The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is gravely concerned over the proposal to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA). We believe, based on reports of the proposed amendments and the escalating suppression of freedom of expression, that these amendments will have the impact of worsening the human rights situation on the ground for women.
The proposed amendments include mandatory registration of “political” bloggers and online news portals, and an increase in penalties for offences under the CMA. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) will also potentially be accorded greater powers to take down online content and block websites.
The Internet has provided new tools and platforms for women to express ideas and desires, connect with others like them, organise themselves to address injustices, as well as bypass some of the financial and social barriers against running businesses. However, in the context of entrenched conservatism and the politicisation of religion, Malaysian women’s behaviour online is already scrutinised and regulated by gendered norms. Women who are perceived to have “transgressed” routinely receive rape threats, and often their personal information online would be spread online to shame them. Regressive ideologies around women’s sexualities and gender expressions in particular are used to denigrate and silence women.
The proposed amendments will not address violence, discrimination and misogyny faced by women online. They will instead add to the threats faced by women who are speaking out on issues that matter to them, from democratic governance to the GST to their life choices. The idea that somehow the government could discern “political bloggers” from other bloggers, for example, is laughable. Malaysian women’s lives are political because even our identities are politicised.