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Why legislation doesn’t solve anything

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By Kamilia Khairul Anuar

Picture by Rafik Berlin

It’s no secret as to just how foul-mouthed our MPs can get in Parliament. It seems that hardly a “civil” debate can take place within those halls without people losing their temper and patience, eventually letting slip an insult or two before it deteriorates into no-holds-barred mudslinging.

A smörgåsbord of offensive comments often reach the ears of any who happen to tune in to Parliamentary debates – one MP calling another an animal, making snide references about a female MP’s menstrual cycles, etcetera.

And if you weren’t aware of it, here’s a fact – there’s actually a rule that was meant to deal with this sort of behaviour. Standing Order 36 (4) states that “It shall be out of order for a Member of Parliament to use offensive language.”

Recent news has reported that this rule has been amended – instead of merely stating that an MP should not use “offensive language” (which to begin with is a vague term – what criteria, exactly, must an MP’s choice of words fulfill in order for it to constitute “offensive language”?

It would seem that this decision lies with the Speaker in Parliament, which opens up the possibility for abuse), the rule now reads, “It shall be out of order for Members of Parliament to use offensive language or make a sexist remark.”

There are a few problems with this. Firstly, of course, the very fact that they felt the need to attach that last bit to the sentence implies that initially, sexist remarks were not categorised, or thought to be categorised under “offensive language”. This is an unfortunate implication that reflects the internalisation of sexism in our society – that “sexism” is a separate entity entirely, not considered a facet in the many branches of “offensive language” (which includes not just the curse words you hear school kids use on a daily basis, but also remarks that tend to be discriminatory in nature).

We may concede that sexism goes beyond use of words, for it permeates multiple aspects of our daily lives in society – but if we cannot even acknowledge that sexist remarks are offensive, how are we to progress to the next stage in eradicating sexist actions, or decisions?

Secondly, note that this law only pertains to the use of language by MPs while debating in Parliament. Perhaps if enforced properly, such a rule would indeed see a cease in MPs making sexist remarks (most commonly done by male MPs, directed at female MPs) – but that is all that we will see.

Picture by Phreak 2.0

As long as male MPs retain their sexist attitude towards their female colleagues and vice versa, sexism in our Parliament will not disappear. It will remain like a foul odour lingering in the air, not manifesting itself in actual words, perhaps, but still presenting itself in other, perhaps more subtle ways.

It is a stopgap measure that is meant to make Parliamentary debating conditions a tad more civil, but it will not go beyond that without a change in attitude.

And truly, our lack of attention to the issue of gender equality in Malaysia is somewhat disturbing. As The Sun Daily reported, Nazri seems to take pride in the fact that “we are the only country in the world to do this (legislate against use of sexist remarks in Parliament) to safeguard the honour of women.”

The honour of women is not the only thing at stake. It is also the credibility of our Malaysian society as being a mature, democratic and moderate nation.

It is not something to take pride in when punishment is required to ensure that MPs take care of their choice of words in Parliament.

The eradication of sexism is not just about making the public space more accessible for women, about making women feel safer or more confident about sharing the world with men. Sexism can manifest itself in a variety of forms, such as a female manager refusing to hire a male worker merely on grounds that he is born male.

Though the most reported forms of sexism appear to constitute males discriminating against females, sexism is by no means limited to only this type. Our country appears to fail to grasp that, while legislation can, with proper enforcement yield short-run desirable results – like the installation of women’s-only coaches for KTM trains making it safer for women to travel with public transport – these are limited in scope and offer protection only so long as the legislation is enforced.

Sexism, like all other problems that our country has attempted to solve with legislation, will prevail as long as the root of the issue has not been tackled.

Perhaps it is time we took a good look at ourselves – at what our society has become – and consider how we came to internalise gender discrimination.

 

KKA believes that laws are only effective as far as society believes in its aims.

This article was also published on ReMag, and is reproduced here with permission from the author.

 

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Voice of the Children. Youth Voices is a safe space for youth to engage constructively and discuss social issues.

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