Malaysia: Violence against Women and Information Communication Technologies




Although
violence against women (VAW) is a widely recognised problem
in Malaysia, there are significant
challenges to its eradication. Women's groups have adeptly
strategised and lobbied on media issues to
address VAW, but this has been largely limited in terms of visibility
and representation. Advocacy has not
extended to the area of information communications technologies
(ICT), augmented by the fact that ICT is framed under the paradigm of
development and political neutrality. Women's
groups are aware of the importance of appropriating ICT more
effectively in their advocacy given Malaysia's heavily
regulated public spaces for speech, expression and information.
Several recent high profile ICT
incidents have catalysed greater
engagement.
VAW
received clear government commitment in the 1980s and
1990s, in tandem with global women’s movements’ efforts in
understanding VAW as a
violation of human rights in the framework of the UN world
conferences on women. This was also when many women’s rights
organisations were established in the country, mostly focussing on
legislative advocacy on VAW. As a result, there is wide
acknowledgement of domestic violence, rape
and sexual harassment – types of VAW that
also have some form of recognition and
redress in laws. However, since the Eighth Malaysia Plan, which was
ironically also the period when the Federal Constitution was amended
to include prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender,
there has been a de-prioritisation of VAW specifically, and women’s
rights generally. National development priorities for women focussed
on their reproductive role in the family,
and their productive role in the economy.

In
that same period, there was a strong focus on ICT in the
national development agenda. ICT was conceived as the primary vehicle
to propel the nation into fully developed status by 2020; and heavy
investment in terms of policy, infrastructure and budgetary
allocations were placed into the development of Malaysia as a model
ICT for development country. The private
sector plays an influential role in policy
and enforcement of ICT policy. The economic framework that drives ICT
development has also resulted in an internet space that has been free
from State intervention in the form of censorship. This is
significant given the strictly regulated space for communication and
expression in other forms of media and communication channels.
However, there has been an increase in State intervention to regulate
the free flow of information and expression on the internet in recent
years. Measures which have generally relied on existing peripheral
laws such as the Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act and the Internal
Security Act, are shifting towards more ICT-specific mechanisms and
laws, such as the Communications and Multimedia Act, amendments to
the Penal Code to allow state surveillance
in attempts to combat terrorism and plans to introduce internet
filtering to “protect children from the culture of internet
pornography”. The recent change in the configuration of the
Ministry that is responsible for communications also demonstrates
that the government sees ICT as more than
infrastructure and profoundly implicated in
power and nation-building.

This
presents both challenges and opportunities for women’s rights
movements in the advocacy to end VAW and in the advancement of
women’s rights. Challenges include analysing and articulating how
ICT has impacted on VAW (such as the use of private and intimate
photographs to control partners in domestic violence situations);
responding to issues of censorship and content regulation while
taking into account questions of
fair and equal representation of women in the changing landscape of
media and; articulating a clear stance on
emerging privacy and security concerns from
the perspective of women’s rights and realities.
Discourses on sexuality, culture and morality are deeply entwined,
necessitating a clear stance by women’s rights advocates to reclaim
the capacity of women’s rights to control and make decisions about
her own body, spaces, action and life as inalienable and fundamental
principles. Opportunities include the repositioning of VAW as a
national priority by integrating ICT and VAW through the framework of
public participation and governance;
identifying new potential allies in the private sector and government
bodies; engaging in multistakeholder platforms and mechanisms that
have been created due to the model of ICT governance adopted by the
government; and claiming and shaping digital spaces and discourses
through strategic and creative use of ICT. This however, requires the
building of new knowledge and capacity in understanding the
interconnection between VAW and ICT in women’s current and diverse
realities, as well as greater clarity on ICT
policy and technology.
The paper
highlights forms of VAW that have received recognition in Malaysia
and provides the context of ICT development and national policy
objectives. It is not an exhaustive assessment of the current state
of VAW, but rather aims to surface some of the interconnections
between ICT issues and VAW and areas of potential opportunities for
advocacy, as well as looking at related cyber laws and areas of
regulation, particularly content regulation, privacy and
surveillance.
Publication date: 
Miércoles, Noviembre 4, 2009
Year of publication: 
2009