Enact gender equality law now, women’s rights NGO urges government

IWRAW Asia Pacific director Mary Shanthi Dairiam speaks to reporters after proposing a gender equality law to the Council of Eminent Persons.

KUALA LUMPUR: A women’s rights group has urged the government to immediately enact a gender equality law to protect women‘s rights following the arrest of lawyer-activist Siti Kasim who spent a night in a police lock-up for alleged kidnapping.

International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific director Mary Shanthi Dairiam said such a law was needed right away.

“The fact is, there is no overall framework that can protect women from discrimination,” she told reporters after meeting the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) at Ilham Tower today.

She said she had cited Siti’s case to the council and claimed there was abuse of power by the police and religious authorities in the treatment of the human rights lawyer.

Siti was arrested at the Kajang police headquarters on Saturday and released yesterday after the Magistrate’s Court rejected a police application to remand her.

She dismissed claims by the police that they had rescued her client whom she was accused of kidnapping.

In a video uploaded on Facebook, she said she was dumbstruck by the actions of the police. She said they should have conducted a thorough investigation of the claims that she had kidnapped her client instead of raiding her house after one report was lodged.

It is understood that Siti’s client, a 24-year-old woman, was picked up by police after a complaint lodged by her mother claiming that her daughter’s faith was in question.

Siti earlier said that the woman, whom she claimed was abused by the mother, had been “abducted” by the police and Islamic authorities in Selangor.

Shanthi claimed the authorities had tried to stop the woman from living an independent life away from abuse.

The international NGO’s acting executive director Yu Ren Chung meanwhile said its main proposal to CEP was to enact the gender equality law.

He said Malaysia’s level of gender equality was quite low internationally.

“Malaysia is placed 104th out of 144 countries according to the global gender gap report of 2017.”

Yu said there were also many other issues that required a legal framework to empower women.

“A sexual harassment act is one. We need a law that can help victims of harassment justly and quickly.

“Compared to the current ones that we have, the mechanism is weak and limited to Peninsular Malaysia,” he said.

He said Malaysia should follow the global trend in enacting a sexual harassment law, and extend it to cover the whole country.