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CEDAW DISCUSSES SITUATION OF WOMEN IN MALAYSIA, CHILE, REPUBLIC OF KOREA AND FIJI WITH CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESENTATIVES

19 February 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with civil society representatives from Malaysia, Chile, Republic of Korea and Fiji, whose reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women will be considered this week.

Non-governmental organizations from Malaysia raised concern about the strong push for the application of Islamic Sharia and the adoption of Sharia-compliant laws and policies, applicable to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It was women and children who bore the brunt of the aspirations to turn the country into an Islamic one. Malaysia had not incorporated the Convention in the law nor had it enshrined in law the age of marriage for boys and girls at 18 years of age.

Violence against women and children was the key issue of concern in Chile, as well as the lack of specific measures to promote a life free of violence. The current anti-discrimination law was inadequate to protect women and girls based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said non-governmental organizations. Although Chile had decriminalized abortion under certain conditions, all other forms of abortion were criminalized and sanctioned with imprisonment, while institutional conscientious objection acted as a barrier for women to access abortion.

Non-governmental organizations from the Republic of Korea noted with regret the little progress in the advancement of women’s rights on the ground and said that the Government must seek to transform unequal gender relations. Intersecting and multiple forms of gender-based discrimination affected in particular women from disadvantaged groups, while social norms and patriarchal structures contributed to the pervasive nature of gender-based violence and led to a culture of impunity.

Gender inequality and gender-based violence permeated most sectors of the society in Fiji; there was a systematic failure to develop women’s social, political and economic lives. Another issue raised in the discussion was that legislation had been issued via a decree over the past several years, which had a chilling effect on human rights defenders by criminalizing free expression, assembly and association.

Speaking on the situation in Malaysia were Empower, Sisters in Islam, Women’s Aid Organization, Justice for Sisters, and Asylum Access Malaysia; Corporación Humana, Corporación Opción, Agrupación Lésbica Rompiendo El Silencio, Asociación Organizando Trans Diversidades and Centre for Reproductive Rights spoke in the discussion on Chile; the situation in the Republic of Korea was addressed by Korea Women’s Association United, MINYBUN – Lawyers for Democratic Society, and Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Fiji Women’s Rights Movement spoke as well.

Also taking part in the dialogue with the Committee was the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the National Institute for Human Rights of Chile, and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 20 February at 10 a.m., to begin its consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic report of Malaysia (CEDAW/C/MYS/3-5).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Malaysia

Empower said that the Government must do more to incorporate the Convention in the law and to pass the Gender Equality Law. Of concern was the strong push for the application of Islamic Sharia and for the adoption of Sharia-compliant laws and policies, which would be applicable to non-Muslims as well. Women and children bore the brunt of the aspirations to turn the country into an Islamic one.

Sisters in Islam noted the lack of progress on the reform of the Islamic family law, and raised concern that two rounds of reforms had in fact resulted in greater discrimination against Muslim women. Although Malaysia had withdrawn its reservation to the Convention, concerning child marriage, this change had not been codified in the law to bring the age of marriage to 18 years for boys and girls. Other forms of discrimination against Muslim women in Malaysia included polygamy, indiscriminate divorce, and the obligation to obey the husband or risk the loss of maintenance.

Women’s Aid Organization said that women in Malaysia still could not transmit citizenship to children born overseas to foreign spouses, while their foreign spouses suffered lack of consistency and transparency in visa and other administrative regulations. Another issue of concern was the lack of protection and redress for victims of violence against women, which was due to the inadequate application of existing laws and the non-recognition of marital rape and intimate partner violence.

Justice for Sisters raised concern about the regression in the situation of human rights defenders and the increasing clamp down on human rights, dissent and calls for reform. Diverse groups of women human rights defenders experienced multiple forms of reprisals and intimidation. Of concern was also the situation of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer/questioning persons who suffered multiple forms of discrimination, threats and violence.

Asylum Access Malaysia said that asylum seeking and refugee women in Malaysia were denied legal status which had grave implications on their rights to liberty and security, access to justice, health care and safe employment.

Chile

Corporación Humana said that violence against women and children was being dealt with in a very restrictive manner and a fragmented fashion. Another concern was related to violence against women human rights defenders, especially because the law recognized only domestic violence, while other forms of violence against women remained ignored.

Corporación Opción spoke of extreme violence against girls in Chile, which did not have specific measures to promote a life free of violence. The Committee should request Chile to adopt the law and set the age of marriage at 18.

