(Stock image for illustration purposes) JAG said as a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Rights and Gender Equality, it would be appropriate for the PAS Dewan Muslimat chief to educate herself on the long history of SIS’ work in fighting to uphold the human rights of women and address the root causes of gender inequality in Malaysia since 1987.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) has taken to task PAS' Rantau Panjang Member of Parliament Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff.

This is over her remarks on Sisters in Islam (SIS) receiving financial support from the Women, Family and Community Development ministry.

JAG said as a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Rights and Gender Equality, it would be appropriate for the PAS Dewan Muslimat chief to educate herself on the long history of SIS’ work in fighting to uphold the human rights of women and address the root causes of gender inequality in Malaysia since 1987.

“It is also timely for YB Siti Zailah to speak with the thousands of Muslim women on-the-ground in Malaysia, whose rights to gender equality and non-discrimination SIS has stridently fought for, and whose suffering in the face of dire socio-economic situations, religious bias, and stereotyped attitudes towards women SIS has alleviated,” said the coalition of 13 women’s rights organisations nationwide in a statement today.

JAG said Siti Zailah’s assertion that the government should take action against SIS and other organisations that "abuse the name of Islam" is highly irresponsible in dismissing the freedom of individuals and organisations in Malaysia to express their religious beliefs in diverse ways, and dismissing the substantial contributions of SIS to helping Muslim women.

“Over the last 32 years, SIS has worked to achieve gender equality through a more just interpretation of the Islamic jurisprudence that is an egalitarian vision of women’s rights in conformity with the requirements of CEDAW.

“SIS has spoken out against the lack of access to justice faced by women and girls for a range of human rights violations, from the practice of polygamy, to domestic violence, to the superior rights of the man to terminate a marriage, to the unequal rights of the mother in issues of child custody and guardianship, to child marriage,” it added.

The grouping of non-governmental organisations also commended the Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, in handling Siti Zailah’s comments on the matter in the Lower House of Parliament.

JAG also praised Federal lawmakers Hannah Yeoh, Maria Chin Abdullah, Kasthuri Patto, Nur Azrina Surip, and Charles Santiago (the latter three who are also members of the PSC on gender and equality rights) who had spoken out consistently in support of women’s human rights.

It also commended the Woman, Family and Community development Ministry for its support of SIS.

“The Ministry of Women chose to support SIS’s work to gather data and statistics on Muslim women - data which has been sorely lacking and is critical to assessing the status of human rights of Muslim women in the country - because it recognises the tremendous contributions of SIS in helping women in need, including through providing free legal services through its telephone hotline and legal aid clinic, which has served 8,400 women,” said JAG.

The work of SIS and other human rights organisations is critical to filling the void in available services for women surviving violence and discrimination in Malaysia, it said.

“These organisations should be lauded and supported, not maligned, by government representatives - especially those claiming to have an interest in upholding women’s rights and ensuring gender equality.

“JAG would like to urge YB Siti Zailah and all PSC members to engage with civil society to be a part of the solution for the rakyat.

“Let’s practice a mature democracy and, together, roll our sleeves up to address the lived realities of communities on the ground and abandon political posturing,” JAG said. --Bernama

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