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General Writings

My Two Cents: Local Advocacy For Women’s Rights Do Not Harm Men

By Elliot Cheah

Hey, why are there two head prefects? I thought the boy is the head prefect and the girl is the vice head prefect,” 

What? No, of course both get to be head prefects,” my 7-year-old brother replied as a matter-of-factly.

That’s when it dawned on me that I have internalized patriarchy and sexism. Until that day, I was completely unaware about it. As far as my 15-year memory serves me, no one has ever told me explicitly that women are less capable than men. So why do I have such thoughts? 

Fast forward to my university days, I realized due to lack of proper exposure, sexist behaviours could be happening right in front of our face but we fail to recognize it – from “women can’t drive” jokes to casual comments that women are “too emotional”, “too bossy”, or “too meek to be a leader”.

I found out about the feminist movement and how it has helped women have a more equal standing in society. In a local sense, one can also easily observe women’s rights advocacy here in Malaysia. It includes campaigning against child marriage (GGAM), providing legal and emotional support to survivors of domestic violence (AWAM, WCC), providing information to recognize abuse and steps to take, promoting women’s participation in politics (EMPOWER) etc. Needless to say, I stand for it. 

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Nonetheless, my casual observations throughout university has made me concerned about the spread of resentment and dissatisfaction, mostly among boys and men, towards this movement. It does not bring good if half a segment of society feels alienated. I hope to be able to address some in a local context – 

1.  Parking lots and train coaches for women

Some people pointed out that women-only parking lots and train coaches perpetuate inequality, because men do not enjoy the same privileges. 

As commonly known, women are more at risk of physical and sexual harassment than men. The YouGov Omnibus’ survey in 2019 found that 36% of Malaysian women have experienced sexual harassment compared to men (17%), and only half of those experienced sexual harassment reported or told someone about the incident.

Observing the results, men have also experienced sexual harassment and this should not be dismissed. However, based on the concept of gender equity, since women are twice more likely to experience sexual harassment, it seems justifiable that extra effort is taken to address this. The facilities designated for women were because they are a category of people who face a higher risk of harassment, in other words a preferable target for harassers. 

2. That men are always blamed 

Some people have expressed resentment that there is this belief that men are more likely to be harassers, stalkers or aggressors compared to women. My first instinct was empathizing with these individuals, they must have felt rejected or demonized for things that they are not at fault. 

Nevertheless, I questioned myself later – is it a prejudice to think that most harassers are men, or that men are more likely to be aggressors? I do not want my male counterparts to feel demonized, how do I address this? 

Here’s an example of men (or boys) being unfairly treated under the law. In Malaysia, if an underage boy and an underage girl had consensual sex, the boy can be charged under Section 375 of the Penal Code for rape; whereas the girl can only be charged under Section 507 of the Penal Code for insulting the modesty of a person, which carries less punishment in comparison to rape. Though if both are minors, they may be tried in the Court for Children.

Under our archaic law, “rape” can only be committed by a man towards a woman. ‘Rape’ is defined as a man having sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent – section 375 of the Penal Code; and ‘sexual intercourse’ is defined as penile penetration into the vagina – explanation to section 375; Bunya Anak Jalong v Public Prosecutor (2015)

It follows that section 375(g) which lays out the offence of statutory rape i.e. sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16 whether or not she has given consent, the perpetrator must be a boy and the victim must be a girl.

The rationale of the offence of statutory rape was to protect minors, where there is unequal power dynamics. However, it fails to take into account this specific scenario where both parties, who are of the same age or maturity, consented. 

Before bashing me that women are blamed for many things too! Perhaps this distinction may help. Although in many situations, men are unfairly assumed to be the wrongdoer; women are also unfairly assumed to be the provocator. This is a result of sexism and there needs to be more dialogue to dismantle this. 

3. The lack of voices when men are at a disadvantage 

Continuing my point above, some people have expressed discontent that only women and children’s welfare are being heard, how about men’s? 

Currently, in Malaysia, there seems to be only organizations that focus on women and children’s welfare, but none for men. My take is that these bodies were created, because a large number of women were experiencing various levels of violence and discrimination. Because most victims were women and most perpetrators were men, accordingly the attention shifts towards the party who needs urgent help i.e. women.

