THE Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) welcomes the National Women’s Day celebration on 25 Aug 2009, and Independence Day on 31 Aug 2009.
The celebrations this year is bittersweet. JAG was galvanised over the past few weeks in dealing with a seemingly intractable issue: violence against women. This is a form of discrimination that is a barrier to women’s ability to enjoy all their rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men.
In this instance, it was the state-sanctioned violence against Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno. Kartika pleaded guilty to a charge of drinking alcohol, an offence under the syariah law in Pahang. In an effort to deter other Muslims from drinking, the syariah court ordered the maximum sentences to be meted out: RM5,000 fine and six lashes of the whip. However, on 24 Aug 2009, Kartika’s sentence was stayed for reasons that are still not clear.
JAG does not support whipping for women or men, citizens or non-citizens. It violates a person’s human rights to be free from cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or punishment, and it has not worked as deterrent.
JAG is especially concerned that it is not apparent that general principles of sentencing were applied in Kartika’s case: she was a first-time offender, she showed remorse and pleaded guilty, and there was no violence in the commission of the offence. Her sentences were completely disproportionate to the offence committed.
Kartika’s case also illustrates how Muslim women are discriminated, contrary to the guarantee, in Article 8(2) of the federal constitution, against discrimination on the grounds of religion and gender. Whipping of women is allowed under syariah criminal offences but is disallowed by civil law under Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
JAG has repeatedly lobbied the government to legislate against discrimination and to make the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), which it ratified in 1995, into domestic law. However, the government has failed women on both counts.
JAG urges the government to “kotakan kata” to fulfill its elections promises and legal obligations under Cedaw. The government must legislate against discrimination. It must adhere to the guarantees given to each one of us, as Malaysian women in our federal constitution. Justice for Malaysian women requires nothing less.
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
Women’s Aid Organisation
Sisters in Islam
All Women Action Society
Women’s Centre for Change, Penang
24 Aug 2009
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