24 May, 2007

Can Malaysia's Sexist Parlimentarians Be Pardoned?

It seems that there are some elected representatives in the Parliament who have no qualms about ridiculing women at the drop of a hat.

Should no punitive action be taken against such loose tongues, the backlash will only besmirch the country's image in promoting gender equality and Malaysians with first class mentality.

The most recent incident involved two Members of Parliament, Datuk Radin Bung Mokhtar (BN-Kinabatangan) and Datuk Mohd Said Yusuf (BN-Jasin), both made an unwarranted sexist remark against a female MP, Fong Po Kuan (DAP-Batu Gajah) at the recent Dewan Rakyat sitting.

The MPs were debating on the lack of maintenance that resulted in leaks in the Parliament building after heavy downpours when Radin and Mohd Said were alleged to have said "where is the leak, the member for Batu Gajah also leaks once a month". And sadly, the two took much gusto in uttering that distasteful remark and refused to offer any apology to Fong in particular and women in general.

Radin and Mohd Said subsequently came under attack from various groups and individuals and the matter was brought to the Cabinet's attention by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who was then instructed by the Cabinet to deal with the problem.

A meeting between Shahrizat and the two MPs concerned saw the duo tendering an apology half-heartedly if "women were offended". Both Bung and Mohd Said however defended their words used in Dewan Rakyat as necessary to defend the government during debates. They also made no personal apology to Fong.


This recent incident is no isolated case. Back in 1995, Datuk Badruddin Amirulddin who was then the MP for Yan had remarked that Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang's debate was akin to "wanita putus haid" (a woman reaching menopause). Badruddin was also quick to blame women who wear "indecent clothes" for rape.

In 2000, Datuk Mohamed Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) reflected his chauvinism when he started his speech by saying that "it is unusual for women's issues to be touched by men". After a pause he added "but women are supposed to be touched by men".

In 2005, Datuk Idris Haron (BN-Tangga Batu) had remarked that 'sexy uniform worn by Malaysia Airlines female cabin staff could arouse sexual desire in male passengers.

In April 2006, Abdul Fatah Harun (PAS-Rantau Panjang) had said that women divorcees are randy.

Just as the dust was settling after the ruckus caused by the duo, Works Minister Datuk Seri S.Samy Vellu who is also the Sungai Siput Parliament member kicked up a furore over his recent analogy regarding the leaks in the Parliament building.

"A women 50 years ago, she looks beautiful, but today she won't look so beautiful," said Samy Vellu justifying the Parliament building's current sad state of affairs.

This again angered some of the groups representing the fairer sex.


The "leak" incident is the testimony that chauvinism is very much alive in Malaysia and that the women might just be fighting their battles alone. This is concluded based on the reaction of other male politicians who thought the "leak" case was blown out of proportion and should have instead been swallowed with a taste of humour.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had said that Fong should not have overreacted as MPs enjoyed immunity to speak about anything in the House. Nazri who is in charge of Parliament affairs added politicians must be able to take in criticism and be thick-skinned about it.

While Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad (BN-Johor Baru) felt that such a statement was uncalled for but he thought that Fong had blown it out of proportion by making it into a national issue, instead of just a personal attack.

The saving grace came thanks to Datuk Zaid Ibrahim (BN-Kota Baru) who displayed his gender sensitivity when he said that such a statement was not only derogatory but goes against basic decency.

"You don't talk like that about women. They should have been reprimanded," Zaid had said cautioning that similar remarks would surface time and again unless those in power took action.

Zaid also stated that the immunity given to MPs was not to ridicule anyone.

"It is to give freedom to MPs so that they are not fearful to say the right thing about policies for the good of the country."


Maria Chin Abdullah, the executive director of Women's Development Collective and representative of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) told Bernama it seemed that the public had elected 'unqualified' male representatives to represent their welfare.

"What is the point of having the Parliamentary Caucus on Gender Equality to end sexism and gender discrimination in Parliament when every other year the male politicians get away with their derogatory remarks hurled at women? This is yet another form of sexual harassment.

"Also, Malaysia has ratified the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW and yet we have gender discrimination taking place in this country," she lamented.

Maria and several other non-governmental organisations under JAG recently delivered a memorandum to Shahrizat after a protest over the incident outside her Ministry.

Said Maria: "Although the two MPs tendered an apology, it did not appear to be done sincerely. And I am disappointed with the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry for not thinking of long-term efforts to stop such incidents from recurring. A mere apology is no deterrent. That is why we demand that any MP who continues to ill-behave in Parliament be suspended for six months and his pay and allowances cut during that period. This disciplinary action with a penalty is what might teach such recalcitrant MPs a lesson."

--By Jeswan Kaur, BERNAMA



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