Further, this argument about the absence of voice for men’s gender-based concerns is not exactly accurate. In November 2019, Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) created an online petition and called on the Ministry of Human Resources to introduce at least 7 days paternity leave in the private sector. WAO advocacy manager Yu Ren Chung said, 

Fathers want to play a role and want to support their wife in being part of the process as well as to bond with their newborn baby. Looking at gender equality and gender roles, we want to move away from the idea that childcare and childbirth is solely the responsibility of mothers.” This is a great initiative that promotes both the welfare of men and gender equality. 

Another example can be observed from All Women’s Action Society (AWAM). In October 2020, AWAM reminded that the Sexual Harassment Bill should provide protection not only to women and girls but to transgenders, boys and men, acknowledging that men face unwanted sexual advances as well. They also pointed out that due to the belief that only women suffered sexual harassment, there is a lack of research on the harassment of males.

Before concluding, if I may, it is not that society does not care about the welfare of men or hate men. It is that in the current circumstances, women bear a disproportionate burden, hence the voices for the protection and empowerment of women. 

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Moving forward, I wonder if men who want their gender-based concerns to be heard would want to form their own community or advocacy group. It would be splendid to have them in the conservation and progress for gender equity and gender equality. For instance, redefining masculinity, acknowledging rape culture, and empowering men in abusive situations.

Men have always been in decision-making positions. They are free to advocate their gender-based concerns like existing women’s groups. However, it must come with good faith. Are they speaking up to drown the voices of other quarters or are they speaking up for the betterment of all genders? Or if not all, would they at least voice their concerns without the expense of causing harm to other segments of society? 

I believe there are well-principled men who silently stand for gender equity and gender equality. We need your voice and participation not only to defuse resentment against the movement, but to also work towards a society where everyone is cared for according to their respective needs.

Writer Profile

Elliott is a CLP student graduated from the University of Essex, UK. They have an interest in human rights and are often fascinated by the multiple facets of human rights. Despite multiple experiences in human rights NGOs, Elliott is looking forward to the general practice of law in the near future.  

Reviewed by: Wayne Cheah

Categories
Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round-up 19 (24/07/2020)

1. NO INQUEST FOR 80 OUT OF 110 LOCKUP DEATHS

Under s.334 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), EDICT founder M. Visvanathan said an inquest is mandatory for deaths that occurred in a police lockup, prison or mental asylum.

However, he pointed out that there is no such provision for deaths that occur in immigration detention centres. Without a mandatory provision to investigate deaths in immigration detention centres, an inquest will only be conducted if there is a public outcry and the AG’s chambers take action. He further said even with the existing mandatory provision for inquest, out of the 110 lockup deaths from 2010 to 2016, 80 were not investigated.

2. ACTIVISTS SUMMONED FOR HONOURING THOSE WHO DIED IN CUSTODY

On 16 July 2020, several activists gathered to honour and remember those who died in police custody. Some were later summoned by the police to give statements regarding the gathering

According to EDICT, since 2009,176 persons have died in police lockups, 550 persons have died in immigration detention centres and 2,838 persons have died in prisons.

Despite initially obtaining permission to organise the gathering from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), the police revoked the permission. The police claimed that the notice submitted was incomplete, and, thus, failed to comply with the Peaceful Assembly Act, as there had been no consent notice from DBKL, who the police have claimed to be the ‘custodian’ of the area for the event. However, EDICT contended that, although DBKL is the owner of the said area, “custodian” does not mean “owner.” EDICT asserted that no such notice was required from DBKL, but rather from other authorities.

3. WORK PERMIT OF MIGRANT FEATURED IN AL JAZEERA DOCUMENTARY REVOKED 

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has expressed grave concern over the revocation of the work permit of the Bangladeshi man interviewed in Al Jazeera’s documentary. The documentary has attracted widespread attacks from the government and members of the public since it was posted on 3rd July 2020.

S.9(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1959/63 only allows the Director General of Immigration to cancel a permit if it is prejudicial to public order, public security, public health or morality in Malaysia. LFL said it is inconceivable that the mere action of highlighting his plight to the media would fall under any of the categories listed under s.9(1)(c)

Al Jazeera is also being probed for various offences, including sedition, defamation and improper use of network facilities. On 10 July 2020, at least six Al Jazeera staff were summoned to Bukit Aman to facilitate investigations.

4. AL JAZEERA’S ACCREDITATION AND LICENCE QUESTIONED

The National Film Development Corporation (Finas) had investigated Al Jazeera regarding the production of the documentary titled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown and found that the company does not hold the necessary licence to film or air its documentary.

S.22(1) Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia Act 1981 (Amendment 2013) states that no person shall engage in any activities of production, distribution or exhibition of films or any combination of these activities without a licence authorising the person to carry out such activities.

