Monday, May 05, 2008

Malaysia Comes to Its Senses

I was all prepared to do another post about why Malaysia Sucks when I read this article today on the BBC website.

In short, Rais Yatim, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, was floating a plan that would require that Malaysian women seeking to travel alone abroad would need to obtain written consent from their family or employers.

"The Malaysian foreign minister said the move would prevent single women being used by gangs to smuggle drugs.

Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said 90% of cases where Malaysian women had been jailed by foreign courts involved drugs.

He told the New Sunday Times newspaper that a compulsory letter of consent to travel alone would enable women's families to make sure they were not being tricked by drug smuggling gangs."

But rather than impulsively doing a quickie post linking to the article, I decided to do a little more digging.

A short while ago I went on the web site of The Star, the on-line version of one of Malaysia's English language newspapers, to see if there were any updates to this story.

And, as it turns out, this article (excerpt below) reports that the proposal is being dropped.

"The proposal for women travelling out of the country alone to show a consent letter from their employer or family cannot be implemented, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday.

He said it was impossible to introduce such a regulation because thousands of Malaysian women travelled overseas annually on official duty or otherwise."

Also on the Star's site was this letter to the editor by an L. Taft in Kuala Lumpur. She points out that "It is outrageous to even consider this, just because of 119 women (out of a total population of nearly 12 million women in this country) got into trouble while abroad." I also got a good laugh out of this line, "Would you propose that all the men in Malaysia be castrated just because most of our rapists are men? " The whole letter is worth reading though and I recommend you check it out.

In the course of my research, I also discovered the existence of an Islamic feminist group in Malaysia called Sisters In Islam. They were mentioned in the BBC article at the top of this page as being one of the organizations in Malaysia that was outspoken against the proposed regulation.

Here in the West, a lot of us have a tendency to view the Islamic world as one big monolith, so it is refreshing to see that there are groups like Sisters In Islam that are standing up against misogyny and male chauvinism in Islam. But as their mission statement makes clear, the movement for women's rights in Muslim societies will occur within an Islamic framework. As much as the idea might clash with my idealism, it is not realistic to expect that secular and liberal values will be promoted in the Islamic world except in an Islamic context.

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