Promoting respect for women to uphold gender equality and non-discrimination in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies
I . INTRODUCTION
This memorandum is submitted by Wanita MCA and 12 women organizations.
We call for stern actions to be meted out against sexist elected representatives in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies and positive measures to create gender sensitivity amongst state legislators to promote respect for women and to uphold gender equality and non-discrimination in the State Legislative Assemblies.
We share a common vision of upholding the principle of substantive gender equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender through the promotion of women’s human rights. We note with grave concern that the occurrences of sexist, derogatory and gender-insensitive remarks uttered by elected representatives continue to persist. We are concerned that such high level of tolerance against sexism and gender discrimination in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies is greatly attributed to the lack of or inadequacy of policies or guidelines governing decorum of elected representatives, whether in their
• substance (existence of such clause prohibiting any forms of gender discrimination),
• structures (interpretation and application) or
• culture (beliefs and prejudices perpetuating sexism and gender discrimination).
We have been monitoring sexist behaviours of elected representatives and in particular the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) comprising women’s rights groups has been monitoring closely the debates in Parliament since the late 1990s. Until now, no Member of the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies who made sexist and discriminatory remarks has been punished by the august House.
Firstly, sexist and offensive language used by members of the highest legislative body in the country reflects blatant disrespect to women and disregard for the decorum of the august House. Secondly, the lack of sanctions or rather the absence of some form of punitive measures seemingly condones sexist behaviours of elected members in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies in particular and in general that sexist remarks towards women are acceptable. This is further compounded by the support by other elected members or state office bearers either in defense (active support) or silence (passive support) towards sexist behaviour of elected members which reinforces discrimination against women. Support whether actively or passively by other elected members or society in general contributes to the creation of an enabling condition conducive for discriminatory behaviours and practices against women resulting in unjust and unfair treatment towards elected women representatives and also women in general.
We would like to remind that Malaysia has made several commitments which uphold the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender. At the national level, amendment to Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution which prohibits any forms of discrimination against any person on the basis of gender is a clear testament to promoting gender equality locally. At the global front, Malaysia, a signatory to the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 1995, has an obligation to uphold principle of gender equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender.
As such, the sexist and discriminatory remarks made by anyone including legislators of the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies are unconstitutional1 contravening Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution. Given that elected representatives were voted in to represent all sections of society, such sexist behaviour of some elected representatives in both the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies in effect undermines the government’s commitment both at the national and international levels in promoting gender equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of gender.
II. EXAMPLES OF SEXIST REMARKS AND RESPONSES TO SEXIST REMARKS
Sexist remarks uttered in Parliament and State Assembly have received more attention from the media in the last two years than before. However, condescending, and insulting comments and lewd language about women were hurled as early as 1995 in the Parliament2 and State Assembly.
The following are examples of sexist remarks/ behaviour over the years in the Parliament and one State Assembly, extracted from various sources. Table 1 (refer Appendix A*) illustrates a wide range of sexist and discriminatory comments as produced by Joint Action Group (JAG) on Gender Equality in their “Vote for a Sexism-Free Parliament” leaflet namely:-
a. Insulting comments about women’s bodies and their biological functions
b. Comparisons of women to inanimate objects
c. Sexual innuendos and double entendres
d. Patronising remarks on women being “emotional” and likening women to children
e. Commenting on women’s marital status as a put down
f. Blaming women for sexual crimes perpetrated by men
g. Blaming women for men’s justification on polygamy
We reiterate numerous calls made by various groups and individuals who are committed towards ending sexism and gender discrimination at all levels, in urging and demanding that the Minister in the Prime Minister department in-charge of Parliamentarian Affairs, Speakers of the Upper and Lower House, Speakers of State Legislative Assemblies and all elected representative in both the Parliament and State Assemblies to view sexism and gender discrimination seriously and to take immediate measures to end sexism and gender discrimination in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies.
We propose that the State Legislative Assemblies adopt the following measures to address sexist and unparliamentarily behaviour of elected representatives:
1) Punitive Measures against sexist elected representatives in State Legislative Assemblies
Amend Section 36(6) (b) of Parliamentary Standing Order/ related section(s) in respective Standing Orders of State Legislative Assemblies
To amend related section(s) in respective Standing Orders of State Legislative Assemblies to include prohibition of sexist and abusive remarks and/ or behaviour to any other member of the House.
And failure in adhering to this Order shall result in suspension between two to six months without allowances4 or any other order deemed appropriate.
Implement Code of Ethics (for members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies)
To implement a set of Code of Ethics of the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies which include prohibition of sexist and discriminatory remark/ behaviour towards another member of the House.
Heavier Penalty on Repeat Offenders
2. Positive Measures to cultivate sensitivity of all elected members in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies
a) Orientation for all elected representatives
To conduct orientation for all elected representatives including women to be familiarized with the Standing Orders and Code of Ethics which are intolerant against sexist remarks and/or behaviours of elected representatives.
b) Compulsory Gender Sensitivity Courses for all elected members in State Legislative Assemblies
To conduct regular gender awareness training for all elected members to inculcate gender sensitivity on mannerism in the august House, thus refraining from making sexist and derogatory remarks and also to have a gender perspective on bills and laws which they legislate.
Note: Recently in December 2008, our Parliamentarian representative attended the Inter-parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) meeting in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and consensus was reached by AIPA members to conduct orientation for their respective Parliamentarian to enhance professional proficiency.
c) Stern warning at the beginning of each session on the prohibition of any sexist language/ behaviour
Speaker of respective State Legislative Assemblies to remind elected members to observe decorum and that sexist and derogatory remarks are intolerable and punishable under amended Standing Orders and Code of Ethics which include prohibition sexist and discriminatory remark/ behaviour towards another member of the House.
With this memorandum, we hope that the state government would look into this matter seriously and have the political will to take necessary action to uphold the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination as enshrined in Article 8 of our Federal Constitution.