S.25 of the same Act provides for punishment upon conviction — a fine not exceeding RM 50,000 or an imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both. Al Jazeera has since dismissed the claim, saying that, as per Finas’ own definition, its 101 East weekly current affairs show does not fall into the category of film requiring a licence.

5. ALL FILMING, EVEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA, REQUIRES LICENCE 

On 23 July 2020, the Communications and Multimedia (MCMC) Minister Saiffudin announced that, under s.22 of the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981, all film production whether from media outlets or personal media on traditional platforms or even social media require a licence. This was made in reply to a question by YB Wong Shu Qi on the exact definition of film, and whether the Act would affect people who use social media platforms such as Instagram TV or TikTok.

Saifuddin interpreted “film” under s.2 of the Finas Act 1981 broadly such that film includes feature films, short films, trailers, advertising “filmlets” and any recording on material of any kind, including videotapes and video discs of moving images, accompanied or unaccompanied by sound, and documentaries, for the viewing of the public.

The government has responded to criticisms of these statements by iterating that it will not use the Finas Act 1981 to restrict personal freedom on social media, and that they are aware that the Act is in need of improvement.

6. SOSMA AND SEDITION ACT TO BE IMPROVED

In a written Parliamentary reply, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said SOSMA remains “relevant” for public safety and national security. He further said the government is committed to improving security laws, including SOSMA and the Sedition Act, adding that further studies were needed for the laws.

This marks a departure from the stance taken by the former Pakatan Harapan government, which was to revoke the Sedition Act and to abolish draconian provisions in SOSMA.

In a separate Parliamentary reply to a question on the target of SOSMA, Hamzah listed those who committed four specific offences:

  1. Causing organised violence against people or property, or causing a substantial number of citizens to fear violence;
  2. Inciting disloyalty towards the YDP Agong;
  3. Threatening public order in the country;
  4. Procure the alternation, otherwise than by lawful means, of anything by law established.

7. CALLS TO REPLACE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT WITH RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL 

In light of the IGP’s remarks that police officers who reveal confidential investigation reports will be liable under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) called for the OSA to be replaced with a new Right To Information (RTI) legislation.

CIJ states that the present OSA hinders our RTI as it allows any document to be classified as secret, with no requirement for harm or any relation to national security, international relations or defense. CIJ held that exceptions to the RTI should be narrowly defined and subject to strict “harm” and “public interest” tests to justify why said information should be withheld. 

While acknowledging the importance of deterring private information from being arbitrarily revealed and subject to abuse, CIJ has emphasised that the State should balance, on the one hand, freedom of expression and RTI, with, on the other, the need to protect privacy and data. CIJ has called for this balance to be struck by using other existing laws, instead of applying the “fundamentally-flawed” OSA.

8. SPIKE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN SELANGOR

In the Selangor State Legislative Assembly, State Health, Welfare, Women and Family Empowerment Committee chairman Dr Siti Mariah reported 90 domestic violence cases were recorded during the MCO in March and April 2020.

The number of calls received by the special assistance lines for domestic violence, set up by the Committee in collaboration with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), also show a spike: 

  • January 2020 – 266 calls received
  • February 2020 – 250 calls received
  • March 2020 – 361 calls received
  • April 2020 – 898 calls received

Dr Siti Mariah urged women in the state to know their rights and to seek help if they were abused by their spouses.

9. HIGH COURT OVERTURNS SENTENCE TO CANE ROHINGYA MEN FOR ARRIVING IN MALAYSIA

On 22 July 2020, the High Court overturned the magistrates’ court’s decision to sentence 27 Rohingya men to be caned under s.6 of Immigration Act 1959/63. S.6 provides anyone who enters the country without permission can face a fine of up to RM10,000, jail for up to five years, and six strokes of a cane.

The appeals court said their refugee status affords them international protection from persecution, and the judge reiterated the international law principle of non-refoulement. The judge also said the men were not habitual offenders, and had not committed any acts of violence, and as such, it was “inhumane” to impose a sentence of caning.

Amnesty welcomes the decision, further calling for the release of other Rohingya refugees who had been jailed for attempting to escape persecution in Myanmar.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. VARIOUS COMPANIES ALLEGEDLY COMPLICIT IN UYGHUR FORCED LABOUR

A coalition of human rights groups have called for companies to end the use of forced labour of the Uyghur population in China. The companies allegedly complicit in the use of such labour range from firms producing PPE masks, to Apple, and ‘virtually [the] entire fashion industry.

