Govt urged to tackle misogyny

PETALING JAYA: As recent incidents have put the systemic rape culture in Malaysia under the spotlight, women’s rights advocates are calling for an end to this, saying the country is in need of societal changes.More comprehensive laws and plans are also needed to stamp out rape culture, which is perpetuated by misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies as well as the glamorisation and normalisation of sexual violence, they said.

Special Adviser (Law and Human Rights) to the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said perhaps it was time that the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) 2018 was revisited and its recommendations implemented.

The NHRAP, which underscored civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; rights of the vulnerable group; rights of the indigenous and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak; and international obligations, was launched in March 2018 when Azalina was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department under Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s premiership.

Azalina had yesterday suggested the reintroduction of the NHRAP as although Malaysia had laws in place for civil protection, the problem lies in legal enforcement.

“Toxic masculinity is an evil threat to gender equality! Why are we regressing? We are failing in discharging both moral and legal obligations by pretending to be oblivious and ignorant.

“Technically, we already have laws in place for civil protection and principles of morality passed down by generations.

“The problem as I see it, is (the) legal enforcement. Perhaps it is time to revisit the National Human Rights Action Plan (2018) and implement its recommendations,” Azalina said in a series of tweets yesterday which were accompanied by the #rapejokeisnotfunny hashtag.

The #rapejokeisnotfunny hashtag was among the top trending on Malaysian Twitter yesterday, with over 14,000 tweets by users.

Its traction grew following several rape culture incidents, with the most controversial one involving an actor who came under fire for his casual comments about enjoying a rape scene.

While on a TV talk show this week, Fauzi Nawawi had described in lewd details his experience where his character was supposedly raping a female character in a scene from the 2007 film Anak Halal, which had been deleted from the movie.

Women’s rights lawyer Honey Tan said the government had the legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil women’s human rights as it acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995.

“A very important obligation in which Malaysia has done poorly is to modify our social and cultural patterns of conduct to eliminate prejudices and practices that discriminate against women.

“We have to change the way we behave, our mindsets and our value systems. Gender stereotyping harms men as well as women.

“The government has not dealt with the harm of gender stereotyping.

“In fact, some of their own messages to the public entrench the stereotyped ideas of women and their roles,” she said, citing the example of messages such as asking women to dress and wear make-up at home during the lockdowns.

Tan said Malaysia needed to have an Equality Act or a Gender Equality Act to ensure private citizens or private companies could be held liable for gender discrimination. “It will make it unlawful, for example, to advertise that there is a vacancy for a lawyer but that only female applicants can apply, and they must be good looking,” she said.

Tan said there was also a need for society to change its behaviour, mindsets and value systems to move away from prejudices and harmful gender stereotypes, as although laws were important, societal changes were key to ending rape culture.

“Laws are not the best way to make social changes.

“Of course laws are important as they set the standard, but they ought to form only about 30% of the tools for change,” she said.

“The more important component for social change is to eliminate prejudices, and the gender-stereotyped roles of women and men,” she added.

Islamic Youth Movement of Malaysia vice-president (women’s affairs) Fatin Nur Majdina Nordin said the recent rape culture issues were symptomatic of a sick society.

She said continuous educational awareness and advocacy work must be done in society, as a preventive measure, although spurring societal change is challenging and would take time.

“As parents and teachers, we should set an example at home.

“Meanwhile for the youth, we should initiate a new culture of respecting each other and maintaining good manners in our daily interaction,” she said.

Fatin Nur Majdina also said it was important to have a law to protect victims, and urged for the tabling of the sexual harassment Bill to be expedited and enforced.

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