WEEPING WOMEN of ASIA
By LOH FOON FONG
– Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Malaysian women are generally considered rather fortunate compared with women from other Asian countries. Although comparatively slower in moving ahead in taking up leadership positions in society, they have never been stopped from going to school or taking up jobs that they want although at the moment, many Malay men cannot yet accept a Prime Minister who is a woman to lead the country.
While one hears up to recent past of women in Japan having to give up their jobs once they get married, Chinese boys preferred over girls in China and Indian girls in rural India do not get education like the boys do, Malaysian girls and women have been treated with much more dignity.
Among parents, boys’ or girls’ birth are equally welcomed. Girls go to school and are involved in the job market when they grow up as much as the boys. In fact, with the strong women’s movement in Malaysia, women’s living condition and status in life continue to improve.
In the last decade, more women have moved into politics and other high level leadership positions. Malaysia has its first woman Governor of the Malaysian Central Bank, Bank Negara in 2000. This year, two women became Malaysia’s first vice-chancellors in two of the most established local universities.
Despite all these achievements, there are still many problems that plague Malaysian women. Since Malaysia is a multicultural and multi religious country, women’s problems can be divided based on the different racial groups. Among the major problems are domestic violence and poverty among Indian estate women, sexual infidelity among Chinese businessmen and polygamy among Muslims. Other issues worth mentioning that affects women and cut across racial boundaries are the growing number of single mothers and their concerns and HIV/AIDS infection that are transferred from husbands to wives.
Indian women in tea estates
While domestic violence is found in all races, the incidents seem to be more prominent among Indian estate workers. Many women had been abused by their husbands and this could be due to poverty and/or alcoholism among the men. For a long time, these women think that their husbands have the right to beat them if they are not behaving well. However, due to more community work being done in this group of people, they realise that no one has the right to beat them. Yayasan Strategik Social and the Women’s Aid Organisation play a major role in helping these women, as well as other women who had been abused.
Chinese women suffering in silence
Among Chinese women whose husbands are rich businessmen and travel widely, there is a tendency for the latter to commit adultery. This has become almost an accepted norm in the name of keeping business relations and getting business deals. Some women keep an eye-close for the sake of the children and keeping the family together. Those who do not accept it seek divorce. While some men think that they have to do that for the sake of providing for the family, it is very hurtful and demeaning to the wives.
Some of these men also have another family, although polygamy is illegal among non-Muslims. Some Chinese men provide for both families while others do not.
Although the Quran allows men to marry widows with orphans, most Malay (who are defined by law also Muslims) men who practice polygamy in Malaysia marry younger women. Moreover, many of these men do not inform their first wives when they marry another woman, which is required by the law. Even if they break the law, the fine imposed is pittance.
Children tend to be neglected when men obtain more than one wives. Women struggle to make ends meet because more often than not, the men do not provide for the first family anymore once he has another family.
In an article that appeared in the Star, children of first or earlier wives tend to be neglected, live in poverty and emotionally deprived. Girls whose fathers are polygamous tend to grow up suspicious of their boyfriends/partners.
In June, 2006, the New Straits Times reported that divorce cases in Kelantan (a state in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia) were on the rise and most were the result of men taking second wives without the latter’s knowledge he was already married. Kelantan chief Syariah judge Datuk Daud Muhammad said there were 2,036 divorce applications in 2003, 2,360 in 2004 and 2,439 last year.
“Most applications were made by women who felt betrayed when they discovered that their husbands had taken another wife,” he said.
Many of these cases involved husbands who married their partners in south Thailand, where consent from the first wife was not required for a second marriage, he said.
According to statistics from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, Kelantan had the second- highest divorce rate among Muslims in the country. (The Muslims, who are mainly Malays, have the highest rate of divorce in Malaysia compared with other races.)
Statistics by the Women, Family and Community Development revealed that there were 126,810 single mothers in the country of whom 58.9 per cent were Malays, 23.4 per cent Chinese, 9.2 per cent Indians, 7.8 per cent non-Malay Bumiputeras and 0.7 per cent other races.
Sadly, most are from the lower income group and some live in poverty. It is a great struggle for lower income single mothers make ends meet as well as provide attention to their children when they have to be away at work most of the day.
The emotional needs of children belonging to single mothers tend to be neglected. It is thus not surprising that they are said to have an inferiority complex, withdrawn, passive and sometimes do not communicate well.
Irresponsible men had brought a lot of pain to their wives and children. In Malaysia, there is a growing number of wives being infected with HIV/AIDS. Men who are sexually promiscuous would go to Thailand to get their fix and pass their disease to their wives and subsequently children. Men who are drug users and shared needles too sometimes brought the disease to their wives.
1. More work to be done in the estate settings to help alleviate poverty and create awareness about domestic violence.
2. Men to have more respect towards women and not be promiscuous. A lot of awareness and education work needs to be done regarding polygamy and HIV/AIDS.
3. Men and women to rise up, speak up and bring changes to some of these problems.
4. That churches play a more active role in meeting the needs of these women.