Companies were alleged to have sourced materials from Xinjiang, the western region in China home to the largely Muslim ethnic minority Uyghur population. These reports of forced labour were published amidst earlier reports of state-sponsored human rights abuses against the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, such as the use of mass detention and forced sterilisation.

The coalition has called for companies to cut ties with suppliers complicit in Uyghur forced labour, The coalition has called for companies to cut ties with suppliers complicit in Uyghur forced labour, and to ensure that each level of their supply chain is free from such human rights abuses.

Categories
Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round-up 17 (12/06/2020)

  1. COAC: THE LOGGERS ARE BACK

#OrangAsli

Since the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) on 10 June 2020, logging activities in at least two Orang Asli areas have resumed

In Kampung Sungai Papan, Kedah, loggers have started preparing the road to their concession area. This was the same site where the Temiars set up a blockade a year ago. Several of them were arrested and detained. The Menteri Besar called for a halt of the logging in August 2019, but it only lasted temporarily. On the Lojing-Gua Musang road, Kelantan, bulldozers were also coming in to log, with the purpose of planting musang king durians.

2. SPECIAL STIMULUS PACKAGE FOR THE ORANG ASLI 

#OrangAsli

Senator Manolan Mohamad suggested that the government should implement an economic stimulus package tailored for the Orang Asli (OA), many of whom have been severely affected by the pandemic. 

He cited the US and Canada as countries which have issued special economic packages for their indigenous peoples. For instance, the Canadian government’s targeted economic stimulus package for indigenous businesses has been a lifeline for many.

Senator Manolan further called for the government to develop the long-neglected infrastructure in OA villages, and to promote cooperation between Felcra, Risda, and Jakoa to advance the OA’s economic wellbeing.

3. RESTRICTION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ONGOING

#FreedomofSpeech #FreedomofExpression

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and 39 CSOs have issued a joint statement strongly condemning the use of repressive laws – such as s.233 CMA, s.504 and s.505 Penal Code, the Sedition Act 1948, and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 – to silent dissent and opposing views. 

Some examples over the past two weeks:

i. The AG filed an application to cite Malaysiakini for contempt over readers’ comments;

ii. Hannah Yeoh for questioning the fate of the National Strategic Plan to Address the Causes of Underage Marriage under her successor Siti Zailah on Twitter;

iii. Syed Saddiq for expressing disappointment with PM Muhyiddin Yassin for working with “kleptocrats” in an interview with Al Jazeera; and

iv. Siti Kasim for suggesting a ban on tahfiz schools in response to PAS calling for the suspension of the production and sale of alcoholic beverages.

Check out CIJ’s Facebook for a non-exhaustive list of cases restricting free speech, all of which have occurred since the change of government in March this year.

4. WAO: ANTI-STALKING LAWS NEEDED URGENTLY

Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) urged for anti-stalking laws to be passed in the next Parliament session to address the rise in gender-based cyberviolence during COVID-19 pandemic.

According to UN Women, the global  increase in internet usage by 50% – 70% during the pandemic has coincided with a rise of cyberviolence, whether in the form of unwanted communications, sex trolling, threats of violence, or sexual images sent or distributed without consent. Recipients of this form of violence are often women.

The anti-stalking law would address both offline and online stalking, including various forms of gender-based cyberviolence like harassment, spying, and doxing. Survivors of cyberviolence would have a path to protection and redress.

5. COMPLAINTS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN LEGAL WORK PLACE

The Malaysian Bar is deeply concerned over complaints of sexual harassment in the legal workplace, recognising the very nature of it would mean there may be more cases than are made known.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir affirmed, despite the existing provisions in the Employment Act 1955 and the Penal Code, there is a lot more that can be done. For instance, to include sexual harassment in section 509 of the Penal Code, and as a defined ‘misconduct’ in the Legal Profession Bill.

The latter move would mean that lawyers would also face disciplinary action for allegations of misconduct or sexual harassment. They could be liable to punishments, including fines or be struck off the roll.

6. RISING CONCERNS OVER DEATHS IN CUSTODY

#DeathinCustody #PolicePowers

Death in police custody: EDICT have raised concerns over the Jinjang police’s failure to properly identify an individual who had died in their custody on 31st May 2020. The police initially announced that the deceased’s name was Dhan Bahadur, however the Nepal embassy told the FMT that Bahadur was still alive in Nepal after verification. EDICT stated there were many suspicious issues during the investigation of the deceased whose identity is currently unknown. 

