The struggle for gender equality is far from over

International Women's Day Message
by Chong Eng

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): It is undeniable that women in Malaysia have made much advancement in recent years. Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution and several other laws had been amended to give equal status to women. However, the struggle for gender equality is far from over.

Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention to Eradicate All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We therefore expect the government to realize its pledge to bring about gender equality in the country.

We note that some of the requests of women's groups, including that of DAP Women, have been fulfilled. The setting up of the Women and Family Development Ministry and the amendments to the 1961 Infant Guardianship Act are two examples.

Nevertheless, we are of the view that there is still much to be done to bring about a more equal relationship between men and women, a safer society for girls and women and a better, friendlier and safer working environment for women. To achieve these objectives, we believe that the following ten areas must be given priority:

1. Do not turn Malaysia into an Islamic state. Any religion-based political system borders on conservatism and will make the struggle for gender equality even harder.

2. Amend all laws and regulations that are discriminatory against women.

3. Free women from the role of being the sole care giver to the child and family by encouraging men to assume responsibility and establish public and non-profit childcare centres so that women who choose to work have equal career opportunity.

4. Implement gender sensitizing training programmes for all decision makers in the public and private sectors so that they would be aware of the different gender perspectives when planning policies for men and women. Such gender sensitizing programmes should also be introduced into the school curriculum.

5. Improve the existing legal system so that perpetrators of sexual offences are convicted and amend the present legislation on domestic violence, rape and incest to afford wider protection to victims.

6. Adopt gender sensitive budgeting and allocate public resources to implement plans and projects that promote gender equality.

7. Set up a Family Court to ensure efficient and speeding hearings on family-related matters in a non-adversarial environment. Family disputes and marital problems usually have more impact on the weaker sex and children. The longer the delay, the more they suffer.

8. Establish a fund to help women in financial crisis, e.g. wives who are abandoned by their husbands, so as to assist them through their difficult period. Agencies should also be put in place to provide further assistance to enable these women and their family to be independent. Such a move would help prevent them from making a living through the sex industry.

9. Ensure all women service centres are well managed and function properly to help women in crisis and promote gender equality. It must provide counseling and shelter services for women in need.

10. In line with the international commitment to increase the participation of women in decision making, all public appointment like cabinet ministers, municipal councilors and department heads should be made up of at least 30% women by 2005.

In conjunction with the International Women's Day, DAP Women calls on the Minister for Women and Family Development, Datuk Seri Sharizat in particular and the government in general to implement the above ten points to promote women's rights and gender equality.


*  Chong Eng, DAP Deputy Secretary General & MP for Bukit Mertajam