Updated Dec 20, 2022, 4:27pm EST
Southeast Asia

New Malaysia state law bans 'women acting like men'


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The News

A northeastern state in Malaysia earlier this month updated its Shariah code with several amendments, one of which now prohibits "women acting like men" and wearing men's clothing, the Malaysian government's new agency Bernama reported.

Malaysian women
Muhammad Faiz Zulkeflee/Unsplash
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Know More

Citing politician Satiful Bahari Mamat, the chairman of the committee responsible for the Shariah code, Bernama reported that authorities in the state of Terengganu can now punish people for violating four new changes to the law:

  • Women acting like men
  • Women becoming pregnant or giving birth out of wedlock
  • Practicing witchcraft or sorcery
  • Attempting sodomy

After the state parliament passed the amendments on Dec. 1, Satiful told reporters that the law was meant to better protect the "well-being of Muslims." He added that offenders could face a three-year jail term, a fine of RM5,000 ($1,130.07 USD) and six lashes.

"In the past, there might not have been much of this issue ," Satiful said, referring to the apparent issue of "women acting like men."

"Now, however, we see that 'pengkid' (tomboys or lesbians) and similar cases are becoming more widespread. So, the state government intends to curb this issue," he said.


At least 14 women's activist groups have condemned the legislation, saying it further endangers women and LGBTQ individuals.

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Step Back

Malaysia -- a Muslim-majority country -- has historically been known to suppress LGBTQ rights. An August report from Human Rights Watch found that government officials continue to create a hostile environment by proposing anti-LGBTQ laws.

The update to the state's Shariah code was passed around the same time that neighboring Indonesia also passed a religious law that bans pre-marital sex. Bali's officials later said that the law will not apply to foreign tourists.

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The View From China

After reports of the law were posted on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, it generated a heated discussion among Chinese social media users. Posts with the hashtag #马来西亚立法禁止女性穿男装# (Malaysia bans women from wearing men's clothing) had over 41 million views as of Wednesday morning, Beijing time.

"Malaysia is a country that is feudal and this country is not good, which is really annoying," posted one user.

Weibo post on Malaysia

"I don’t understand and I can’t respect it," wrote another user. "Everyone is born equal and women are greater in my opinion, but there are such unfair regulations on women everywhere..."

Malaysia clothing ban on Weibo

Some users appeared to compare the legislation to China reportedly banning "sissy men" from appearing on TV in an attempt to encourage more masculinity.

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A report from Sisters in Islam found that Terengganu was among the top three states for the number of child marriage applications in Malaysia. The agency found that pregnancy out of wedlock was the number one reason for child marriage. Using this data, the Malaysian activist group Aliran condemned the new amendment, saying that the criminalization of giving birth out of wedlock will only increase the rate of child marriages.


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