Malaysia on Thursday appointed its first female top judge, leading to calls from human rights advocates yesterday to reform the nation’s judiciary and improve the low conviction rates for crimes against women.
Widely seen as a progressive judge, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, an ethnic Muslim Malay woman, was unveiled as the nation’s next chief justice by the prime minister’s office.
There have been a rising number of female judges in Malaysia’s top courts, but women’s rights groups hoped her appointment would help tackle the low conviction rates in cases such as rape and domestic violence.
“We hope there will be more justice for women who go to court,” said Majidah Hashim, a spokeswoman for the women’s rights group Sisters in Islam.
Among the 10,810 cases of domestic violence reported in 2015 and 2016, only 7 percent resulted in a conviction, according to official figures cited in a report by the nonprofit Women’s Aid Organisation.
For rape, out of about 28,700 cases reported from 2005 to 2014, only about 3 percent saw guilty verdicts, the report showed.
In cases such as divorce and domestic violence, Majidah said that women sometimes have had to wait up to 10 years to get a court judgement granting a separation because of a “lack of empathy” among male judges.
The appointment is a “big step,” Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya said.
“It makes a difference when it comes to cases which involve the rights of women,” Koya said. “If you have gender balance in the judiciary, it only means there will be consideration and understanding from a woman’s perspective.”
Malaysia’s government has pledged to improve its record on women rights, but women’s rights groups have criticized the government for failing to fulfill an election promise to have at least one-third of women in policymaking positions.
Malaysia was ranked 101 out of 14 countries in last year’s World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index after scoring poorly on political empowerment.
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