Gender Equality in Malaysia
Flag of Malaysia
|Population (in Mil.)||28.86|
|Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB)||287.94|
|Sex Ratio (m/f)||1.01|
|Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m)||1.065|
|Income Ratio (f/m)||0.42|
|Literacy Ratio (f/m)||0.95|
|Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m)||1.41|
|Women in Parliament (in %)||9.1|
|Human Development Index||61/169|
|Social Institutions and Gender Index||- /86|
|Gender Inequality Index||50/138|
|Gender Equity Index||94/157|
|Women’s Economic Opportunity Index||49/113|
|Global Gender Gap Index||98/134|
|More information on variables|
In the News
- AWID 21.07.2010 : Malaysia: Two in five of first wives in polygamous marriages forced to find extra income
- The Times of India 08.07.2010: Malaysian Islamic courts appoint first women judges
- OneIndia 16.05.2010 : Number of Malaysian women in high posts still way behind male counterparts
Thirteen states and three federal territories form the country known as Malaysia. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. Islam is the official religion and Muslims form the largest single religious group. Malaysia is made up on diverse ethnic groupings including Malays and other indigenous peoples (Bumiputra), Chinese and Indians. World Bank classifies Malaysia as an upper middle income country.
Women’s status in Malaysia has gradually improved, particularly since the early 1990s. Notably, Malaysia has made strides in educational attainment of women, their increased labour force participation in higher paying occupations, their greater involvement in business activities, and their improved health status. Despite these advancements, women remain unequal to men in measures of economic participation, opportunity and political empowerment. The existence of the dual legal system of civil law and multiple versions of Syariah Law (Sharia law) contribute to continuing discrimination against women, particularly in the field of marriage and family relations. In 2006, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women expressed concern about Malaysia’s particularly restrictive interpretation of Syariah Law which adversely affected the rights of women.
Malaysia amended Article 8 (2) of the Federal Constitution in 2001 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender. Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1995, with reservations, particularly in relation to rights in the family and marriage. In 2011, the Human Development Index for Malaysia was 0.761, placing the country at 61 out of 187 countries. For the Gender Inequality Index Malaysia received a score of 0.286, placing the country at 43 out of 146 countries with data. In 2011, the World Economic Forum ranked Malaysia 97 out of 135 countries with a score of 0.6525 where 0 represents inequality and 1 represents equality.
Discriminatory Family Code
Family relations in Malaysia are governed by a combination of civil, customary (Adat) and Syariah (Islamic) law. The minimum age for marriage under the (civil) Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act is 18 years. However, females who have reached the age of 16 may marry if prior permission from the Chief Minister of the relevant State has been obtained. For Muslims, both males and females are also bound by the limitation of minimum age of marriage. Section 8 of Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act states that “no marriage may be solemnized or registered under this Act where either the man is under the age of 18 or the woman is under the age of 16 except where the Syariah Judge has granted his permission in writing in certain circumstances.”
The United Nations reports, based on 2000 data, that 5% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 1% of boys in the same age range. In 1980, 10% of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed which indicates that societal acceptance of early marriage has declined in recent decades. The mean age of marriage for women is 25. The (civil) Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act states that all marriages shall be based upon mutual consent. However, the Islamic Family Law stipulates that marriages are not fully recognised without the consent of the “wali”, the woman’s guardian, who is always male. Using force or threat to compel a woman to marry against her will or to prevent her from contracting a valid marriage once she attained the age of 16 is an offence punishable with a fine or imprisonment. Polygamy is illegal for non-Muslims under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, but legal for Muslims. Islamic law allows Muslim men to take as many as four wives, provided they can support all wives financially and agree to treat them equally. However, the right to practice polygamy may only be exercised with court permission. Women’s organisations report that the requirement for court permission to enter into a polygamous marriage is not effective in practice . A study of 1500 men, women and children on the impact of polygamy conducted by the Sisters in Islam group in 2009 found that men stand to benefit more in fulfilling their needs and desires from polygamous marriages than women. Of the respondents, 65% of the husbands interviewed would recommend polygamy as a family institution. However, only 25% of first wives and about 50% of second wives held this view. In 1999, Malaysia amended the Guardianship of Infants Act, thereby granting parental authority equally to both spouses. Previously, fathers were recognised as the sole legal guardians of a child’s person and property. This law is only applicable to non-Muslims in Malaysia. However, at the federal level, to address the issue of equal guardianship rights to Muslim mothers, a cabinet directive was issued in 2000 to allow mothers to sign all documents related to their children. The government reports that this ensures that all Malaysian women irrespective of race and religion are conferred the right of equal guardianship. In the event of divorce, the civil law gives presumes that a child under seven is best cared for by his or her mother. Islamic law generally considers mothers to be best able to care for children under the age of seven, after which time custody reverts to fathers. Even where a Muslim woman is granted custody of her child under seven, the father remains the legal guardian. Guardianship of children devolves to a series of males on the death of the father, but not to the mother.
