Written by C Ng and Alicia Chin
In the previous 2 articles of this collection of work, we have covered the areas of both legal and social impacts of marriage, and discussed their discriminatory nature. It is also put forth that one mustn’t critique without offering a viable solution or recommendation. This portion of the collection seeks to highlight certain improvements to the law that can be implemented, and other practices that can be carried out to create an altogether better environment for women and wider society everywhere. They are in line with the points illustrated in the previous two articles. These recommendations only cover the tip of the iceberg, whereas the list of improvements of laws and society towards women is non-exhaustive.
It is the sad truth that Malaysia is undoubtedly one of the few countries still applying laws enacted in the 19th Century. What was once, years ago, cannot be said to be the same today. The laws of this country need to be amended, with laws surrounding rape, being the first.
It is high time to criminalise marital rape. By doing so, we would be one of the last countries to, but at the very least, would be a welcoming change. The notion that wives cannot be raped by their husbands is seeped with age old patriarchal views, and should be done away with. Not only are they discriminatory to married women, who, seemingly upon marriage, do no retain any semblance of bodily autonomy, they do not afford sufficient protective to wives in the marital relationship.
We should emulate countries who have amended their laws before us, and make it a crime for a man to rape his wife (and vice versa or in any relationship), instead of skirting around the topic, or, such as seen by certain MP’s and influential lawmakers, adamantly professing that our current laws afford sufficient protection.
Besides the issue of marital rape, we recommend that the definition of ‘rape’ itself should be amended, to be all the more inclusive of offences that fall under the category of ‘rape’. We take for example the case of Bunya Jalong, who was cleared of rape charges, as the Malaysian Penal Code definition of rape was penile penetration, and in this case, he assaulted the victim with his fingers. The Malaysian Court of Appeal acquitted him, when they felt that it was unsafe to convict him of the offence of rape, as the statutory definition of it did not cover any other penetration other than penile.
On this issue, we also put forth that further amendments to rape law should be more inclusive of male victims as well. Currently, only women are capable of being raped, i.e: non-consensual penile penetration of a man towards a women. What is not an offence, however, is the rape of a man. While fighting for equal rights, it is important to note, lest we forget, that men can be victims of rape and abuse by others too.
This is are but a few of the many examples highlighting the severe need of amendments to our laws today, and hopefully, we would see some recommendations be taken up in the foreseeable future.
Women are always pressured into getting married, and having children, but when they do, they are unfairly treated in the workplace. There is no equivalent in Malaysia to the US Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or the UK Equality Act that prohibits discrimination towards women based on pregnancy or marriage. Neither do we have laws that protect women from being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace when they are married, pregnant, or have children.
We submit that there should be an addition to our current laws against discrimination, to include discrimination in the workplace, hiring process, and the division of labour for women in employment.
There should be laws against employers asking a potential female employee if they are married, or have children. It should make no difference to employers, the status of their prospective employee, and neither should it play a deciding factor in a decision to hire her. Besides that, there should be better enforcement of workplace equality. Division of labour, equal opportunities, fair compensation, should all be governed by values of merit and equality, and not, as it is now, unfairly advantageous to men.
Amending, or enacting these laws will help in the road to delivering equality to married women in Malaysia.
What can firms do?
Asia leads in growth potential with a burgeoning middle class and transformative educational advancement. Owing to ever increasing education efforts, there is certainly no shortage of female talent. Yet, expectations and prejudices often create barriers that have tilted the playing field. Drawing from a number of sources including the Khazanah Research Institute’s ‘The State of Households Report 2018, and Bloomberg, this section briefly outlines ways firms can, and are making efforts to pioneer and adopt best practices in growing inclusive, dynamic human capital.
As previously mentioned, women often miss promotions and opportunities that require travel as employers assume they would be busy with family obligations. In fact, women themselves might feel obligated to ‘stay home’. However, firms and employees need to move beyond stereotypes about family obligations. Early discussions and advanced notice can definitely help in this area, to ensure people have sufficient time to plan ahead. Women want to have a career and are incentivized to learn as well, the last thing a firm needs to assume is that they wouldn’t be interested in being flexible and able for such opportunities.
Quoting KRI, “flexibility in work arrangements is instrumental in enabling women who are willing to join the labour force to do so. This could be offered either through flexible hours or work places, childcare facilities at work or the like.”
Working professionals, especially women, often juggle between work and family affairs, be they clinic visits, school programs, parent-teacher conferences, report-card days, or simply having to get home on time to prep meals for oneself and one’s family. Why must work force people out of their families and personal upkeep? Shouldn’t anyone, women included, be able to experience the important things in life, witness their children’s milestones, pay attention to their loved ones, and fulfill societal obligations alongside work? The inclusive workplace should be able to provide time off as life demands it, and research would argue that this makes employees happier and more productive, if simply living better doesn’t make the cut for the balance sheet. Firms that recognize good talent will make the effort, and employees should recognize their worth.
