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A friend in London who travels a lot around the world was visiting New York recently. We had a sobering conversation in which this very sophisticated traveler, who’s written numerous books about China, said she concerned that the growing impact of Islam around the world — including in Europe — would lead to a general backlash against women’s right. I was incredulous, and told her so. Did she really believe that a century of progress by women in the West could be imperied by Islamic law? Yes, she said matter-of-factly.
I was shaken by the conversation and found it hard to dismiss as the “bitter” comments of a xenophobe who “clings” to anti-Muslim sentiment. My friend is super-sophisticated and has spent much of her adult life traveling alone around the world. Then she sent along a note, with the attached article about Malaysia.
Women’s groups in Malaysia have reacted angrily to proposed government restrictions on women travelling abroad on their own.
State media say the plan would require women to obtain written consent from their families or employers.
The Malaysian foreign minister said the move would prevent single women being used by gangs to smuggle drugs.
The proposal follows a review of criminal cases where women had been jailed abroad.
Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said 90% of cases where Malaysian women had been jailed by foreign courts involved drugs.
He told the New Sunday Times newspaper that a compulsory letter of consent to travel alone would enable women’s families to make sure they were not being tricked by drug smuggling gangs.
“Many of these women (who travel alone) leave the country on the pretext of work or attending courses and seminars,” he said.
“With this declaration, we will know for sure where and for what she is travelling overseas,” he said.
Women’s groups have expressed outrage at the plan.
The National Council for Women’s Organisations said it would infringe women’s rights.
Another group, Sisters in Islam, said the proposal was totally ridiculous and regressive, and assumed that women were less capable than men of making their own decisions.