Inheritance for non-Muslims is governed by the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act of 1971 and the Distribution Act of 1958. Before 1997, the Distribution Act discriminated against women in that when men died without leaving a will, their wives were entitled to only one-third of the property if the couple had children and one-half if they were childless. By contrast, when women died without leaving a will, all of their property was awarded to the husbands, irrespective of whether the marriage had produced any children. Currently, inheritance laws are gender-neutral so that women and men have equal entitlements. Islamic law outlines detailed and complex calculations of inheritance shares. Women may inherit from their father, mother, husband or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members. The general rule is that the share of a man is double that of a woman in the same degree of relationship.
Restricted Physical Integrity
The Penal Code provides that rape is punishable by a prison term of up to 30 years, caning, and a fine. A 2006 amendment to the Penal Code introduced the concept of rape within marriage but not “marital rape”. The difference is that the Code now criminalizes potential or actual physical harm rather than the act of rape. In addition, an earlier exception still remains in the Code which provides that “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife by a marriage which is valid under any written law for the time being in force, or is recognized in Malaysia as valid, is not rape.”
The courts may decide the minimum jail term for a man convicted of statutory rape of a girl age 15 years or less. The law also prohibits a person in authority from using his position to intimidate a subordinate into having sexual relations. Domestic violence is prohibited under the Domestic Violence Act and the Penal Code. The Domestic Violence Act provides for protection orders. Under the Domestic Violence Act, anyone who wilfully contravenes a protection order by using violence against a protected person may be punished by imprisonment of up to one year and a maximum fine of 2,000 ringgit (approximately 570 USD). In extreme cases involving "grievous hurt" inflicted using a deadly weapon, the maximum imprisonment increases to 20 years. The government reported in 2004 that it is also an offence under the Islamic Family Law for a husband who ill-treated his own wife either mentally, emotionally or physically. The law provides that any person who ill-treats his wife commits an offence and is liable to be punished with a fine or with imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.
There is a lack of recent data on the prevalence of violence against women in Malaysia. Based on a 1995 study, Malaysian women’s organisations report that approximately 1.8 million women or 39% of women over the age of 15 were physically beaten by their husbands or boyfriends. Domestic violence cases reported to the police from 2000 to 2003 indicated a downward trend, from 3,468 in 2000 to 2,555 and in 2003. However, in 2004 it rose to 3,101 cases. Rape cases reported to the police indicated an annual increase in the number of cases from 1,217 in 2000 to 1,765 cases in 2004.
Research from non-government organisations has found that rape victims tend to be younger with 56% of the women who reported rape to one support organisation being younger than 16. There have been reports on cases of custodial rape. In 2005, marital rape was also reported as a concern for women’s organisations. Statistics gathered by women’s organisations indicate that in the years 2000-2002, 52% of women who had been subjected to domestic violence had been forced into sex by their husbands.
Despite the legal protections, women’s organisations have expressed concern about the effectiveness and enforcement of laws and the inadequate provision services for victims. For instance, in 2005, women’s organisations commented that rape is defined narrowly under the Penal Code to only include penile penetration, thus excluding other sexual offences. With respect to Domestic Violence, women’s organisations have commented about the lengthy procedures of getting protection orders and the limited definition of domestic violence. According to the US Department of State cultural attitudes and a perceived lack of sympathy from the largely male police force resulted in many victims not reporting rapes. According to the government and women’s organisations, only 10% of rape cases were reported to the police.
Despite the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, trafficking is reported to be a serious problem with Malaysia primarily a destination country for trafficked women and girls from Burma, Mongolia, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Women and girls are mainly trafficked to the country for commercial sexual exploitation.
