Whenever a sexual crime occurs, fingers point in one direction – it's the woman. She asked for it. She deserves it. She needs to be punished. Women are always blamed for the crimes, Similarly, our society assumes that any woman who infringes the narrow band of "legitimate" sexual activity recognized by the authorities, ie, sexual relations between husband and wife, can expect a range of punishment, from social disapproval, stigma and even cruel physical punishment – whipping in the case of Muslims in Malaysia.
Malaysians were challenged today with the caning of the three Muslim women for having extramarital sex. As announced these women became the first women in the country to receive such punishment under Islamic law. Where is the compassion that our leaders often talk about?
JAG is also critical over the secrecy in which the whipping of the seven persons has taken place. The Minister of Home Affairs must explain to the public for the actions taken which are not accountable and transparent.
It is unfortunate that the existence of a plural legal system in Malaysia has led to different standards of justice for its citizens. While civil laws have mostly been amended to recognise equality and non-discrimination for non-Muslims, Muslim women suffer discrimination under an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islamic law. Constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination are not extended to Muslim women due to the conservative understanding of Islam. It is, therefore, of utmost urgency that the authorities review the contradictory laws that exist in our country.
Whipping is not only a form of punishment that goes against the grain of all international human rights standards but also goes against the principles of the Federal Constitution. The whipping of women is not allowed under the common law but yet because of the plural legal system, injustices against women and human rights are allowed to happen unfettered. Having said that JAG reiterates that we do not support nor condone any form of whipping and corporal punishment meted against any person.
When March 8 happened, the nation waited with bated breath, expecting more human rights friendly laws. It is now two years down the road. What has been done with the State Enactments, including Syariah laws – to enshrine the principles of equality and human rights?
Maria Chin Abdullah
Executive Director, Empower
18 Feb 2010
For an on behalf of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), comprising Empower, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Women’s Center for Change, Sisters in Islam (SIS) and All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)