Death in immigration custody: On 12th June 2020 an Indian tourist, Zeawdeen Kadar Masdan, died in the Immigration Department’s detention after contracting covid-19. SUHAKAM is currently investigating the case, and have questioned the Immigration Department’s decision to arrest the victim for an expired visa when he was unable to extend it during the lockdown.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. US SUPREME COURT BACKS LGBT WORKERS’ PROTECTION

In a 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are breaking the country’s civil rights law.

Lawyers for the employers had argued that the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not intended it to apply to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity. The Trump administration sided with that argument.

However, the Court said the federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, should be understood to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. US SANCTIONS ICC OVER AFGHAN WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that blocks the assets of International Criminal Court (ICC) employees. This order was signed after the ICC began investigating whether US forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

The ICC stated that these sanctions are an “unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law”, and that “[a]n attack on the ICC also represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice”.

The war crimes investigation followed a 2016 ICC report which found that there was reasonable basis to believe that US forces had committed acts of torture at secret detention sites operated by the CIA.

3. KOSOVO PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF WAR CRIMES

The Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) issued a statement alleging that Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and others “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders”, torture, and enforced disappearences.

This statement follows the SPO’s decision on 24th April 2020 to file a 10-count indictment which allegedly involves hundreds of victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities, as well as political opponents. Although it is only an accusation, the indictment is “the result of a length investigation and reflects the SPO’s determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Mr Thaci has denied any wrongdoing. A pre-trial judge has six months to decide if the court will issue charges.

Categories
Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Modern Slavery in Malaysia, Challenge over Shariah Law, Rohingya Protection Report … Human Rights Round-up (29/05/2020)

1. Modern slavery in Malaysia

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(The Star)

#MigrantsRights

Tesco’s slavery review reports abuses in Malaysia. Among the 168 migrant workers interviewed, the allegations consist of: passport retention, unexplained and illegal wage reductions, heavy indebtedness to labour brokers in home country, and excessive overtime. 

Tesco has developed a plan, entailing detailed investigations of alleged abuses, setting up support lines and grievance mechanisms for agency workers and guidelines to ensure workers have access to passports whenever needed.

2. Constitutional challenge over Selangor’s Shariah law criminalizing unnatural sex

29 May 6
(Queer Lapis)

#LGBT

The Federal Court recently decided that it will hear a man’s constitutional challenge over a Selangor state law that makes it a Shariah offence to have unnatural sex, specifically on whether the Selangor state legislative assembly has the powers to enact this state law in the first place.

Check out Queer Lapis for more info!

3. Period Poverty and Covid-19

29 May 7
((Vimala Kanagaratnam  – Picture courtesy of Kotex Malaysia; The Star)

#WomensRights

Social Marketer, Ms Kanagaratnam, and Kotex Malaysia have teamed up to provide 384 packs of sanitary pads to women and girls in need across the Klang Valley, including the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) zones.

Those from the B40 communities have benefited – due to COVID-19, many have either lost their income or had to rely on limited financial resources.

4. Private hospitals fined RM200,00 under Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011

29 May 4
(Free Malaysia Today)

#Healthcare

The Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) was handed a RM200,000 compound fine for charging patients RM201.60 for 18 pieces of 3-ply face masks used by the nurses during treatment. It was RM11.20 for each mask, almost 10 times higher than the government’s ceiling price of RM1.50.

5. Myanmar submits first Rohingya protection report

29 May 8
(The International Court of Justice; The Irrawaddy)

#Genocide

Myanmar has submitted its first report to the ICJ on the measures it is taking to protect the Rohingya as required by a court order in January. 

Previously, the ICJ issued 4 urgent measures against Myanmar requiring it to comply with the UN Genocide convention and to report them, after Gambia filed a case against Myanmar.

6. Rohingya refugees yearn for Myanmar at Hari Raya

29 May 9
(Free Malaysia Today)

#RefugeeRights

In Malaysia, the Rohingya get to freely celebrate Hari Raya, not only with festive food and visiting friends, but also colorful lights on the streets 

These are non-existent in Rakhine – regularly closed mosques, jailed relatives and police harassment are usual all year round, even during Ramadan.

Rahman, who has been in Malaysia for three years with his wife and two sons, said he is happy living in a Muslim-majority country and going to mosques unimpeded by the police, but he readily admits he would trade it all for a chance to return to Myanmar.

“Malaysia is helping us in a way no other country is, and I appreciate all the help we have received. But this is not our country and we are all just living here temporarily… Definitely, if we can go home, we will…,” he said.