KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — Women’s group Sisters in Islam (SIS) insisted today that feminists will not support a proposed Bill to enhance Shariah courts, after deputy minister Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki urged them to do so last week.
According to the group, feminism believes in achieving equality through addressing systemic barriers rather than enacting harsher punishments, something that the private member’s Bill by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang fails to take on.
“Feminism does not aim to achieve justice and equality through imposing higher punishments,” SIS said in a statement here.
“It instead, aims to achieve substantive equality by addressing systemic barriers women face daily such as unjust laws, poor implementation of laws and limited access to the justice system due to strained economic conditions, to mention a few.
“These systemic barriers unfortunately, are not at all addressed in RUU355,” it added, using the Malay acronym for the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, or Act 355, that the Bill aims to amend.
Last week, Asyraf, who is the deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs, said women and feminists should support the Bill as it will allegedly protect them from victimisation by raising the fines on offenders.
SIS said Putrajaya and PAS would have supported SIS’ call to amend the present Islamic Family Law Act 1984 (IFL), if they were really concerned about women’s rights.
According to SIS, existing IFL provisions discriminate against women, and simply increasing punishments for ex-husbands who do not pay maintenance fails to tackle the root of the problems in Shariah courts.
SIS also said the Bill’s proponents ought to support the call to review the present Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE), which targets mostly women, transgenders and those of lower economic status, where harsher punishments will further discriminate against them.
“What we urgently need is a complete review of the Shariah legal system, because if we allow RUU355 to be passed without reviewing the existing IFL and SCOE, we will be leaving the doors to potential abuse of power and discrimination wide open,” it said.
In November last year, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang read his motion for the amended version of his private member’s Bill to amend Act 355, but he deferred it to the next time Parliament convenes this year.
PAS and Muslim groups are now planning a rally called “Himpunan 355” on February 18 in support of Abdul Hadi and his Bill, but have failed to obtain permission to hold it at the historic Dataran Merdeka.