Women’s rights in Malaysia are under attack and why it matters


Malaysia women’s rights are under attack. The struggle against female opression has been fought on the battlefield both institutionally and domestically. There have been a few beacons of hope in the political sphere, as more women take on positions of power, such as the appointment of Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as Deputy Prime Minister and Latheefa Koya as the head of Malaysia’s Anti Corruption Committee. The progress however is not enough, and the proportion of eligible women that are actually accepted into prestigious positions in government or any employment scenario is still low.

To date, female students in universities are 64% of the total students in Malaysian universities, as they make up over 64% of enrollment. Women’s participation rate in the workforce is still relatively low, which would explain their lack of political power in the country. There is a long road ahead towards equal rights, and at the Ethical Feminist blog, we believe that awareness is the first step towards equality and influence. We want women to share their stories, feelings and opinions about women’s rights in Malaysia, and for our readers to feel like they are not alone in their fight.

Some of the main issues raised on our blog are marital rape, being a businesswoman in Malaysia, baby dumping, FGM and more. The blog’s sole purpose is for women to express themselves, regardless of backgrounds, different ethnic groups or beliefs. We are creating a safe place for women, hoping you all get inspired by the shared stories.

For instance, marital rape in Malaysia is still legal and is not criminalized, because the government claims that it’s harder to prove that the rape happened, leaving thousands of women without legal protection against rape that takes place in their very own home. This is especially the case for Muslim men, as Muslim politicians respond to anti-rape campaigns by emphasizing religious narratives, claiming that marital rape doesn’t exist in Islam. The clause of rape within the institution of marriage has provided a perfect loophole for rapists who wish to avoid punishment. Local organizations have cases documented where men who have raped girls as young as 12, tried to evade criminal charges by marrying their victims.

Not only are women not protected by the rule of law, we are also unable to voice our own opinions about what we do with our wardrobe. This year, three women were investigated by the Malaysian Islamic authorities for hosting events that discuss their decision to stop wearing the hijab.

The event was called “Malay Women and Dehijabing”, was actually an open discourse on what the hijab means for women, not an anti-religious gathering. The contents of the event were severely distorted and the women are being suspected by authorities for incitement they are not responsible for. They should be putting angry, unreasonable men under scrutiny instead.

Just under a year ago, women were publically caned for attempting to have lesbian relations as 100 people witnessed the brutal punishment in court. This is yet another issue we also discuss further on our blog.

Laws not only prohibit women from controling what they wear or who the love, how they choose to practice their faith, but how they experience sexuality. The National Fatwa made female genital mutilation (FGM) obligatory on any Muslim girl born in Malaysia in its 2009 recommendation. According to their policy, parents can be exempted from mutilating their child only in case the practice can bring medical harm to the baby despite no mention of FGM in the Quran whatsoever.

According to conservatives, the purpose of FGM is controlling and affecting women’s sexuality and purity, limiting their ability to enjoy any sexual contact or intercourse and often causing grand complications in both the genital and urinal systems. Although most women are increasingly resorting to using certified surgeons for the procedure, it is very much still practiced by many doctors and is culturally accepted in Muslim communities.

During his term as the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon said that “The world cannot be the best it can be if half of the population do not reach their full potential”. The Malaysian economy has largely benefited from Malaysian women in the workforce, yet there is still much to be done.

Organizations such as Sisters-in-Islam (SIS) are working towards equal rights, yet have been viewed as disobedient and controversial even though they are trying to advocate for rights within the framework of Islam. In other words, even if you play the part as a respectful Muslim woman in Malaysia and play by the rules, you’ll be criticized and claiming your rights will still be an uphill climb.

We hope this entry has been helpful to introduce what we do here at the Ethical Feminist blog, and how we are raising awareness for Malaysian Womens’ Rights for our readers and audiences all over the world.