KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 — Women have the right to promote products and to appear in advertisements, women’s rights groups said after Shell removed standees of a female employee that were “molested” by men.
The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) highlighted Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution that prohibits gender discrimination in relation to property and employment.
“All women also have the right to appear in advertisements and promotional materials in line with doing their job,” Arrow executive director Sivananthi Thevindran told Malay Mail Online yesterday when contacted.
She also pointed out that many Muslim-majority nations such as Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt, to name a few, were able to guarantee the said rights for women, and Malaysia should not have any exception.
“This is also in accordance with CEDAW Article 11 which the Government of Malaysia has signed onto in 1995 which states: (1.b) ‘The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment’,” she added.
CEDAW refers to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a United Nations treaty. Malaysia ratified the CEDAW in 1995 but with reservations.
Sivananthi also praised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent statement to avoid objectifying women, but added that it was also “critical” for Putrajaya to ensure women’s employment and economic rights within all economic sectors, including in advertising and marketing.
“Indeed women, including Muslim women (both who wear headscarves, and those who don’t) have a right to take up any job that fits their needs and talents including being spokespersons for international brands,” Sivananthi said.
Last Sunday, Najib called for all parties to stop treating women as objects and to be more aware of society’s sensitivities.
He said that he had regretted the incident of several men making lewd acts towards the promotional standee of oil giant Shell, a life-sized model of one of its female petrol station supervisors, that went viral on social media.
The Women’s Aid Organisation urged the government to enact a Gender Equality Act to better govern women’s rights in the country.
It said that though Malaysia ratified CEDAW in 1995, it has yet to incorporate tenets of the Convention into local laws.
“In 2006, United Nations experts urged the Malaysia government to enforce Cedaw domestically by enacting a Gender Equality Act. It’s time the Malaysian government fulfills this long overdue obligation,” the women’s rights group told Malay Mail Online.
Human rights lawyer Honey Tan lamented that Malaysia still has a long way to go with regards to fair working opportunities for women.
“The CEDAW Committee issued General Recommendation 19 which states that gender based violence is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. So women cannot even be used as models in advertisements which are not at all provocative without men violating them albeit in a cardboard standee?” Tan told Malay Mail Online.
“Besides this, the government must take some action so that incidents like the Shell standee violations do not happen again. What has the government done to modify social and cultural patterns of conduct of men to eliminate the stereotype of women as sex objects?” Tan questioned.
Muslim women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) had also echoed Sivananthi’s sentiment.
“The action to hide women from public spaces or to limit their choices and opportunities to to share a public space safely, is not the solution to build and strengthen a strong platform for women,” SIS said in a statement Saturday.
On July 3, Shell said that it will be removing all of the standees of its female employee, following viral images of the men in suggestive poses with her cardboard cut-outs. Several photos that have been making the rounds on social media showed men holding hands with the cut-out, kissing its cheek, and even grabbing at the breast.
Last week, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman was reported saying that Muslim women should not accept offers to become models to help a company in its sales efforts, even if they were allowed to don a headscarf.