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Mahathir's Daughter says Malaysian Muslim women suffering 'apartheid'

by Norwegian Chef Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 06:52:23 AM EST

In her usual column in the Malaysia Star, Marina Mahathir, leading Malaysian women's rights activist, press columnist and daughter for Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed claims that Malaysian Muslim Women are suffering from a home grown form of "apartheid".

This criticism from such a prominent Muslim women has caused quite a stir in Malaysia.

Here are her Musings as she entitles them:

No cheer for Muslim women

IN 1948, one of humankind's most despicable ideas, apartheid, was made into law in South Africa where racial discrimination was institutionalised. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of "white-only" jobs. Although there were 19 million blacks and only 4.5 million whites in South Africa, the majority population were forced to be second-class citizens in their homeland, banished to reserves and needing passports to travel outside them, even within their own country. It was only in 1990 that apartheid began to crumble and South Africans of all colours were finally free to live as equals in every way.

With the end of that racist system, people may be forgiven for thinking that apartheid does not exist anymore. While few countries practise any formal systems of discrimination, nevertheless you can find many forms of discrimination everywhere. In many cases, it is women who are discriminated against. In our country, there is an insidious growing form of apartheid among Malaysian women, that between Muslim and non-Muslim women.

We are unique in that we actively legally discriminate against women who are arguably the majority in this country, Muslim women. Non-Muslim Malaysian women have benefited from more progressive laws over the years while the opposite has happened for Muslim women.

For instance, since the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, polygamy among non-Muslims was banned. Previously men could have as many wives as they wanted under customary laws. Men's ability to unilaterally pronounce divorce on their wives was abolished and, in its place, divorce happens by mutual consent or upon petition by either spouse in an equal process where the grounds are intolerable adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion of not less than two years, and living separately for not less than two years. Compare that to the lot of Muslim women abandoned but not divorced by their husbands.

Other progressive reforms in the civil family law in the late 1990s were amendments to the Guardianship Act and the Distribution Act. The Guardianship of Infants Act 1961 was amended to provide for equal guardianship for both father and mother, rather than the previous provision where only the father was the primary guardian of the children. In contrast, the Islamic Family Law still provides for the father as the sole primary guardian of his children although the mother is now allowed to sign certain forms for her children under an administrative directive.

The Distribution Act 1958 was also amended to provide for equal inheritance for widows and widowers, and also granted children the right to inherit from their mothers as well as from their fathers. Under the newly proposed amendments to the Islamic Family Law, the use of gender-neutral language on the issue of matrimonial property is discriminatory on Muslim women when other provisions in the IFL are not gender-neutral. Muslim men may still contract polygamous marriages, may unilaterally divorce their wives for the most trivial of reasons and are entitled to double shares of inheritance.

These differences between the lot of Muslim women and non-Muslim women beg the question: do we have two categories of citizenship in Malaysia, whereby most female citizens have less rights than others? As non-Muslim women catch up with women in the rest of the world, Muslim women here are only going backwards. We should also note that only in Malaysia are Muslim women regressing; in every other Muslim country in the world, women have been gaining rights, not losing them.

Conservative and fundamentalist clerics, all men, have reacted angrily to the column, which was printed a day late in the Star, prompting some to think that the paper had cancelled the column.  After Mahatir and other exerted pressure the column was printed.

You can always find Marina Mahatir's usually provocative columns here at the Star.

Thank you for posting this!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 07:08:04 AM EST
We should also note that only in Malaysia are Muslim women regressing; in every other Muslim country in the world, women have been gaining rights, not losing them.
I wonder whether that's true, as it seems that Sharia is experiencing a surge in 'popularity'. Iraq is definitely a case where things have gotten worse for women in the last 3 years.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 07:35:05 AM EST
To be fair, she was probably excluding war zones from the calculation...

(And of course, previously Malaysiam Muslim women had made bigger advances than most, so it's more visible that they are regressing whereas others may only look like they are standing still.)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 10:36:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good for Marina Mahathir, and thanks for posting this and providing a link.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 03:23:05 PM EST

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