By Amanda Hodge
October 17, 2019
A revealing survey of Malaysian Muslim women’s attitudes has highlighted the internal conflict many face over their perceived roles and duties under Islam and their personal feelings on issues such as domestic violence, polygamy, housework and the Hijab.
The Ipsos survey of 675 Muslim women between the ages of 18 and 55 across Malaysia found 96 per cent agreed Muslim women should obey their husbands and parents, 21 per cent said their husbands had the right to beat them for “disobedience” and almost one third (32 per cent) felt they had no right to refuse their husbands sex.
Yet 83 per cent were unhappy at bearing the greater burden of household duties, and more than three-quarters wanted better enforcement of laws protecting them against discrimination and abuse. Seven in 10 women agreed polygamy was a Muslim man’s right though less than a third said they would allow it in their own marriage, according to the report — Perception and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia — commissioned by the Sisters in Islam rights group.
Another key contradiction was over whether women should cover their heads. “The data showed 83 per cent felt they had a right to choose whether or not to wear a hijab, (and) 62 per cent of respondents felt it is acceptable for a Muslim woman not to wear a hijab,” the survey found.
Almost three quarters of respondents agreed an uncovered woman could still be a good Muslim yet, in a different set of questions, 90 per cent said wearing a hijab was mandatory for Muslim women. Pressure to conform to society’s notions of a “good Muslim woman” and a fear of “moral policing and public shaming” were identified as two of the greatest challenges.
Marina Mahathir, a spokeswoman for Sisters in Islam and eldest daughter of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, told The Australian there was a clear “disconnect between what (Muslim women) believe and what happens in real life”.
“As we suspected, a lot of Muslim women in Malaysia have this kind of split personality between what they present to the public and what they themselves feel,” Ms Mahathir said.
“Their outward presentation is so important because there is a cost to not conforming, social stigma and sanctions.”
Ms Mahathir said Sisters in Islam commissioned the survey because it was concerned that Muslim women’s voices were being drowned out by the increasing politicisation of religion. Sisters in Islam legal Adviser Sherry Sheriff said while the results revealed inequality was more starkly experienced within the home than at work, Muslim women were less willing to identify their treatment within families as discriminatory — or even seek legal help — because of widespread religious and cultural conditioning of the importance of “obedience”.
Many were “reluctant to report domestic violence including marital rape because this would be a betrayal of the husband”, she said, adding a concerted education effort was needed to change entrenched discrimination towards women
Ms Sheriff said she hoped the report would encourage politicians to address the “double discrimination” Muslim woman faced under Malaysian Islamic Family Law in which they had less rights than both Muslim men and non-Muslim women, who enjoyed stronger protections under civilian law on issues of child guardianship and marital property.
“The biggest take away from this survey is there is still so much we need to do to bring Muslim women’s situation on par with both Muslim men and across society generally.”
Original Headline: Malaysian Muslim women reveal their inner turmoil
Source: The Australian