Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women : Improve Implementation Capacity

Press Statement
Chong Eng

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday):Firstly, we are pleased to say that several good things came out of the NAM meeting.

The Putrajaya Declaration, which came out of this meeting, is another blueprint for the empowerment of women, complementing the Beijing Declaration adopted in 1995. 

It is hoped that we will be able to make sure the proposals are implemented, as we have decided to meet every two years from now on.


Not only that, there is now talk of setting up a NAM Centre on Gender and Development to enhance womenís empowerment through a lifelong-learning approach. 


This has been supported by our PM who has urged that all laws and regulations that are discriminatory to women must be reviewed or amended to reflect the countryís policy on gender equality.


He said encouraged promoting legal literacy to educate women of their rights, sensitising policy makers, planners and implementers on the needs and interests of women.


He also touched on involving mainstreaming gender-based perspectives into national development plans and policies and the budgeting process.


This is all good news and we hope that on this high note, we can start to work harder towards realizing these important goals and objectives.


In August 2001, the Federal Constitution was amended to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender. This should spur us on to continue putting into practice all the policies that promote gender equality but in fact, there have been many instances where very little has been done.


The 6th Mísia Plan (1986-1990) was the first time that recognition was given to the role of women in economic and social activities.


In the 2nd National Economic Consultative Council report(2001-2010), there was a also chapter on the development and advancement of women.


Under the 8 th Mísia Plan, Article 8 (2) of the Federal Constitution was amended to prohibit discrimination based on gender. This is a major step forward in upholding the principle of equality between men and women in Malaysia.


In line with this, the Immigration Deptís regulations were amended to allow foreign spouses of Malaysian women to renew their social pass once every 6 months, instead of every 3 months.


The Social Security Organisation Act 1969 was also amended in 2003 to allow widows and widowers to qualify for pension payments, even after they remarry. Previously, only widows were entitled to the pensions of their husbands and could not continue to receive her late husbandís pension payments once they remarried.


Guardianship of Infants Act was amended in  to allow both parents to be the legal guardians; previously, the law recognised only the father as the legal guardian of a minor.


The Domestic Violence Act 1994 was a landmark legislation for the advancement of womenís rights and issues in this country.


Amendments were also made to Section 375 and 376 in the Penal Code on the issues relating to rape and incest.


All these moves and more are laudable but there are many more policies dating back to the 6th, 7th  and 8th Mísia Plan which have not been implemented. We urge the government to implement these policies and programmes and amend laws that do not treat women as an equal citizen as soon as possible. 


We have very well thought out plans but weak in implementation. Women NGOs have been calling on the government to amend some gender discriminatory laws since 1985. This could be due to the lack of knowledge and awareness among policy-makers and decision-makers. We urge the government to allocate more funding, resources and training to increased the implementation capacity of the Ministry of Women, Family and social Development.   


We are of the opinion that the following areas should be given priority in the 9th Malaysia Plan:


1.   The setting up of child care centres and after-school care centres has been proposed in the 6 th Mísia Plan as well as in MAPEN II, but to date, no decision seems to be forthcoming, let alone action.


Ensuring quality care and early education for the young as well as allowing mothers to work outside, particularly for low-income families, child care centres is one of the best social investments we can make. In some countries, child care centres are seen as governmentís social responsibility as well as a measure of poverty eradication and social ills prevention.


2.   Encourage employers to provide the necessary support for female staff. Such as Flexi working time programmes, as mentioned in the 6th Mísia Plan. Government should lead by example.


3.   More and more women these days are becoming HIV-positive and developing AIDs due to infection through their husbands. And once they get pregnant, the chances of passing on the diseases to the unborn child is 1 in 3.


It has been reported that between 1968 and 2003, more housewives than sex workers were getting infected, due to the wives not being able to stand up to their husbandsí demands as well as a lack of awareness about the issue. Sex workers on the other hand knew how to protect themselves.


We need to empower our women, through education and outreach programmes and funds have to be allocated to women NGOs to carry out their work effectively.


4.   Gender Budgeting is basically to put the gender perspective into the National Budget, to consider the needs of women in the allocation of resources in the annual Budget.


Eg. Crime against women is a serious issue. The Internal Security Ministry must ensure that adequately trained personnel can handle sexual crime cases and domestic abuse cases properly.


5.   Eliminate stereotyped gender constructs of men and women in school textbooks, in order to wiping out prejudices and customary practices based on stereotyped roles for men and women. Eg. Pictures or situations in books that depict the father going out to work while the mother stays in the kitchen cooking.


      There are gender gaps too in our school system where girls tend to dominate the arts, business and

      economic courses but are a minority in technical or science courses such as engineering. If the situation

      based on certain prejudices, then it must be dealt with and girls should be encouraged to go into any field they desire.


6.   Upgrade the services of the various Rumah Nur, which offer counselling and referral services. Allocate funds to train their staff and ensure the centres are equipped with facilities to enable them to provide competent services to mums in need.


7.   A Family Court must be established to deal with divorce cases, domestic violence issues and family disputes. The govt had in theory agreed to setting up a family court in 2002 but it stops at that so far. For guidance, we can look to the Family Court setup in New Zealand and Australia and then modify it to suit our requirements.


8.   The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development must lead rather than just facilitate. They must act on their plan to introduce gender-sensitisation programmes to all aspects of govt, including Ministers, civil & syariah court judges & officials, and MPs.


9.   Ensure that Gender Focal Points in each ministry monitor all discriminatory practices against women and put into place policies and legislation that promote gender equality.


10.The PM has proudly said in the NAM meeting that he is confident that the 30 per cent target for

     womenís participation at the decision-making level, as set by the government, will be achieved, without stating a time frame. We urge the PM to show his commitment by stating when the government would like to achieve the 30 per cent target.   


* Chong Eng, Chairperson for DAP Womenís Wing and MP for Bukit Mertajam