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1 in 5 Malaysian Muslim wives say husbands have the right to beat them

Almost one quarter of Malaysian Muslim wives believe their husbands have a right to beat them, according to a survey that reveals the inequalities facing many women in the home.

Almost all women surveyed, 97 percent, said they must obey their husbands and that a woman’s obedience defines her as a “good wife”, the survey commissioned by the Sisters in Islam (SIS) rights group.

Some 21 percent said their husbands had the right to strike them, citing the religious concept of “nusyuz” or disobedience as justification.

“This uncompromising duty to obey one’s husband has led to many situations where wives have not taken into consideration harm or injustices that may be committed unto them,” SIS said in the report released Oct. 15.  

“Women have said that they are reluctant to report domestic violence, including marital rape, because this would be a betrayal of the husband, and the family may regard the wife as having been disobedient with the husband,” it said. 

“Women are also afraid to leave violent situations in the home as they regard this as nusyuz.”

Three quarters, 75 percent, wanted better enforcement of laws protecting them against discrimination and abuse, the survey, of 675 women from across Malaysia, found.

Seven in 10 women also agreed that polygamy was a Muslim man’s right though less than one third said they would allow it in their own marriage, according to the report called Perception and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia.

The report’s authors said the results showed much more work was needed to address inequalities facing women in their private lives, not only reforming laws and policies but greater education and a “shift in mindsets and belief systems.”

“Much greater effort will be required if Muslim women are to be brought to the same level of equality as Muslim men,” the report said. 

“The lives of Muslim women in Malaysia remain deeply rooted in normalized discrimination and oppressive, socially-conditioned expectations. 

“Women need to be encouraged, supported and protected as they express themselves and identify the unfairness and injustices that they endure simply because they are Muslim women in Malaysia.” 

Marina Mahathir, a prominent women’s rights activist, a SIS member and the daughter of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, urged policymakers to read the report.

“There is a disconnect between what Muslim women expect and what actually happens in real life to them,” she told the South China Morning Post newspaper.

“The disconnect is further pronounced because people have come to think that this is the way things should be.”

More than 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims, and most follow a generally moderate and tolerant form of Islam. But rights groups say influential Muslim hardliners are pushing an increasingly conservative form of Islam.

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