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ODOS 2016: Towards a Gender Equality Act in Malaysia – Women’s Aid Organisation

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For One Day One Struggle 2016, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is raising awareness to end discrimination against women in the work force, with a particular focus on ‘pregnancy discrimination’. The mobilization is part of a larger push to see the domestication of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Malaysia, through the passing of a Gender Equality Act.






Malaysia ratified the CEDAW Convention in 1995, and submitted its 1st and 2nd periodic reports at the 35th Session of the CEDAW Committee in 2006. Based on the submissions and discussion, the CEDAW Committee recommended “the creation of a State-wide legal mechanism to ensure harmony in the country’s laws, policies and programmes, and to guarantee fully that the rights of Malaysian women were upheld“. Advocates on the ground say the first step to achieving this is a Gender Equality Act.

After the 2006 CEDAW review process, advocates engaged with policy makers about drafting a Gender Equality Bill, as per the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations. However, as shared by WAO Communications Officer Tan Heang-Lee, “In Malaysia the process of passing a Bill into law requires that the Bill first be drafted and presented by Cabinet Ministers, then it is debated in Parliament, then discussed in the Senate, and final endorsement resides with the King. Unfortunately, no Bill was ever drafted by the Cabinet“.

Given that Malaysia is due for review by the CEDAW committee in January 2018, advocates have increased mobilization over the last year to revive the conversation and build support for domestication of CEDAW through a Gender Equality Act.

Focusing on Article 11 of CEDAW, WAO launched a survey to document women’s experiences with discrimination in the workplace. Their research showed that over 40% of women in the workforce have experienced job discrimination due to pregnancy.

When Malaysia was reviewed in 2006, it was the case of Beatrice Fernandez v Sistem Penerbangan Malaysia, in which Beatrice Fernandez was forced to resign from her job with Malaysia Airlines in 1991 when she became pregnant, that was cited by the Committee as a clear shortcoming that needed to be redressed through domestication of the CEDAW Convention. 15 years on, WAO’s survey results are a timely and important reminder that a Gender Equality Act in Malaysia is urgent and long overdue.

Tan Heang-Lee shared, “This survey is one part of a larger process. With the research, we wanted to document women’s experiences, to identify the gaps in practice and policies, and to help women understand as a first step what recourse options they have if they experience such discrimination. For example, if you face discrimination right now, how can you best document your experience, build up evidence, and who can you turn to. Ensuring women’s greater access to what recourse is available is a first step, while we work towards building greater public understanding and support to end discrimination through legislative and policy reform.”

For ODOS 2016, WAO will be sharing infographics from their survey and building momentum towards the next phase of their campaign, which will explore and identify best policies and practices from employers in ensuring non-discrimination.

“Malaysia has one of the lowest levels of women’s participation in the workforce in the region, hovering at about 53%. That’s an unnecessary toll on our economy, and something we need to address. With this research, down the line we also want to  engage employers, to identify best practices, and to see how women’s leadership in the workplace ultimately benefits them.

Want to get involved? Join the campaign by sharing the infographics, and keep up with Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) on Facebook, Twitter @womensaidorg and Instagram @womensaidorg.

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