Under Hudud laws in Malaysia, if a woman does not have four men to testify that they witnessed the rape of her body, she is not able to prove that she was raped, explained women’s rights and AIDS activist Marina Mahathir in a lecture yesterday afternoon.

Mahathir went on to describe how women are often accused of falsely blaming men, leading to beatings or the death penalty.

In a lecture titled “Women and Islam: A Malaysian Perspective,” Mahathir, a Malaysian journalist and TV producer, defined the misconceptions Western perspectives illustrate about Muslim women. Although many Muslim women cover their heads and bodies, she explained that this is not an exclusive characteristic.

“Malaysian women are very diverse in dress and appearance. They are well educated and there are three Cabinet ministers in the government and many are in the corporate sector,” she said.

“Women are visible and actively participating in society,” Mahathir added.

When Bonnie Brereton, editor of the Journal of the International Institute, asked what is the percentage of women in government, Mahathir explained that while women do exist in government, there are very few.

While Malaysian women traditionally possess strong economic and social roles in society and the Malaysian constitution does not allow discrimination based on sex, challenges arising from conservative Islamic movements are visible for women.

“The greatest challenge to women in Malaysia today is Hudud laws,” Mahathir said.

“Under Hudud laws, an unmarried women who is pregnant will face the death penalty.”

Although improvements have been made for women, Mahathir said the existence of laws that discriminate against women, general sexism and unequal opportunities for women in the workforce are major challenges.

Through active involvement in women’s issues, Mahathir strives to affect change for women.

“We are affecting change by many active women NGOs, educating women on rights and legal literacy and raising awareness among young women,” Mahathir said.

Describing Mahathir as an influential activist in Asia, Linda Lim, professor at the Business School and associate director of the International Institute, said, “She is a person of many talents.”

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