and guides governments to implement laws and policy that uphold gender equality across all cultures, nations, and religions.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) :
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
- Justice for Sisters
- Perak Women for Women (PWW)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
- Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC Penang)