Owing to perceptions surrounding division of work in households, women are often primary caretakers of children and elderly dependents. The result is women leaving the workforce, or feeling discouraged and less than capable at their jobs, often post-pregnancy, for months, years, often forever. Reentry to the workplace is difficult amidst the gap in one’s resume, ever-changing demand for skill sets, and the lack of re-onboarding or upskilling initiatives. Imagine the institutional knowledge lost with every employee in this situation. Hence, firms ought to act to remove stigma of family leave. Supervisors and HR departments should actively suggest and preempt decision making by women who might be drawn to quitting instead of taking sabbatical leave. Even extend this to people in general, not just women, who need to be caregivers and have familial obligations as well.
KRI concurs, mentioning that “redistributing family responsibilities between men and women is as important as any other labour market measures to enable women’s economic empowerment, and at the same time to ensure the strengthening of family institutions. This would involve, among others, ensuring policies aimed at facilitating work-home balance, such as said flexibility arrangement and parental leave are accessible options not only for women, but for men as well.”
Data on the profile of population inside and outside the labour force provides some insights into the issues pertaining to women’s labour force participation. In fact, Malaysian working-age women are more highly educated than men. But a large proportion of them are outside the labour force, with many still in prime ages. The major reason for this is the disproportionate care responsibilities shouldered by women in the family. “Despite their educational achievement, many women are hindered from participating in the labour force due to family responsibilities.”
KRI also points out the gender divide in occupation as corresponding with the ‘disappearing women’ phenomenon. “At ages where most senior positions are due, the relative absence of women would, to a large degree, lead to lower women’s visibility in those occupations, because the pool of women candidates available for consideration is limited to begin with. With that, we would expect that as progress is made over time, women’s representation at the top would see a corresponding improvement. The fact that it has actually shrunk in the past five years therefore calls for further research to identify the presence and root causes of the glass ceiling for women at work.”
Firms should identify and reward role models. Large swaths of industry are male-dominated, and women may find it difficult to be heard, much less think about joining senior management, or are the minority in their class. Knowing, seeing, and hearing from someone who’s already made it to where you aspire to go makes all the difference; it makes it possible.
It is time to end ‘traditions’ that are no longer useful. In the previous article of our collection, we refer to societal norms that are so enshrined in society, that we do not even for a moment think about questioning them. We take for example, the stigma’s highlighted before, such as women belong in the kitchen, women should get married and have kids, etc. One of the largest boulder towards equality for women are social norms that are steeped in decade old patriarchal views. It is time for us to collectively work together and end these so called ‘traditions’ that play such a big impact in society today.
The stigma that married women face on a daily basis is immeasurable. Understandably, to change society, as a whole, would by a Sisyphean task, but if all of us were to collectively make a conscious effort in combating discrimination against married women, we would make a difference. Much like the ripple effect, we can start with ourselves, and our immediate surroundings, in hopes that our future daughters will reap the benefits.
An effort that we, society as a whole, can pick up, would be to equate women as individuals in their own way. Not judging them by their ability to marry, their ability to raise children, or maintain a household, and so on. By pressuring women everywhere to get married and start a family, we are equating her value to only that; the ability to find a husband, and birth children.
Hard as it is to believe, this mentality is perpetuated by women, as well as men. Which is why together, we should all endeavour to discontinue this practice of persuading women to marry simply because social norms dictate so.
Besides that, tying in with the point above, is the age old view that men are the breadwinners of the family, and women are to manage the household. It is because of these archaic views that women today find it hard to attain success, as, on one hand, they are not given equal opportunities, and on the other hand, when a woman does prosper, she is viewed as a threat to the masculinity of her husband. Evidenced by social interactions, mass media, and our legal framework, is the entrenched view that women are not meant to work, much less married women who have a household and children to look after.
It is traditions such as these that must be broken, in order for married women everywhere to finally be allowed to flourish. We should encourage women to pursue their dreams, regardless of what social norms dictate, instead of confining them to the kitchen.
Besides that, we are to recognise the rights of women, individually, and recognise their body autonomy. This includes sensitive topics such as abortion. It is hard to dispute that abortion is still frowned upon, which leads to many problems today, such as baby dumping, illegally performed abortions resulting in injury or death, and others. This issue boils down to the fact that women are not treated as having the rights to her own body. We should all make an effort to expel this norm, and instead, grant women with the power to make decisions regarding her own life.
In conclusion, while these recommendations that we have addressed are but a small stride in the long journey towards dispensing gender discrimination towards women, they are nevertheless submitted as puzzle pieces that play a huge role in creating an overall picture of an equal society.