KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A rare occurrence for Asia, Malaysia has appointed its first female senior judge, prompting calls from human rights activists on Friday to reform the country’s justice system and improve low rates of conviction for crimes against women.
Widely regarded as a progressive judge, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, a woman of Malay Muslim descent, was named the country’s next chief justice by the prime minister’s office on Thursday.
There have been a growing number of female judges in Malaysia’s highest courts in recent years, but women’s rights groups hoped her appointment would help tackle low conviction rates in cases such as rape. and domestic violence.
“We hope there will be more justice for women who go to court,” Majidah Hashim, spokesperson for the Kuala Lumpur-based women’s rights group, Sisters in Islam, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. .
Of the 10,810 cases of domestic violence reported between 2015 and 2016, only 7% resulted in a conviction, according to official figures cited in a report by the non-profit Women’s Aid Organization.
For rape, of some 28,700 rape cases reported between 2005 and 2014, only about 3% resulted in guilty verdicts, according to the report.
In cases such as divorce and domestic violence, Majidah said women have sometimes had to wait up to 10 years for a court judgment granting separation due to a “lack of empathy” among the judges. male.
Women at the head of the judiciary are rare in Asia.
Maria Lourdes Sereno was the first female chief justice in the Philippines until she was ousted last year after President Rodrigo Duterte called her an “enemy” for voting against controversial government proposals .
Latheefa Koya of Lawyers for Liberty, a non-profit organization of human rights lawyers, said the appointment was “a big step.”
“It makes a difference when it comes to cases involving women’s rights – workplace rights, marriage and divorce,” said the executive director.
“If you have a gender balance in the justice system, it only means that there will be consideration and understanding of a woman’s point of view,” she added.
The Malaysian government, which came to power a year ago on promises of reform, has pledged to improve its record on women’s rights.
However, women’s rights groups have criticized the government for failing to deliver on its election promise to have at least a third of women in decision-making positions.
Malaysia was ranked 101st out of 14 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Index after performing poorly on political empowerment.
Report by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT + rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org