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Sarawak Women for Women Society - Press Release - 8 March 2019

Today is International Women’s Day and the theme for this year is #BalanceforBetter but what does it mean? Is it balance between home and work for both men and women? It is but is also more than this.

The United Nations stance is that the world will be a better place when there is more gender balance as this will enable everyone to live to their full potential and contribute their skills to society.

Currently women still face more discrimination; poverty and domestic violence while men have a tough time when they strive to have more family time or want to pursue work perceived as outside society’s expectations of them.

The UN has long been calling for gender equality including in its Sustainable Development Goals which Malaysia is aiming to reach by 2030. However, as shown in the recent UN review of Malaysia’s compliance with human rights treaties, there is still much to achieve.

To mark International Women’s Day SWWS is therefore highlighting key steps Malaysia can take in the year ahead to gain more equality by empowering women. These 9 points emerged from the forums in their Women for Progress series which was held at the end of 2018. Each month SWWS through social media will expand on one of the following areas:

  1. End Discrimination – Pass a Gender Equality Act: Such an Act is needed to comply with the country’s  obligations under the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Malaysia signed way back in 1995.
  2. End Child Marriage: Girls – unlike boys – are still allowed to marry when legally a child and not considered mature enough to vote, smoke or drink.  Early marriage negatively impacts on their life chances.
  3. Develop Opportunities for Women and Girls in Rural Areas: Access to jobs and services, including health care, is too far behind urban areas. This imbalance impacts on both men and women but arguably more on the women who are often left behind and have less say in decision making bodies.
  4. Provide safeguards against violations of women’s human rights in all family, relationship and marriage matters and in the field of employment: Violations include the use of force and lack of natural justice. Women in all forms of relationships should be protected from domestic violence and sexual assault and have equal access to justice and adequate, apt maintenance should partnerships fail.
  5. Times Up – End Sexual Harassment: New legislation is needed to protect people in all settings from sexual harassment. The voluntary code established in 1999 has not worked.
  6. Show Respect – No Consent Means No: Attitudes as well as the law needs to change for the #Me Too movement to succeed. Sexual Harassment covers a wide range of behavior from insensitive, offensive remarks to making promotion or continued employment conditional on sexual intimacy. Such misuse of power is a violation of human rights, causes mental distress and lowers productivity.
  7. Let our Women Stay in Malaysia and Raise their families here: In today’s global world many Malaysians marry other nationalities but for women doing this it is much harder for them to settle in their homeland with their spouse than for Malaysian men. This needs to change if family life is to be strengthened and women are to have the same rights as men.
  8. Mothers to have equal rights as fathers regardless of nationality and ethnicity: It should be as easy for a mother to pass on her nationality and ethnic identity to her children as the father – this also benefits the child/children.
  9. Share the Care. Caring is important whether of a child or a sick adult. It takes energy, time, money and commitment. It needs to be shared across gender within the family and with external support. Too many female carers are left alone to care leaving them stressed, isolated and for some impoverished. They, like everyone else need a balanced life.

 Margaret Bedus, SWWS’s President, stresses that people should not see women’s issues as only women’s and only attended to once a year. They are issues which can improve quality of life for all and need to be mainstreamed into every sector and Ministry. As the UN says, “Think equal; build smart and innovate for change.” The aim of International Women’s Day is to promote such thinking into all planning everyday so everyone can enjoy a balanced, fair world.