Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 4 News List

Malaysia chooses female judges for Islamic court

AP , KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysia’s Islamic Shariah courts have appointed their first female judges — a move praised by women’s rights activists yesterday as a boost for a judicial system often accused of favoring men.

Suraya Ramli and Rafidah Abdul Razak, formerly officials at the government’s Islamic judicial department, were named Shariah court judges for Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital of Putrajaya in May, but the appointment was only announced in the past week by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib said the step was meant to “enhance justice in cases involving families and women’s rights” in Malaysia, where nearly two-thirds of the country’s 28 million people are Muslims.

Women have long complained they face discrimination in cases involving divorce, child custody rights, inheritance, polygamy and other disputes in Islamic courts, which handle matters involving family and morality for Malaysian Muslims.

Rights activists have said they receive hundreds of complaints each year from women because Shariah courts are slow to penalize ex-husbands who fail to pay child support. Men are also able to divorce their wives relatively easily while taking a greater share of property jointly held by the couple.

Norhayati Kaprawi, a prominent Malaysian Muslim women’s activist, said the appointments were long overdue.

“What they must focus on is ensuring that they deliver justice and take into consideration ... the realities of Muslim women’s lives,” Norhayati said.

Meera Samanther, president of Malaysian group Women’s Aid Organization, said fair representation within the justice system was “a necessity.”

Suraya, 31, could not immediately be contacted yesterday and Rafidah, 39, declined to immediately comment on the appointments. Court officials could not be reached to elaborate on what cases the judges have handled so far.

Female judges are common in Malaysia’s secular courts, though most top posts continue to be held by men.

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