There is no clear picture of the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Malaysia. Muslim women in the state of Kelantan admit to having undergone a form of circumcision as infants. With respect to women’s reproductive integrity, abortion in Malaysia is permitted to save a woman’s life and to preserve a woman’s physical and mental health. In terms of attitudes towards abortion, a national fertility and family survey found that 71% of the women surveyed endorsed abortion on the grounds of rape or incest; 54% endorsed it if the woman was unmarried, 52% for health reasons and 34.5% for economic and social reasons. According to a 1994 survey, the contraceptive prevalence rate for married women aged 15-49 was about 55% and varies by ethnicity and educational levels. The percentage of women using modern effective method was 30%. The unmet need for family planning is reported to be 9% although it is unclear what year this data is from.
Gender disaggregated data on the rates of infant mortality and early childhood nutrition are not available for Malaysia. With respect to access to education, the World Economic Forum reports that Malaysia has reached gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education enrolments which suggests that there is no preferential treatment of sons with respect to education.
The Central Intelligence Agency reports that Malaysia has a male/female sex ratio for the total population of 1.03 in 2012.
There is no evidence to suggest that Malaysia is a country of concern in relation to missing women.
Restricted Resources and Entitlements
Women in Malaysia have the right to own and inherit land under the Constitution and land legislation. However, Muslim women’s right to own and inherit land is regulated by Syariah law. With the amendment of the Land (Group Settlement Areas) Act, a wife or ex-wife is entitled to co-own the developed land under the Federal Land Development Authority scheme. Data from the 1992 Smallholder Census indicates that there were 420,193 rubber smallholders in that year. 30.5% were female smallholders with an average holding of 1.65 hectares as compared to male smallholders with 2.02 hectares. The government reports that the matriarchal Minangkabau community favours women by restricting ownership of heredity or tribal lands to female members.
The Constitution also gives men and women equal access to property other than land. In the administration of property, Malaysian law recognises the right of a man and a woman to hold separate properties even if they are married to each other. Any assets acquired during the marriage are considered joint property and, as such, divided in the event of divorce although it is not clear whether this is an equal division. Muslim women can claim one-third (in some cases one-half) of the value of jointly owned land upon the death of a husband or divorce. The Banking and Financial Institution Act 1989 and other related banking and financial legislation do not discriminate on the basis of gender. Malaysian women have the legal right to access to bank loans. The government has introduced a number of schemes, including micro-credit schemes, to improve women’s access to credit, particularly in rural areas.
Restricted Civil Liberties
Legally, women have freedom of movement, but locally imposed restrictions based on Sharia may apply in certain areas. For example, the area of Kelantan has introduced a gender segregation policy in supermarkets, swimming pools, cinemas and other entertainment outlets. NGOs have raised numerous concerns regarding women’s freedom of access to public space in Malaysia. While there appears to be an active women’s movement in Malaysia, women’s organisations report that women’s rights NGOs face many challenges in carrying out their objectives and projects as they are subject to repressive and restrictive laws that exist in the country and continue to curtail freedom of speech, association and movement, despite constitutional protections in these areas. Examples include women’s rights advocates being detained and applications for a rally against rape being arbitrarily denied.
With respect to women’s participation in political life, women in Malaysia have the same rights as men to vote in all elections, to be elected and to participate in the political and public life. However, this has not translated into equal political representation. The World Economic Forum reports that women make up only 10% of Malaysia’s parliamentarians and 7 % of Ministerial positions. Women’s organisations report that the structures of most political parties are not conducive to women’s involvement, as women’s participation and movement within the party is generally restricted to the women’s wings.
With respect to women’s participation in paid work, the Employment Act provides for 60 days of paid maternity leave. Employees who do not receive monthly wages during their maternity leave are also entitled to maternity allowance from their employer for up to five surviving children. The maternity allowance should not be less than RM6 (approximately 2 USD) per day. The law provides that no employee may be dismissed from her employment while on maternity leave. Labour legislation, including maternity benefits, does not apply to home-based workers of those in subcontracted production.
- ↑ United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2004) Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Malaysia, Combined Initial and Second Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/MYS/1-2, CEDAW, New York p.2
- ↑ Central Intelligence Agency (2011) The World Fact Book: Malaysia, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/my.html, accessed 11 February2011.
- ↑ Reference 1 p.2
- ↑ Reference 1 p.2
- ↑ World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Malaysia, available at http://data.worldbank.org/country/malaysia, accessed at 11 February 2011.
