Stop the excuses; It’s a crime to cane women

The Malaysian social structure aligns itself with a patriarchal system that leaves little room for women to move, be seen or even be heard.

January 29, 2015

By Sherleena Abdul Rashid

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 62% women worldwide have experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse by an intimate partner. Additionally, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an organization that began as a result of the United States Commission on Civil Rights hearing in 1978, estimates that every year, more than 1.3 million people survive domestic violence and 85% of these survivors are women.

In Malaysia, 4,128 cases of domestic abuse were reported in 2013. That’s a staggering number. It came from figures obtained by the Women’s Development, Family and Community Ministry and the Royal Malaysian Police. Given the non-confrontational nature of our society and the discriminating attitudes men tend to have regarding domestic abuse, we can assume that the number of unreported cases is much higher.

Domestic violence is a crime in Malaysia. Our country implemented the Domestic Violence Act in 1996 as a way to comply with both civil and criminal law regardless of religion.

According to the act, domestic violence indicates one or more of the following acts:

  1. willfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, the victim in fear of physical injury;
  2. causing physical injury to the victim by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in physical injury;
  3. compelling the victim by force or threat to engage in any conduct or act, sexual or otherwise, from which the victim has a right to abstain;
  4. confining or detaining the victim against the victim’s will;
  5. causing mischief or destruction or damage to property with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause distress or annoyance to the victim;
  6. causing psychological abuse which includes emotional injury to the victim;
  7. causing the victim to suffer delusions by using any intoxicating substance or any other substance without the victim’s consent or if the consent is given, the consent was unlawfully obtained; or
  8. in the case where the victim is a child, causing the victim to suffer delusions by using any intoxicating substance or any other substance by a person, whether by himself or through a third party, against (i) his or her spouse; (ii) his or her former spouse;

Selangor Mufti Datuk Tamyes Abdul Wahid recently made a statement condoning caning women or some form of “light beating” as a method to “rehabilitate” women into performing their duties.

“Husbands are allowed to hit their wives for the purpose of teaching without the intention to hurt them or disgrace them,” he said.

Most Malaysians usually find it very awkward when people in influential positions express statements that showcase discriminating and misogynistic beliefs. Such views do not reflect the progressive nation our government tries very hard to portray and any self-respecting Malaysian would find such disparaging remarks incredibly insulting. Needless to say, these remarks prove just how increasingly conservative and patriarchal our social structure is fast becoming.

In the Quran, Surah An-Nisaa 4:34-35 states:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them to guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) hit them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance); for Allah is most High and Great. If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers. If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation; for Allah has full knowledge and is acquainted with all things.

In this context, the term “hit them lightly” can be interpreted in various ways but it does not permit violence nor condone disciplining women or wives into submission. Therefore, it is especially important to read the entire section carefully and thoroughly. Interpretations must not be taken out of context nor shall they be used to justify transgressions. The verses quoted above suggest managing family situations with tact and exercising profound wisdom. Although the word “hit” is used, it does not insinuate physical abuse.

It is most unfortunate that the present Malaysian social structure aligns itself with a patriarchal system that leaves very little room for women to move, be seen or even be heard. Some bigoted men in our society are content with keeping women in lower positions, keeping them as subordinates and thinking they are incapable of making their own decisions, hence, justifying the need to train them in their duties and to beat them into submission.

These men misuse the positive teachings and wisdom of religion; the cruel interpretations indicate the acceptance of fundamentalism that is no way in line with human rights. According to a hadith (Muawiya al-Qushairi narrates): “I went to the messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be on him, and asked him, ‘What are the rights of our women on us? He replied, ‘Feed and clothe them as well as you do yourself, and do not beat them, and do not abuse them.’”

There is no denying that our problems exist because of contradicting interpretations. If anything, Malaysians should question how certain scriptures are translated, deciphered and explained, especially when it seemingly provokes or encourages human beings to commit violence against one another.

Modern society encourages discussions and dialogues because we understand the importance of communication and how it affects human relationships. There is no question that inflicting physical or even emotional harm upon another human being is unbecoming and unlawful. Domestic violence is a universal issue and one that requires bi-partisan support to wrestle the evils carried out under the guise of discipline or, in this case, “rehabilitation”.

It is a criminal offence, plain and simple.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid is a DAP official and a member of the Penang Island Municipal Council.