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Malaysia 'apartheid' row deepens

By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

From BBC News of March 11, 2006

There has been an angry reaction in Malaysia to remarks by the daughter of the former PM comparing Muslim women to black South Africans under apartheid.
Conservative Muslim women's groups say Marina Mahathir brought shame on the country by saying new Islamic laws have made local women second class citizens.
Her remarks were published with cuts in her regular newspaper column on Friday after being held back for several days.
Marina Mahathir is a prominent campaigner for women's rights.
At the centre of this row is a newly introduced Islamic family law act.
It was intended to help standardise the rules affecting Muslims across all of Malaysia's 13 states.
Opponents say it did so by dropping standards to the lowest common denominator, allowing men to divorce or take up to four wives more easily while giving husbands greater control over their wives' property.
"Her prejudiced views and assumptions smack of ignorance of the objectives and methodology of the Sharia, and a slavish capitulation to western feminism's notions of women's rights, gender equality and sexuality," the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) said in a statement to the BBC.
The MPF argues that men wanting to enter polygamous marriages will now be scrutinised more closely.
Conservative groups also say that wives can now take out orders preventing their husbands disposing of property if they re-marry, just as the men can.
But it is Marina Mahathir's choice of language that has caused most anger.
"In our country, there is an insidious growing form of apartheid among Malaysian women, that between Muslim and non-Muslim women," she said.
She has argued vociferously that the changes to the law represent a step backwards for women's rights in Malaysia.
"As non-Muslim women catch up with women in the rest of the world, Muslim women here are only going backwards," Ms Mahathir said.
"We should also note that only in Malaysia are Muslim women regressing; in every other Muslim country in the world, women have been gaining rights, not losing them."
Many here however argue that women play a far more active role in all aspects of life in Malaysia than in most other Muslim or east Asian countries.
Dr Harlina Halizah Siraj, women's chief of the reform group Jamaah Islah Malaysia told the BBC that Ms Mahathir's opinion was wrong about the reality of life in the country.
"Women in Malaysia are given unlimited opportunities to obtain high education level, we are free to choose our profession and career besides enjoying high standard of living with our families," she said.
Civil rights groups say the apartheid remark was insulting because Ms Marina's father, the former premier Mahathir Mohamad, bolstered Malaysia's race laws.
Those denied certain ethnic groups the same educational, financial and career opportunities given to the majority, predominantly Muslim ethnic Malays.
But what there seems to be a measure of agreement on is that Malaysia's Islamic courts are inefficient, under-funded, and suffer from a lack of women on the bench.


MALAYSIA: 'Censored' Mahathir daughter hits out
Activist accuses The Star of censorship because newspaper has not published her article on women's rights

By Baradan Kuppusamy (From Asia Media of March 10, 2006)

Kuala Lumpur - The outspoken activist daughter of former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad has criticised what she described as censorship of one of her newspaper columns, which described the status of Malaysian women as akin to apartheid.
Her column in The Star newspaper had been due to be published on Wednesday, to coincide with International Women's Day. She said that while non-Muslim women enjoyed gender equality, human rights and legal protection, Muslim women had lost rights and status, were victims of discrimination by Muslim men and had become second-class citizens.
Marina Mahathir said the government, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi whose moderate Islamic policies have otherwise won praise, was "gagging and binding Muslim women more and more each day for the sake of political expediency under the guise of religion".
In an e-mail notice yesterday, Mahathir said The Star was refusing to publish the column because "the powers-that-be think it is too tough on the government".
"This is the first time in 15 years they have refused [to publish my column]," she said.
Mahathir published the article on the internet after The Star failed to run it.
A spokesman for the newspaper said that a "delay" had happened and the column would be printed today.
Like many Muslim feminists, Mahathir is angry over a controversial Islamic Family Law bill - now put on hold - that would have allowed Muslim men to take multiple wives, makes divorce easy and gives men an automatic share of their wife's property.
"We are unique in that we actively legally discriminate against women who are arguably the majority in this country, Muslim women," Mahathir wrote.
"Non-Muslim Malaysian women have benefited from more progressive laws over the years while the opposite has happened for Muslim women."
Her father has been strongly critical of Mr Abdullah's "save more, spend less" economic policies. Some critics said Mahathir was silent on the issue during her father's 22-year rule.
"She did not condemn the Malays-first policy that discriminates against non-Malays," said one writer in an internet chat room.

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