The National Council of Women’s Organisations Malaysia (NCWO) was officially established on 25th August 1963 to act as a consultative coordinating and advisory body to raise the status of women and their participation in national development. It has 125 affiliates, which act as independent and viable organizations pursuing their own programmes and they lend strength and solidarity to NCWO.
The formation of NCWO was the major step in the history of our country. Unity, Understanding, Co-operation, Sacrifice, Conviction and Determination form the corner stone of the Council. The sustained and dynamic leadership NCWO has given to women’s organizations has enabled them to pursue programmes in more positive and constructive manner.
NCWO has been a catalyst for change in all areas of national activity. From equal pay to the position of women in marriage separation, divorce, to legal question of maintenance, custody of children, division of property in cases of divorce, to the appointment of women to assist in Departments of Islamic Affairs in the States, the NCWO has been the most effective, determined and vocal advocate for women in our nation.
The Council has taken a leadership position for those of our people in lower income groups and even more critical, to those below the poverty line. Our pleas for more well co-ordinated programmes for low cost housing for those living in squatter areas and other slum have been both repetitive and constant in our annual budget dialogue sessions with the Minister of Finance
NCWO in the 1960s successfully campaigned for the Civil & Diplomatic Services to be opened to equally qualified, competent women as well as amendment to the Pensions Act which gave women permanent and pensionable status in civil service. In 1969, equal pay for work of equal value was also implemented. In that year too, the NCWO President, Tan Sri Fatimah Hashim was appointed as the first women minister in the Malaysian Cabinet while Datuk Paduka Aishah Ghani was selected to sit on the UN Commissions on the Status of Women.
From 1966, the NCWO had urged the Government to establish a special Women’s Bureau. The National Advisory Council for the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWI) was officially established on the 20th of June 1976, the Advisory Council working with the Women’s Section of the Prime Minister’s Department (HAWA), NACIWID, the government agency, and NCWO, women in Malaysia were able to pursue both short term and long term programmes in order to achieve their goals.
In the 1970s the NCWO celebrated the International Year for Women by calling for representation of Women’s Organisations in he ASEAN Region.. This led to the formation of the Asean Sub-Committee on Women and the ASEAN Confederation of Women’s Organisations (ACWO).
Malaysian women also achieved separate taxation and a Royal Commission was set up to study the Marriage and Divorce Act 1976 for Non-Muslims.
The Act came into force in 1981. A memorandum and a Children’s Charter were presented to the Prime Minister and relevant Ministries which eventually led to the Children’s Protection Act in 1990. In the 1980s, NCWO stepped up its advocacy work on legislations and in 1985 held a national workshop that resulted in a memorandum containing 7 resolutions and recommendations on major legislation that discriminated against women, which was presented to the Government.
With assistance from Sgt. Robert Holmes from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a Malaysian Rape Investigation Kit was produced; A One Stop Rape Crisis Centre was established in General Hospital Kuala Lumpur, A Training of Trainers Programme was organised for A special Investigation Unit of Women Police Officers. Another major accomplishment was NCWO’s memorandum on the National Policy on Women, which was submitted to NACIWID and the Minister in charge of Women’s Affairs.
This resulted in the Malaysian Cabinet accepting the National Policy on Women in December 1989. In the 1990s, NCWO set-up various Commissions based on the sectors contained in the National Policy on Women. Each Commission drew up an action plan and these were incorporated in the NCWO NGO Plan of Action for the Implementation of the National Policy on Women.
The Malaysian Government acceded to the Convention in the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995 with some reservations. These reservations, except for two have now been removed. In 1996, as a follow-up of the UN 4th World Conference on Women, NCWO held a post Beijing National Conference to identify areas from the Beijing Platform of Action pertinent to Malaysia, which were incorporated into the National Policy on Women and Action Plan.
The Domestic Violence Act was passed in 1994 but came into effect in 1996 and the NCWO organised a Road Show to raise awareness of this Act at State and District Level. The Ministry of Health has set up One Stop Crisis Centres in 90% of Government Hospitals, as a result of NCWO advocacy.
An important national conference was held in 1997 in collaboration with the Sisters of Islam on the Syariah Family Laws which affected muslim women. A comprehensive memorandum calling for standardisation in the implementation of the Syariah Family Laws at State Level and other issues were presented to the Prime Minister and other relevant authorities.
In 1998 the Distribution Act was passed. NCWO together with MKKM (Child Welfare Council) and UNICEF launched a campaign to make urban areas child friendly.
In 1999 NCWO organised a workshop and presented its recommendations on National Economic Consultative Council II to the Government. Women’s Day celebrations was organised in a very elaborate programme under the Chairmanship of YB Dato Sharizat Abdul Jalil. The NCWO Science & Technology Commission has launched a ICT project “Networking – Women
In 2000 during the Global Knowledge 11 Conference NCWO with cosponsorship from UNDP Malaysia and UNDP Asia Pacific Gender Equity Network organised the GK II Women’s Forum. To ensure the participation of young women in GK II Youth Forum, with assistance from UNICEF we brought young women from Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei D.S., Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia.
NCWO is working on the Family Court Act, with the Department of Law in the Prime Minister’s office; A Mentorship and Leadership Programme with YWCA to increase participation of young women in NGOs and Political parties.We are also working with the Ministry of Housing & Local Government on environmental issues; Ministry of Human Resources on Foreign Maids; Ministry of Health on the Women’s Hospital and other health issues. The NCWO continues to oganise programmes for women’s development and more effective participation in all areas of national life, as this is both essential for the nation and for each individual woman.
The recognition of the self-worth of a woman, making the woman aware of her rights, responsibilities and duties and thus reinforcing her self-esteem is as important as the task of initiating legal reform. Efforts to advance the status and role of women in Malaysia demands a balanced, equal, harmonious partnership and relationship between men and women with innate and real mutual respect and in the common interest of the country and people.
Recognising that basic human rights are essential and can only be fully realised when poverty, wherever it exists, is totally eliminated and when all men, women and children can live with self-respect and dignity. The NCWO with a hundred and twenty organisations with undaunted courage and unflagging spirit continues to work for unity of nation, democracy, equality, prosperity, progress and peace.