Agrupación Lésbica Rompiendo El Silencio raised concern about discrimination against lesbian, transgender and bisexual women, and said that the current anti-discrimination law was inadequate to protect women and girls on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Asociación Organizando Trans Diversidades said that there were no policies to deal with the needs of transgender and cisgender women. Intersex girls were still victims of genital mutilation, and the fact that the Government and the new President did not recognize gender identity should be of concern to this Committee.

Centre for Reproductive Rights noted that although Chile had adopted in September 2017 the law that decriminalized abortion under certain conditions, all other forms of abortion were criminalized and sanctioned with imprisonment. Unregulated conscientious objection and institutional conscientious objection acted as barriers for women to access abortion.

Republic of Korea

Korea Women’s Association United noted with regret the little progress in the advancement of women’s rights on the ground. The Government must seek to transform unequal gender relations and not simply pursue the narrow and distorted concept of mechanical and numerical equality between the two sexes. The Republic of Korea suffered a severe gender pay gap of 37 per cent and for the past 15 years had been constantly ranked first by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

MINYBUN – Lawyers for Democratic Society drew attention to the intersecting and multiple forms of gender-based discrimination, which affected in particular women from disadvantaged groups such as migrants, refugees, lesbian, trans and bisexual women, women with disabilities, and defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Committee must stay alert to the social norms and patriarchal structures, which contributed to the pervasive nature of gender-based violence and led to a culture of impunity.

Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan said that victims of Japanese military slavery had been fighting for justice for 27 years, demanding that the Japanese Government acknowledge its war crime and take legal responsibility. The Government of the Republic of Korea must promptly implement the follow-up measures based on a victim-centred approach.

Fiji

Fiji Women’s Rights Movement said that gender inequality permeated most sectors of society, and measures to develop women’s social, political and economic lives had not been adequately supported. The continued pervasiveness of gender-based violence throughout Fiji served as the most visible manifestation of those systemic failures. Gender-based violence was a result of power imbalance in homes, society at large and institutions, and a long way remained before reaching the 30 per cent target.

Another speaker welcomed the adoption of the three key laws for women – the Family Law Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Crimes Act, and noted the need for all stakeholders to work in collaboration, including through the activation of the Task Force for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Task Force on Women and Law. Legislation had been issued via a decree over the past several years, which had a chilling effect on human rights defenders by criminalizing free expression, assembly and association. The national human rights institution came under the Office of the Prime Minister, and such a placement restricted its independence in investigating human rights violations committed by the State.

Discussion

Civil society organizations from Malaysia were asked about the dress code for women, the reasons behind the increased divorce rate, a fatwa against a non-governmental organization, and the harassment of and violence against women human rights defenders. What was the influence of the complex federal law and Islamic Sharia law on the rights of women and how were those influences being evaluated?

Experts asked how non-governmental organizations from Chile participated in the public debate, and how they moved from consultations to implementation; about measures needed to empower the participation of women; about support and reparations for women and girls who were victims of trafficking; about the situation of indigenous women; and about the protection of women from other forms of violence, including psychological. Was there an assessment of the harm inflicted on women due to institutional conscientious objection? Would the criminalization of femicide make it more difficult to investigate and prosecute crimes?

On Fiji, Experts asked about the reasons for which the phenomena of hyper masculinity and the outrageous gender-based violence remained pervasive.

Non-governmental organizations from the Republic of Korea were asked about the agreement with Japan concerning victims of Japanese military slavery.

Responding, the non-governmental organizations from Malaysia said regardless of the official directive not to impose the dress code on members of the public, such enforcement continued to take place by conservative members of the Government. The increase in the number of divorces was mainly due to men taking advantage of the right to divorce by repudiation, in other words to unilaterally divorce their wives. Since the fatwa had been issued on a non-governmental organization, there was a possibility of shutting down social media channels, and publishers. It was clear that polygamy was not divine but this element had not been considered in the legal reform. Under the federal constitution, Sharia should only apply to persons who professed the faith of Islam, but increasingly, there was a movement to pass Sharia-like and conservative laws and policies, which were applicable to all regardless of their religion.

Non-governmental organizations from Chile said that indeed, civil society organizations were involved in the efforts to provide support for women victims of trafficking, and said that there was no shelter for children victims of trafficking. Activist indigenous women were still not officially recognized as human rights defenders. Psychological violence was a part of domestic violence, but the problem occurred in situations in which domestic violence was considered not a crime but a family matter and was dealt with not by the criminal but by family courts. There were no laws that encouraged women to vote, while laws on the political participation of women imposed a 40 per cent quota on political parties.

In the Republic of Korea, there were attacks against those who supported the 2015 agreement with Japan on the issue of victims of Japanese military slavery, in which the Government had committed to resolving the issue based on the victim-centred approach. Although the Republic of Korea had never said it would attempt to change the agreements, it had later been discovered that there were secret agreements between the two countries. The Government provided sexual and reproductive health education but this education was problematic as it strengthened gender-based prejudices and prejudices towards different sexual orientation and gender identity.

