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The Star Online: SIS: Syariah amendments "unfeminist, unjust" (23 January 2017)
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Monday, 23 January 2017 | MYT 7:41 PM
The Star Online: SIS: Syariah amendments "unfeminist, unjust"
by Victoria Brown

PETALING JAYA: Sisters in Islam (SIS) have reiterated their objection to the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act or Act 355, describing it as "unfeminist, unjust and un-Islamic".

"Feminism does not aim to achieve justice and equality through imposing higher punishments," said SIS in a statement on Monday.

The non-governmental organisation issued the statement in response to a statement made on Jan 18 by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Ashraf Wajdi Dusuki.

Ashraf had said that women and feminists should support the proposed amendments as it will protect them from victimisation.

Speaking in response to this, SIS added that feminism aims to achieve substantive equality by addressing systemic barriers women face daily such as unjust laws, poor implementation of laws and limited access to the justice system.

"These systemic barriers unfortunately are not at all addressed in RUU355," it said.

SIS is responding to statement on Jan 18 where Ashraf had also said that the proposed amendments seek to enhance the power of the Syariah courts by raising the fines on offenders.

However, SIS said that if PAS and Putrajaya were concerned about women's rights, they would have supported their call to amend the present Islamic Family Law Act 1984 (IFL), a call that SIS has made "loud and clear" since its inception.

It said that "simply increasing punishments" does not tackle the root problem in the Syariah courts, such as the provisions in the existing IFL that discriminate against women, poor implementation of the law and the absence of gender sensitivity among Syariah court staff.

"In addition, what evidence have PAS and Putrajaya provided to show that higher punishments will lead to better conditions for women seeking justice in Syariah courts," said SIS.

SIS said that if PAS and Putrajaya were concerned about feminism, they would have supported SIS and other women’s rights groups’ call to review the present Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE).

There are over 40 offences under the SCOE ranging from possession of religious publications contrary to Islamic law to khalwat (close proximity).

According to SIS, the SCOE has mostly been applied to women, transgender people and individuals who are of a lower economic status.

"If the existing fine amount of RM5,000 under Act 355 is already affecting the livelihood of most trans-women, the passing of RUU355 which proposes a RM100,000 fine will definitely cause more discrimination against them," said SIS.

Act 355 currently states that any offence shall not be punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding three years, or with any fine exceeding RM5,000 or with whipping exceeding six strokes.

"What we urgently need is a complete review of the Syariah legal system, because if we allow RUU355 to be passed without reviewing the existing IFL and SCOE we will be leaving the doors to potential abuse of power and discrimination wide open," it said.

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