KUALA LUMPUR: Women's and rights groups are renewing calls to urge the government to enact a Gender Equality Act as a mechanism to protect women from discrimination in various facets of life.
They made the push following the launch of a report on the status of women's human rights after 24 years of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) in Malaysia here on Wednesday (Jan 23).
"The government has an obligation to enact such a law as the current legal framework is inadequate and equality has still not been achieved despite Malaysia signing international conventions that provide for equality or non-discrimination where women are concerned," said these groups.
Also, despite the government's claim in 2006 that it was planning to adopt a Gender Equality Act, such legislation has yet to be finalised and implemented.
The report, which highlighted critical issues in women's human rights such as female circumcision, gender inequality in citizenship and discrimination against transgender women among others, was coordinated by the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) and the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) with input from 38 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific founding director Mary Shanthi Dairiam said the report was something that the groups hope would help the government to see the gaps in gender equality.
"The report should not be seen as something that is finding fault with the government but rather as something that can help the government to identify where the gaps are," she said.
Article 8(2) in the Federal Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender but has been interpreted narrowly by courts as applying only to discrimination relating to employment under a public authority and not the private sector, said Mary Shanthi.
There is also no definition of discrimination in the Federal Constitution, she said.
"The Federal Constitution doesn't say all these things but we can put such definitions in the gender equality law. It will not be in conflict with the Federal Constitution," she said.
National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO) Omna Sreeni-Ong said the groups would like to engage in a dialogue with the government and meet with various relevant ministries to ensure that the issues highlighted in the report would be taken up.
"We would welcome a dialogue with the government so that we can examine the recommendations in the report together.
"We are also taking Cedaw down to the grassroots and building capacity for everyone to advocate for gender equality issues because it's not just the government's duty but also the society's," she said at the launch of the report.
Meanwhile, the Parliament's special select committee on rights and gender equality chairperson Nor Azrina Surip when met said that the government is making positive progress towards enacting the law on gender equality.
"The progress is very encouraging. The committee has been engaging with various NGOs and stakeholder to better understand gender equality issues," said Nor Azrina, adding that the newly formed committee will be having its first meeting on Feb 8.
"We are working towards it as fast as possible but it requires a change in legislation and also debates in Parliament. Currently, it is still in the discussion stage with stakeholders," she said.