An issue of gender equality

GOING by the reasoning and practical application which the government uses to justify its appeal against a judgment and suit by Malaysian women with foreign spouse for children’s automatic citizenship, it appears that the lawmakers in the country still adopt:

  1. the mentality of a patriarchal position that a woman’s legal status is acquired through her relationship with a man – first her father and then her husband
  2. the customary notion that the children of a Malaysian woman married to a foreigner shall follow the father’s nationality
  3. the assumption that a married woman’s primary location is in the private sphere, within the home, and under the protection of her husband, appears prevalent in the mindset of our lawmakers thus justifying that there is no necessity for a Malaysian woman and her children to have a separate public identity
  4. members of a family should have the same nationality and, secondly, that important decisions affecting the family would be made by the husband and if a married woman were to have a nationality different from that of her husband, her loyalties would be divided, and she might be placed in a conflicting and intolerable situation.

Although it is enshrined in Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, the lack of interests on the part of the government, disempowering married women, specifically those married to foreigners, disregard the potential contribution by these women to the country.

According to gender researchers and analysts, the root cause of these issues is the inability of the Malaysian society at large to understand and handle “gender problems”. Malaysian society continues to perceive the role, responsibilities and relationship between men and women according to a traditional mindset – based on the traditional family model where a male breadwinner heads the household, and the wife is a full-time homemaker.

Presently, there are 86% of countries in the world that allow women to pass on their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men.

The remaining 14%, totaling 27 countries altogether, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Somalia, Oman, Qatar, Swaziland, Syria, UAE to name the few, do not allow children to take on their mother’s citizenship.

Malaysia, together with other 192 world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2015. This is a global commitment towards a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive development, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets.

Gender-equal nationality rights are essential to achieving SDG No 5 which is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

The achievement of any SDGs by the country will be negatively impacted unless this issue is addressed to uphold gender equality.

When the framers of the country’s constitution sat down to draft the Federal Constitution somewhere in the 1950s, the total population of the country was approximately six million with the proportion of male to female at approximately 48%.

Sixty years later, even though the total population in the country has now increased to approximately 32 million, the ratio remains approximately the same at 48%.

Have women made any great strides in the past 60 years in the country?

Considerable challenges remain. Despite the progress made, new concerns on the role and status of women have emerged that could adversely affect the participation of women in the economy and social sphere in Malaysia.

Despite the advances supposedly made since the 6th Malaysia Plan, women in this country often remain invisible in statistics. If women’s unpaid housework were counted as productive output in national income accounts, our country’s output would increase by 20-30%.

The 6th Malaysia Plan and subsequent plans contain strategies to incorporate women in the process of development in line with the objectives of the National Vision Policy on Women (NPW). Equitable sharing of resources and access to opportunities for men and women form one of the objectives of the NPW.

In addition, the enactment of new laws and the continuous review and amendment of existing legislation have been undertaken to preserve, reinforce and protect the rights and legal status of women.

Improvement in the health status of Malaysian women in the last four decades contributed to the average life expectancy of women increasing from 58.2 years in 1957 to 78.5 years in 2020.

In 1959, female undergraduates comprised 10.7% of the total student enrolment in local universities and as at end of 2020, it increased to 61% of the total enrolment.

Overall, female employment accounted for 55% of total employment in 2020 as compared to only 24.5% in 1957.

Policymakers who fail to consider the interests of half the population cannot hope to understand how to govern and manage the country. Their action – big or small – in changing the societal structures and norms in place can make a difference to women and their future in this country. It is essential for each and every lawmaker in the country to understand gender ideology and ensure that women’s perspective is not ignored or undermined.

If policymakers and those in the corridors of power speak up and ensure women are given equal opportunity, are to be treated with respect, and not dismiss the struggles they face and stand with them, it will empower women in Malaysia to pursue their passions and dreams, and achieve their fullest potential and contribute meaningfully to nation building.

To ensure this transformation, it is imperative that policymakers take into account women’s various roles and diverse experiences as part of civil society.

Majority of the society in our country already participated actively in making women heard and be given the opportunity. It is the lawmakers that are seen as potentially divisive and their inaction harms our society as a whole.

The country’s leaders have always wanted to project and give an impression that the country is advanced where it seems as if women have rights but in practice we are behind to the extent we are violating agendas at the international level. Instead, our lawmakers rather for the country to be categorised in a small group of developing and middle eastern countries depriving children their right to obtain citizenship on an equal basis with the children and spouses of Malaysian men. – September 20, 2021.

* FLK reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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