Day 6: Malaysian Women\'s Campaign for the Domestic Violence Act

Posted on 30 November 2000

Malaysian Women's Campaign for the Domestic Violence Act

Malaysia's Domestic Violence Act (DVA) was implemented in June of 1996.

The campaign by women's groups for a domestic violence bill, however, was initiated eleven years earlier. In March 1985, the Joint Action Group against Violence Against Women (JAG), comprising individual women and five organizations - WAO, Association of Women's Lawyers (AWL), Malaysian Trade Unions Congress Women's Section, University Women's Association (University Malaya) and the Selangor and Federal Territory Consumers' Association - organised a two day workshop-cum-exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

Prior to the workshop, domestic violence was largely perceived as a private, family affair in Malaysia.

The workshop discussions emphasized the nature of domestic violence as a form of control and power over women, sustained by the sexist structures in society which devalue women. The JAG workshop declared domestic violence as a societal concern, and concluded with women's groups calling for the enactment of a Domestic Violence Act. Following the workshop, JAG drafted a "Proposed Act on Domestic Violence."

In June of 1985, the National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO) submitted a memorandum on reforms to laws discriminating women to the Minister of Justice, included in the memorandum, a call for the enactment of a Domestic Violence Act.

In August of 1989, AWL initiated a meeting between women's groups and the Royal Malaysian Police. As a result of this meeting a Joint Committee to examine the Proposed Act on Domestic Violence 1985, was established. The members of the committee included AWL, AWAM, WAO, NCWO, the Bar Council, the Department of Social Welfare, representatives from the Ministry of Health, Pusat Islam, the Women's Affairs Department of the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development (HAWA), and the Royal Malaysian Police. The Joint Committee prepared a document entitled "Domestic Violence Act, 1990."

In 1992, several women's NGOs submitted the document to the Minister of National Unity and Social Development, Datuk Napsiah Omar, and to the office of the Attorney General.

HAWA facilitated meetings between women's NGOs and the Attorney General's office during 1993 and 1994. Problems in seeking a criminal and civil domestic violence law, applying to both Muslims and non-Muslims, delayed negotiations. "Datuk Alex Lee opined that the Bill is too hybrid in nature and suggested that the Bill be criminal in nature for expediency purposes, i.e. for the tabling in early 1994." The groups renegotiated and the Domestic Violence Act was prepared for the cabinet in March of 1994.

The Act was passed by parliament in 1994, but two years later had yet to be implemented. In February of 1996, AWAM initiated a meeting between Sisters in Islam, AWL and WAO to come together again as JAG and to plan the handing over of a memorandum calling for the immediate implementation of the DVA.

On 8 March 1996, International Women's Day, JAG organised a large gathering of women outside the opening ceremony of a seminar at the University of Malaya officiated by the Minister of National Unity and Social Development, YB Datin Paduka Zaleha. The women held a peaceful demonstration and delivered the memorandum to the Minister. The event received wide press coverage.

For weeks afterward, articles on domestic violence and the need for the implementation of the DVA regularly appeared in Malay and English newspapers. During this period, WAO was the spokesperson for JAG, and we acknowledge the important role of the press in keeping the issue of the DVA alive.

On 26 March 1996, Pusat Islam ruled that the DVA did not conflict with Syariah law, and should not be used as an excuse to delay the Act's implementation.>

On 27 March, WAO, on behalf of JAG, made a press release stating that the enforcement of the Act was not dependent on the regulations, but on the Minister who had the power to set the date of implementation.

On 10 April 1996, the Minister announced that the DVA would be implemented effective 1 June 1996. After eleven years of workshops, campaigns, and negotiations, the DVA was at last implemented on 1 June 1996.

Sources: 1. "WAO Monitoring the DVA 1994", researched by Laura Hebert, and 2. "A Working Document on the Domestic Violence Bill: campaign for law reform 1985-1994" by Sisters in Islam. April 1994.


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