Civil society organizations from Fiji said that the decrees had precedence over the laws and they were in fact the “superlaws” that trumped the Constitution. As for the reasons for the prevailing hypermasculinity and violence against women, speakers noted the patriarchal norms and beliefs that permeated the society and which supported victim-blaming and women’s inferior positions. The culture of violence was exacerbated by the actions of the military, and the entrenched impunity for the perpetrators.

Discussion with National Human Rights Institutions

NIK SALIDA SUHAILA NIK SALEH, Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), welcomed the inclusion of “gender” as a prohibited ground for discrimination through the 2006 amendment to the Federal Constitution and called upon the Government to introduce a gender equality law. The Committee should ask about the implementation of the National Policy of Women and why many of the goals of its National Action Plan 2009-2015 had not been achieved. There were concerns about discrimination against women in matters of nationality and citizenship, as non-citizen women married to Malaysian husbands were completely dependent on their husbands to maintain their legal status in the country, which left them vulnerable to domestic violence, estrangement and abandonment. A positive step had been taken by the judiciary in creating a legal precedent on the issue of the unilateral religious conversion of children, but it was disappointing that the Government had withdrawn a section from the 2017 Amendment Bill to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, which would have resolved this issue in the law.

Ms. Nik Saleh raised concern about the different application on women and men of the law on foreign-born persons on the right to citizenship, noting that women had to go through a more arduous process than men when applying for citizenship.

CONSUELA CONTRERAS LARGO, National Institute for Human Rights of Chile was alarmed by the continuing high prevalence of violence against women as expressed in very high rates of femicide as the ultimate expression of violence and discrimination against women. Another grave concern was violence against children and adolescents, particularly in institutions; especially vulnerable were girls considering that they were victims of 80 per cent of all cases of sexual abuse. The Institute welcomed the draft bill on the right of women to be free from violence and hoped that it would have adequate resources to train professional staff and that it would include all forms of violence against women. There was a very low level of convictions in cases of trafficking in persons, and the gender pay gap continued to demonstrate the lack of efficiency of the existing legal framework. Women were discriminated against in pensions as well and the Institute called for a pension reform which would ensure that women and men had the same pension rights and that pensions provided for a decent living.

SOO-YEON LEE, National Human Rights Commission of Korea, said that despite the Committee’s call for a swift adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, the Government had shown a passive response, leaving discrimination and hatred against social minorities prevalent. It was necessary to adopt a gender discrimination prevention act to rectify gender discrimination and reinforce remedy for victims. Measures must be adopted to address the gender wage gap of 37 per cent and create an enabling environment for women to achieve work-family balance, and counter discrimination against irregular workers. Further action was needed to increase the representation of women in politics, where it currently stood at a mere 17 per cent, and in the private sector as well. There was a need for a survey on the situation of sexual violence in Government institutions, and to institute obligatory awareness training for employees and systematize protective measures for sexual violence victims within State institutions.

Committee Experts raised questions about the situation of persons with different sexual orientation and gender identity in Malaysia, and how it could be improved. In Chile, what was the likelihood of the Congress approving the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention? Experts wondered about barriers to women’s access to justice in the Republic of Korea. The three national human rights institutions were asked how they maintained their independent status.

NIK SALIDA SUHAILA NIK SALEH, Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), said that there was no improvement in the legal treatment of the marginalized lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer/questioning persons, who continued to suffer discrimination. The Commissioner was currently conducting research on the matter and would share the findings with civil society and the Government to discuss measures which could be taken. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia was established in 1999 as an independent human rights institution, and it had maintained its independence while working closely with religious bodies, the Government and civil society organizations.

CONSUELA CONTRERAS LARGO, National Institute for Human Rights of Chile, said that the bill of ratification of the Optional Protocol had been before the Congress for 17 years and that it was hard to estimate when it could be approved given the lack of political will. The Institute had a wide-ranging scope in addressing issues although the mandate was limited in bringing about legal action. The Institute was monitoring the situation of children and adolescents in State custody and welcomed the adoption of the law on the establishment of Ombudsmen for children. The Bangkok Rules were generally not applied to women deprived of their liberty, and Chile had a high proportion of the population in pre-trial detention.

SOO-YEON LEE, National Human Rights Commission of Korea, said that, because of the complex complaint procedure, not many victims of sexual harassment filed a complaint under the Optional Protocol. The complaints were usually filed with the police and the Commission was actively working on easing the procedure.

For use of the information media; not an official record

CEDAW/18/002E

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