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Reuters
4 May 2008

Malaysia angers women with travel-restriction idea

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian women's groups reacted with outrage on Sunday to a government proposal to impose restrictions on women planning to travel overseas on their own.

The mainly Muslim country is considering requiring women to obtain the written consent of their families or employers before being allowed to travel alone outside the country, state news agency Bernama said on Saturday, quoting the foreign minister.

"It is totally ridiculous and it's a totally regressive proposal with regards to women's right to movement," said Norhayati Kaprawi, spokeswoman for Sisters in Islam.

The National Council for Women's Organisations called it unfair. "This is an infringement of our rights," council deputy president Faridah Khalid told the New Sunday Times.

The foreign and home ministries came up with the idea in response to a string of cases where women traveling alone were used by international drug syndicates to smuggle drugs across borders, Bernama said, quoting Foreign Minister Rais Yatim.

Bernama portrayed the proposal as an anti-crime measure rather than a religiously inspired idea and said it aimed to ensure that a woman's family would "monitor her departure and serve as a preventive measure against being duped".

Rais was quoted as saying that the idea came out of a review of criminal cases involving Malaysians abroad. In 119 cases of Malaysian women being brought before foreign courts, about 90 percent were linked to drugs, he told reporters.

Asked if it suspected a hidden religious motive, Sisters in Islam declined to speculate and said the proposal assumed women were less capable than men of making decisions for themselves.

"Only Dr Rais Yatim knows whether it is based on his understanding of Islam or because of his lack of understanding of gender issues," Norhayati said.

"It will definitely not solve the problem," she added, noting that many Malaysian men were also duped into smuggling drugs.

(Reporting by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Bill Tarrant)