PETALING JAYA: Women’s rights groups are all for legislation against gender discrimination, especially as Malaysia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group president Winnie Yee said a Malaysian law is needed so that the provisions under Cedaw could be made available to citizens as a domestic law.
Yee said the proposed Gender Equality Act is one way for the nation to fulfil its obligations as a Cedaw signatory.
“Once we sign (Cedaw), it means that we agree to gender equality and justice, and there should not be any reluctance by lawmakers to pass it,” she said.
She added that the Act would enable women to be on a level playing field with men.
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) advocacy manager Yu Ren Chung said current laws do not adequately prohibit gender discrimination in all fields.
“Constitutional guarantees of equality have been interpreted narrowly by the courts, to not include the private sector,” he said.
Yu added that although the Employment Act may be amended soon, it needs a provision on gender discrimination as current laws under the Act do not apply to Sabah and Sarawak and are limited to employment issues.
He said matters such as health, family law, civil and political rights were not covered.
“Even in employment, discrimination in recruitment may not be covered by the Employment Act amendments,” he said.
Yu pointed out that the Act must also create positive and proactive duties to accelerate gender equality as historically, discrimination has resulted in gaps in rights and opportunities for women.
He also called for the Act to include provisions to ensure that its intent is realised, such as adequate budgeting and creating mechanisms to facilitate access to justice and remedies for women who have been discriminated against.
In a statement, WAO vice-president Meera Samanther called for a timeline for tabling the related Bill in Parliament, adding that the law will ensure that women who experience discrimination can easily get justice without having to go through a “lengthy, tiring and costly process”.
“Malaysia also has an international obligation to enact this law. It is key to (achieving) gender equality in Malaysia,” she added.
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor executive director Angela Kuga Thas said gender equality should also be introduced in public education.
“We need to shift expectations and mindsets that are very stereotypical,” she said.
“Intersectionality is an issue too. A person can be discriminated against because of sex, age, religion.
“So I hope that the Act is comprehensive and based on international human rights standards,” she added.