Women are pushing boundaries to end centuries of oppression

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Women want to matter in the decision-making process, in the economy and in places of leadership, says Nalini Elumalai.

“O sisters, O sisters, let’s stand up right now
It’s never too late to start from the start

Sisters, sisters
Sisters, sisters

Wisdom, O wisdom, that’s what we ask for
And yes, my dear sisters, we must learn to ask
Freedom, O freedom, that’s what we fight for
And yes, my dear sisters, we must learn to fight”

By Yoko Ono & John Lennon

On 8 March in conjunction with International Women’s Day, we in Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit) extend our unconditional solidarity, support and commitment to all the activists, defenders of the human rights of women and campaigners all around the world from all walks of life who are confronting exploitation, discrimination, racism, corruption and democracy.

We are in solidarity with all who are fighting for a better world, absolute freedom, justice and dignity and we offer salutes to women that are liberating themselves and the world from all forms of oppression.

Sadly, we are celebrating International Women’s Day while the rights of women are being violated all over the world – either by the State or by the patriarchal society that controls them. We cannot deny that the rights of women are being violated in various ways; through race, culture, religion, gender and through other means of patriarchal power and control.

To use Malaysia as an example, here are some facts worth considering:

  • In 2015, women made up 54.1 per cent of the Labour Force Performance Rate (LFPR) but are still ultimately playing a minimal role in the decision-making process in their organisation or in their workplace;
  • The unemployment rate is higher when compared to male workers – 3.4 per cent to 2.9 per cent – due to a lack of job security for employed women.
  • Women continue to predominate in informal sectors as well as low-quality and undervalued jobs.
  • The glass ceiling still exists as women continue to earn less than men for the same work.
  • Gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment and violence is still tolerated in the workplace and effective legislation to combat this is still lacking.
  • Women still face the brunt of moral policing by conservative and religious groups; one example of this is the recent threat on social media to attack “inappropriately dressed” women attending temples on Thaipusam with spray paint.
  • Hate crime against women, transwomen and transgender communities as a whole still exists – the recent murder of Sameera Krishnan is not a one-off incident as such incidents have been happening every day.
  • Domestic violence, using women as mere sex objects and violation of equal rights for women is still the order of the day. One just has to look at the Dewan Rakyat to see parliamentarians making fun of women in a very disgusting and crude way;
  • Women human rights defenders and activists are often targeted by the state and authorities to instil fear and to challenge women’s contributions to the struggle and to society, such as how Maria Chin was detained under Sosma for organising the most recent Bersih;
  • Orang Asli women and children are denied their right to education and often have to endure and survive rape and violence.
  • According to the statistics based on a parliamentary reply to Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto in 2015, there is a whopping number of 37, 263 rape cases, involving girls as young as six, reported from 2000 until 2015 in Malaysia. This means there is an average of eight rape cases reported daily in the country. The shocking statistics showed more than half of the total rape cases were committed against minors between the ages of 13 and 15, with up to 16, 265 victims, followed closely by 10, 289 victims over the age of 18. Out of the 37,263 cases, 2,854 victims were sodomised while 4,739 were incest-rape cases.[1] This is in Malaysia where 50 per cent of the working force is women and 70 per cent of students in public universities are women. Where is society going wrong? What do we do to stop violence against women?
  • The participation of women in the national decision-making process in federal and state governments as legislators and in the judiciary is still smaller when compared to that of men.
  • Women are not respected for their choices and are often treated as second-class citizens.

These instances and examples of discrimination continue to affect women heavily; women living in poverty are the most vulnerable to economic policies and conditions that discriminate against them such as high living costs, unemployment and low salaries.

Having said that, we must not forget that there are women in this country who are persistently fighting against discrimination and demanding equality. Many grassroots struggles in communities across Malaysia are being led by women; many human rights struggles are being led by women; and we cannot deny that women are playing a very important role in creating a just and fair world.

We just have to look to women like Siti Kassim as an example; she stood up for transwomen on 13 April 2016 when the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) raided a dinner by transwomen for allegedly hosting a beauty contest on the grounds that it had violated a fatwa against beauty pageants. We cannot – and should not – forget that Siti stood up as a lawyer to challenge the abuses by the authorities, even as Jawi took her and one of the organisers to the Dang Wangi District Police Station.

Long story short, after centuries of counting on us for everything – we want to count too. We want to matter in the decision-making process, in the economy and in places of leadership and we are going to make our dream come true – a just world based on fair, respectful treatment for all genders and classes of people, love and compassion.

Nalini Elumalai is national coordinator of the Oppressed People’s Network (Jerit)

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