- ↑ United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007) Measuring and Monitoring Gender Equality - Malaysia's Gender Gap Index, available at http://www.undp.org.my/measuring-and-monitoring-gender-equality-malaysias-gender-gap-index, accessed 11 February 2011. p.xi
- ↑ World Economic Forum (2010) Global Gender Gap Report 2010, Available at http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/report2010.pdf, accessed 20 October 2010. p.204
- ↑ United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2006a) Concluding comments of the Committee on the Eliminationof Discrimination against Women: Malaysia, CEDAW/C/MYS/CO/2, New York.p.3
- ↑ United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf, accessed 29 February 2012.p.128
- ↑ Reference 9p.140
- ↑ Reference 7 p.11
- ↑ Reference 1 p.105
- ↑ Reference 1 p.108
- ↑ United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) World Marriage Data 2008, available at http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WMD2008/Main.html, accessed 10 October 2010.
- ↑ Reference 7 p.204
- ↑ Reference 1 p.106
- ↑ Reference 1 p.108
- ↑ NGO Shadow Report on the Initial and Second Periodic Report of the Government of Malaysia Reviewing the Government’s Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Coordinated by the National Council for Women’s Organisations (NCWO) in collaboration with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) Prepared by the NGO Shadow Report Group (2005) p.123-124
- ↑ Women Living Under Muslim Laws (n.d.) Malaysia: The Impact of Polygamy, available at http://www.wluml.org/node/6513, accessed 11 February 2011
- ↑ Reference 1 p.18
- ↑ Reference 1 p.114
- ↑ Section 88 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984
- ↑ Reference 1 p.113
- ↑ Reference 1 p.113
- ↑ Penal Code (2006), available at http://www.agc.gov.my/Akta/Vol.%2012/Act%20574.pdf, accessed 19 March 2012Subsection 375A
- ↑ Reference 26 Article 375
- ↑ US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Malaysia, Available http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eap/135998.htm, accessed 12 February 2011.
- ↑ Reference 1 pp.115-116
- ↑ Reference 28
- ↑ Reference 1 p.117
- ↑ National Council of Women’s Organisations (2005) NGO Shadow Report on the Initial and Second Periodic Report of the Government of Malaysia, available at http://www.iwraw-ap.org/resources/pdf/Malaysia_SR.pdf, accessed 11 February 2011. p.140
- ↑ United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2006b) Responses to the list of issues and questions for consideration of the combined initial and second periodic report Malaysia, CEDAW/C/MYS/Q/2/Add.1, New York
- ↑ Reference 32 p.141
- ↑ Reference 32 p.143
- ↑ Reference 32 pp.143-145
- ↑ Reference 28
- ↑ Reference 28
- ↑ Isa, R., R. Shuib and M.S. Othman (1999), “The Practice of Female Circumcision Among Muslims in Kelantan, Malaysia”, Reproductive Health Matters, Vol. 7, No. 13, London, pp. 137-144.
- ↑ United Nations Population Division (2011)
- ↑ United Nations Population Division (2007)
- ↑ Futures Group (2010) World Population Prospects and Unmet Need for Family Planning, available at http://futuresgroup.com/index.php/resources/publications/world_population_prospects_and_unmet_need_for_family_planning, accessed 19 March 2012.
- ↑ Reference 7 p.204
- ↑ Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html, accessed 29 February 2012
- ↑ Reference 1 p.98
- ↑ Reference 1 p.21
- ↑ Reference 1 p.102
- ↑ Reference 1 p.86
- ↑ Reference 1 p.97
- ↑ Reference 32 p.30
- ↑ Shadow Report Group (2005).NGO Shadow Report on the Initial and Second Periodic Report of the Government of Malaysia Reviewing the Government’s Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Coordinated by the National Council for Women’s Organisations (NCWO) in collaboration with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) Prepared by the NGO Shadow Report Group 2005 at p.49 – 53.
- ↑ Reference 32 p.46
- ↑ Reference 1 p.32
- ↑ Reference 7 p.310
- ↑ Reference 32 p.40
- ↑ Reference 1 p.66
- ↑ Reference 53 p.70.
The Women, Business and the Law
Where are laws equal for men and women?
The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.
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the Law Malaysia page.
The FAO Gender and Landrights DatabaseThe FAO Gender and Landrights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender
is one of the major causes for social and gender in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.
The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:
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- Selected Land Related Statistics