Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir spoke at Perak Academy’s dinner lecture recently. She spoke on “No Democracy without Gender Equality: The Case for Women’s Rights in Malaysia,” which was held in Meru Valley Golf and Country Club. Marina, a columnist in the English daily, The Star, is no stranger to the local women’s rights movement.
While Malaysian women possess equal rights as men in education, it is not an accurate indicator of the true status of women in Malaysia. Marina held that despite the large ratio of female to male graduates, 40 per cent of female graduates do not enter the workforce, while 60 per cent work till the peak age of 25. Discrimination in the form of sexual harassment and gender preference in employee selection is rampant.
She said that one of the underlying reasons is the small number of females in Parliament. As such, women’s issues are considered a minority issue or ‘subfield’. Therefore, female-friendly laws are difficult to be enacted. One example is the Domestic Violence Act 1994. It took six years to pass and another two years to implement. The rights of Muslim women, on the other hand, are being constantly eroded. In 2009, the National Fatwa Council decided that female circumcision is obligatory to keep female sexuality under wraps. “It’s absurd,” she exclaimed.
If the number of women in Parliament is equal to that of men, Marina pointed out, laws could then be enacted to ensure men do not harm women, gain rights to paternity leave and to play their rightful roles as fathers.
“Malaysia cannot be completely democratic if its women are denied their rights,” she reasoned.