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WAC on MP Fong Poh Kuan and Gender Discrimination in the Parliament

WAC Press Statement

The Suspension of MP Fong Poh Kuan and Gender Discrimination in The Parliament

25 January 2002

Women’s Agenda for Change (WAC) is gravely disappointed with the harsh response meted out to Member of Parliament, Y.B. Fong Poh Kuan for speaking out on the CLP issue on 11 December 2000.

Undemocratic and Unfair
The harsh and unprecedented decision to penalise Y.B. Fong by cutting her allowance with six months suspension is both undemocratic and unfair. Parliament’s important role as a forum for critique and as a focal point for the public on issues relating to our country is seriously undermined when a dissenting voice is met with the swift response of disciplinary action. It needs to be emphasised that it is only through debate in parliament that policies and actions taken by the government become representative of public opinion.

Gender Discrimination and Sexism
The action taken by the Parliament against a woman MP reflects a larger deeply entrenched culture within Parliament of gender discrimination and sexism. Members of Parliament from both the ruling and opposition parties have displayed gender insensitivity and poor knowledge on issues affecting women. The WAC is concerned if MPs can truly represent the women’s constituency if they persist in this fashion. Gender issues raised by Parliamentarians have been dismissed as being non-discriminatory or discussed without real understanding. Women Members of Parliament themselves have been either condescendingly dismissed as young or emotional. This denotes disrespect, gender insensitivity and gender stereotyping. This is evinced from the various statements made by several Members of Parliament. Furthermore the language used points to the sexist attitudes held by the Members of Parliament. Some examples noted from the past two years are as below:

  1. Lack of Knowledge on Gender Issues & Gender Stereotyping
    In response to a question regarding amendments to laws that discriminate women such as the Immigrations Act 1963 and the Income Tax Act, it was dismissed as being non- discriminatory, and the female MP in question was told not to be too emotional. (DR. 24.10.2000)

    “Dalam hal Akta Imegresen 1959/1963 dan Peraturan-peraturan Imegresen 1963 kerajaan tidak bercadang untuk meminda akta dan peraturan-peraturan tersebut dan juga Akta Pasport 1996 kerana kajian yang telah dijalankan oleh Kementerian Dalam Negeri menunjukkan bahawa tidak wujud apa-apa unsur diskriminasi terhadap kaum wanita dalam undang-undang itu (Pg. 10)”
    “Janganlah emosi sangat! [ketawa] (Pg. 11)”

    In a debate about the proposed legislation of sexual harassment, it was proposed by one Member of Parliament that as prevention to sexual harassment, all women should be fully covered (tutup aurat) irrespective of their religion. They were told to completely cover themselves for the good of everyone. (DR. 13.3.2000). Another example of not understanding the underlying cause of sexual harassment which is not attire but an issue of male privilege and power.

    “Jadi saya hendak cadangkan semua anggota wanita supaya menutup aurat supaya tidak timbul gangguan seksual, tak kiralah apa agama sekalipun. Jadi supaya tidak timbul gangguan seksual, takut-takut nanti ada yang salah tafsir walaupun ia tidak merupakan gangguan seksual. Pakai tudung umpamanya ialah supaya…” (Pg. 116).

  2. Condescending comments
    Comments take on a patronizing attitude. The comments below show that women MPs are not treated and respected as equals within Parliament.
  3. Comments like “‘I would like to advice my younger sister….learn from this mistake… (Pg.34)’. (DR. 11.12.2001), ‘… Batu Gajah (MP) is a new representative, young, I’ve even called her my child as she’s the same age as my daughter …(Pg. 104)’ and ‘…Batu Gajah (MP) would like to be the new Saint Joan of Arc (political martyr)…(Pg. 105)’ was also made to mock and thus belittle Fong Poh Kuan/young female Member of Parliaments’ efforts. (DR. 11.12.2001)

    “Saya ingin menasihatkan adik saya, Yang Berhormat bagi Batu Gajah, belajarlah daripada kesilapan ini….” (Pg. 34)

    “Tetapi Tuan Yang di-Pertua, saya hendak beritahulah Yang Berhormat dari Batu Gajah sebagai orang yang baru, muda, pernah saya panggil anak kerana sama umur dengan anak saya.” (Pg. 104)
    “Duduk dulu, belum habis bercakap….. menggunakan Yang Berhormat Batu Gajah menjadi Joan of Arc, hendak jadi Saint Joan of Arc yang baru Batu Gajah.” (Pg.105)

  4. Lewd language
    Lewd and patronizing language was used to humiliate a female MP by calling her a little girl and asking her to go home to “suck on a pacifier”. (DR. 29.3.2000)
  5. “Suruh balik ‘hisap pepetlah’ ini budak kecil ini.”

    Again, this displays open disrespect for fellow Parliamentarians.

Monitoring Members of Parliament

The WAC is concerned by this state of affairs. The country’s commitment to ensure gender equality and non-discrimination under Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution is critically weakened when Parliamentarians lack respect, knowledge and understanding on gender issues. WAC plans to work with concerned Members of Parliament to monitor future Parliamentary debates concerning this matter.

Women’s Agenda for Change
Women’s Agenda for Change is supported and endorsed by 90 organisations from a variety of interest areas, including women, youth, consumer, environment, unions, indigenous, religious, peace health, human rights, lawyers and grassroot groups.

Women’s Agenda for Change Organising Committee
Women’s Development Collective
All Women’s Action Society
Women’s Aid Organisation
Wanita JIM
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita
Sisters In Islam
Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall – Women’s Section
Metal Industries Employees’ Union.

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