The Foreign Spouses Support Group welcomes Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry secretary-general Ramlan Ibrahim’s announcement in his opening speech at Malaysia’s third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council that Malaysia will pass a gender equality act without delay.
The announcement was made during the opening speech at the 31st Session of the Universal Periodic Report held in Geneva on 8 November 2018.
The secretary-general has further pledged three new steps to promote and protect human rights, including a yearly meeting with civil society to review its track record, and promised to hold a half-yearly review of its progress in implementing the recommendations made in the Universal Periodic Review. This indeed is a positive step forward.
Noting that some member states made recommendations for women to have equal nationality rights, the Foreign Spouses Support Group calls on the Malaysian government to uphold women’s equal rights to confer nationality on children born overseas and on their foreign spouses on the same basis as Malaysian men.
We reiterate that all gender discriminatory provisions in the nationality law must be removed in order for the government to fulfil its commitment to uphold gender equality.
Malaysia must not be left behind
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The lack of gender equality in nationality law results in Malaysia being one of only:
- 25 countries that deny women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis as men
- three countries that deny men equal rights in conferring nationality on their children who are born out of wedlock;
- roughly 50 countries that deny women an equal right to confer nationality on their spouses.
We make the following recommendations to the Malaysian government:
- Honour the Pakatan Harapan manifesto’s special commitment to women. Commitment 4 has promised to “review all laws relating to gender equality to ensure that every woman enjoys legal equality”.
- Amend the Federal Constitution to eliminate internal inconsistencies which allow discrimination based on gender, despite this being prohibited under Article 8(2).
Amend Article 14 and the related Schedule of the Federal Constitution in order to ensure that the children of Malaysian mothers born overseas have the right to citizenship by operation of the law on an equal basis as the children of Malaysian fathers;
Amend Article 15 of the Federal Constitution to recognise the equal rights of women with regard to the acquisition of citizenship status by their non-citizen spouses.
- Uphold the rights of all Malaysian citizens to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis, regardless of gender, marital status and the child’s place of birth, thereby granting citizenship to children when:
- either parent is Malaysian
- notwithstanding the marital status of the parent
- regardless of whether they are born in Malaysia or outside Malaysia.
- Withdraw Malaysia’s reservations to Article 9(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- With immediate effect, grant citizenship to all children of Malaysian citizens with pending applications, enabling these children to avail themselves of their basic rights.
Additionally the Foreign Spouses Support Group, as recommended in its stakeholder’s report, hopes the government will review the policy regarding the legal status and employment of foreign spouses, which is long overdue.
- Annually, there are 100,000 Malaysians marrying non-citizens. In light of the large numbers, the government should establish transparent rules, guidelines and standard operating procedures – relating to the application of spouse visas, endorsements to work, permanent residence and citizenship applications involving children born abroad and foreign spouses – to discourage wide arbitrary administrative discretion by officers.
- Consider amending laws and policies to:
- grant foreign spouses equal rights to work, similar to Malaysians remove the statement of prohibition from employment on visas remove the requirement to obtain permission to work from their Malaysian spouses
- make employers’ contribution to EPF and Sosco for non-citizen spouses mandatory.
- Simplify the process of granting independent legal status to spouses married to Malaysians and the process to obtain permanent residence.
- Ensure that divorced and widowed non-citizen spouses of Malaysians (upon provision of supporting documents) are able to reside and work more permanently and independently, taking into account the best interests of the children and the family unit.
- Exclude foreign spouses from all overarching restrictions and policies covering foreigners, thus enabling them to open individual bank accounts, buy property in Malaysia and enjoy basic rights on a similar basis as Malaysians.
We applaud the Pakatan Harapan government’s commitment to ending discrimination against women and urge the government to build on the momentum from its Universal Periodic Review to enact reforms to ensure gender-equal nationality rights for all Malaysian citizens without delay and to review the policy of foreign spouses.