It is galling that the federal government has found it appropriate in this day and age to appeal against a high court landmark ruling, which grants automatic citizenship to children who are born abroad and whose Malaysian mothers are married to foreign men.
This is certainly a hideous setback to the progress women have made over the years in advocating gender equality, justice and career advancement in our society.
It is also heart-wrenching for the mothers concerned, who have been fighting for their rights for decades only to see their triumphant joy being snatched away four days after the ruling was made on 9 September.
In Kuala Lumpur, High Court judge Akhtar Tahir affirmed Malaysian women’s equal rights under the Federal Constitution to confer citizenship automatically on their children born overseas to foreign spouses. In contrast, Malaysian men have been enjoying this right for decades.
The discriminated mothers deserve to be spared the prolonged agony of wondering what would happen to their children’s future should they be rendered stateless eventually. Like any other families, these mothers and their children would need certainty in life, to make plans for their studies, career opportunities and the overall happiness of their families.
Such an unjust action on behalf of the government lends credence to the suspicion that there are male political leaders who are still not in tune with the progress of time and remain guided by the spectre of misogyny.
In a democracy, discrimination on the basis of gender, apart from ethnicity and religion, must be condemned categorically as it violates justice and hampers social progress.
Compassion and justice must instead be the guiding principles of the government in its treatment of women and those mothers in particular. Appealing against the court ruling is simply heartless.
Having recently ushered in the 58th year of the formation of Malaysia, the new government should embrace the notion of inclusivity with much vigour. Marginalising women in this manner would be an unpleasant feature of the Ismail Sabri Yaakob administration.
We are nonetheless heartened to learn that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (law and Parliament) Wan Junaidi; Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Mohd Harun; and Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin have lent their support to the court ruling. Hopefully, these ministers will be able to convince other members of the cabinet to see the light for the benefit of the children and families concerned.
The fact that Malaysia is one of 25 countries that still discriminates against women in citizenship laws is not something that we should wear on our sleeve. It also does not augur well for the Malaysian government, which is bidding for a seat on the 47-member UN Human Rights Council for the 2022-2024 term, to be seen to be violating the human rights of women and mothers seeking justice for themselves and their children.
The government’s inconsistency between its actions (in transgressing justice and human rights) and its expressed desire to be a human rights advocate is obviously not a good selling point.
The plight of the discriminated mothers can only cease when the government does the humane and right thing. – The Malaysian Insight