New government must prioritise women, children and vulnerable communities

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Photograph: Geralt/Pixabay

The recent resignation of the prime minister and dissolution of cabinet has placed Malaysia in a precarious position.

Ongoing work to improve the current human rights landscape and aid for the most vulnerable has been stalled by this political manoeuvering, hampering any progress made over several decades.

Amidst this great political uncertainty, rising Covid cases and a slowing economy, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) urges the new government to prioritise and uphold the rights of all women, children, and vulnerable communities in Malaysia, many of whom are most at risk of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination.

We make the following demands to the existing legislature and incoming cabinet to ensure that relevant agencies will prioritise women, children, and vulnerable communities:

  • Appoint a minister of women, family and community development who is effective, competent and gender-sensitive, someone who has a robust understanding of gender equality and non-discrimination and has the capacity to support the legal and policy work required to address it
  • Immediately institute the following legislative, constitutional and policy reforms to effectively uphold human rights:
    • Table a comprehensive sexual harassment bill as drafted by the special project team
    • Amend the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to criminalise stalking
    • Adopt the gender equality act, drafted by JAG, which defines and prohibits all forms of discrimination against women in public and private spheres and ensures the de facto equality of women
    • Amend the Employment Act 1955 to prevent discrimination based on gender, race, religion, pregnancy and marital status
    • Amend Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution to include disability as grounds for non-discrimination
    • Amend Article 15(2) to ensure automatic conferment of citizenship to children born to Malaysian mothers outside of Malaysia
    • Proceed with the implementation of the national strategy plan in handling the causes of child marriage, which was launched by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in January 2020
  • Revive and review gender mainstreaming plans, which would focus on gender-sensitive policies and processes, aiming to bring about the equality of women and men, including:
    • Gender-responsive budgeting in state and national budgets
    • Collection of gender-disaggregated data and data disaggregated according to other relevant categories
  • Uphold our international obligations to women, children and persons with disabilities
  • Adhere to reporting standards and implement recommendations by committees from currently ratified treaties, which are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Remove reservations from the aforementioned treaties:
    • Cedaw: Article 9(2) on granting women equal rights as men with respect to nationality of their children and Article 16 (1) (a, c, f, g) on measures to be taken to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations
    • CRC: Articles 2, 7, 14, 28 (1)(a) and 37 which enshrine the respective rights to non-discrimination; name and nationality; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; free and compulsory primary education; as well as against torture and deprivation of liberties
    • CRPD: Article 15 on freedom from torture or cruel and inhumane punishment and Article 18 on liberty of movement and nationality
  • Monitor, evaluate and implement the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and sustainable development goals
  • Ensure a MINIMUM of 30% of our cabinet and other government-linked decision-making bodies are represented by women. This would be double the last lineup, where only 5 of 31 ministers were women (15.2%)
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… JAG reiterates that all the government leadership, especially the minister of women, family and community development, has the duty to speak up for, uphold and protect the interests and rights of women, children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

We have had enough of women, children, and vulnerable communities being sidelined amidst political tussles. Rhetoric and ineffective policies will get us nowhere. We remind the incoming government that any government of the day has the ultimate duty to serve all in Malaysia.

JAG calls on the new government to publicly commit to and stand by its efforts in ensuring accountability and adequate access to redress for all who face violence, discrimination and inequality – only then, will the Rakyat have confidence in this new leadership.

Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:

  • Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  • Women’s Centre for Change (WCC Penang)
  • Kryss Network
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  • Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
  • Justice for Sisters
  • Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  • Tenaganita
  • All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
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