Women’s rights are human rights.
On International Human Rights Day, the women’s tribunal reiterated the judges’ collective view that all the 26 women who shared their testimonies during the women’s tribunal have endured serious violations of their rights. For them, and many other women just like them in Malaysia, justice has not been served.
The first-ever Women’s Tribunal Malaysia set out to reimagine justice for women by holding the Malaysian state accountable to its national and international obligations to protect, fulfil and promote women’s human rights.
The Women’s Tribunal Malaysia ended on 4 December with closing remarks by Mas Ermieyati Samsuddin, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (parliament and law), who in a video message said “the government is committed to introducing anti-stalking laws together with the stakeholders, with its draft and policy paper to be brought to the cabinet as early as December 2021 and to be tabled in Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara early next year”.
Prior to her closing remarks, the tribunal’s judges Zainah Anwar, Shanthi Dairiam and Nadia Malyanah, delivered their findings and recommendations on the issues of:
- Inequality and violations at work
- Rights of contract workers: hospital cleaners
- Rights of domestic workers
- Unilateral conversion
- Right to equality in family laws and practices
- Rural health
- Violence against women
- Rights of trans women
- Young women in political and public life
On the issue of violations at work, Judge Shanthi Dairiam commented that “the lack of government regulations to enforce positive duties on all employers, to put in place policy on and definition of appropriate workplace behaviour and prohibition of inappropriate behaviour, or procedures for addressing inappropriate behaviour when it occurs in the workplace”, represents the government’s failure to protect women’s rights and safety at work.
Judge Nadia Malyanah, speaking on the issue of young women in political and public life, recommended that the Attorney General’s Chambers should immediately issue specific guidance to the police on how to classify, identify and investigate online hate crimes against women and girls under existing criminal laws.
Regarding the rights of contract workers, Judge Zainah Anwar demanded amendments to be made to the Employment Act to establish thresholds for when contract labour should be prohibited, and terms and conditions for contract workers to be provided, fair work practices and protection of their labour rights.
Over two days, on 27-28 November 2021, 26 witnesses shared compelling testimonies about the discrimination and violations they experienced before a panel of judges: Mary Shanthi Dairiam, Zainah Anwar and Nadia Malyanah.
The opening ceremony on 27 November was attended by both national and international human rights experts. During his opening speech, Othman Hashim, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), stated that the tribunal was also a platform which would enable us to assess and determine the progress of efforts made to uphold Malaysia’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).
When speaking about the tribunal, Gladys Acosta, chairperson of the UN Committee on Cedaw, who joined the opening ceremony virtually from Peru, shared that “we always need to hear the voices of women on critical issues which affect their lives. To understand the suffering behind the violations of human rights of women and girls, we need to open these kinds of spaces”.
Heisoo Shin, vice-chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also joined the opening ceremony, live from Korea. Heisoo Shin was one of the organisers of the historic Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, commonly known as the Tokyo Tribunal, held in 2000.
Before an audience of 3,850 viewers on Zoom and Facebook live, the Women’s Tribunal Malaysia hosted 26 witnesses who delivered their testimonies on gender-based discrimination and rights violations. The testimonies, delivered through a mix of video, audio and live appearances, spanned across varying issues concerning women’s human rights in Malaysia, including discriminatory citizenship laws, violence against women, access to healthcare and the rights of women workers.
Abinaya Mohan, head of campaigns at the Women’s Aid Organisation, delivered a testimony on behalf of Sofia (pseudonym), who is a victim of stalking. Sofia recounted accounts of physical and online violence faced at the hands of her stalker who stalked her into her home, workplace and even during social events: “I cannot rely on the law or police for protection; in fact, when I went to the police station the first time to report, I sensed that they didn’t even believe me.”
After the witness testimonies, women’s human rights advocates took the floor to provide situational and contextual analyses.
Professor Suria Selasih Angit, from the Temiar community in Gua Musang, presented her advocate’s statement on education, during which she underscored access to education as one of the biggest challenges faced by the indigenous Orang Asli communities in Malaysia. She recounted four witness testimonies of Orang Asli girls who narrated their experiences of bullying in schools.
“Why do we have to leave our Orang Asli-ness at home or at the school gates just to pursue an education? Why can’t we have both?”
The first women’s tribunal was organised by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) plus Engender Consultancy.
*Organisations on the steering committee
- All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
- Engender Consultancy
- Family Frontiers
- Justice for Sisters
- Kryss Network
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
- Perak Women For Women Society
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)