Toni Kasim, who passed away today, will be remembered for her passion for human rights and equality, writes Kohila of Jerit. Her perspective on various issues related to human rights, women rights and of course gender equality and Islam was always progressive and clear.
Toni Kasim or Zaitun Mohammed Kasim – Meeting her for the first time, I immediately felt comfortable with her as she was so bubbly, cheerful and friendly. For a moment, I even thought I had known her forever.
Her passion was always strong for human rights and equality. Her perspective on various issues related to human rights, women rights and of course gender equality and Islam was always progressive and clear. She was vocal in voicing out her views and she was different in many ways.
Toni was always helpful and felt the pain of other people. She touched the lives of many people by her human rights work and by her kindness.
When I first heard that she was unwell and it might be cancer, my first thought was “why do bad things happen to good people”? The last time we visited her in Selayang Hospital, she was her normal self, smiling, cracking jokes, and analysing the current political and human rights situation in Malaysia. So sharp and clear. So, when I saw her like that, I did not think that she would go so soon. I was so sure she would be with us for a long time and she would make it.
But today, the bad news came early in the morning. She left us all too soon. She had so much more to accomplish. It is a painful loss to lose such a good human rights activist, such a caring, kind and warm person. Her absence will be sorely felt.
Toni, we will definitely miss you. You were such a great activist and a wonderful person. You will always be in our memory.
Kohila is a member of the Jerit Secretariat
Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, better known as Toni Kasim, served the community on a broad range of issues for more than 20 years, 15 of those years in Malaysia. She firmly believed in the principles of justice and equality for all, regardless of differences in gender, race, religion, sexualities, disabilities and access to wealth and resources.
Her commitment to eradicate discrimination was evident from the diversity of issues and communities that she worked with. From poverty alleviation during her time with Community Aid Abroad, to land issues with the United Nations Development Programme, to social issues affecting Muslim communities, to concerns related to the environment, equitable transportation, sustainable development and disaster management at various capacities and contexts, to working on health issues with vulnerable groups such as sex workers and transgender communities, Toni Kasim devoted a large part of her life making the connections between needs for institutional and social change with the lived realities of everyday people.
Toni Kasim firmly held that it is important to address any issue in particular in its entirety. This includes understanding that basic rights belong to every person and transcends identity, geographical or economic boundaries, and that each individual concern is related to the larger society that we all share and inhabit. She demonstrated this by advocating the right of migrants and refugees both within and outside of Malaysia. While providing immediate support to affected groups of people during situations of need is important – something she was familiar with having volunteered a significant amount of time and resources helping violence against women survivors and providing help during the tsunami crisis in Aceh – Toni Kasim also believed in raising awareness and capacity building for greater and long lasting change.
At the heart of her fight for common justice lay a conviction in gender equality. She consistently advocated reform in laws, policies and government-led services that discriminated against women in different ways, and held key positions in various women’s rights organisations and initiatives. As she stated in one interview, “Women’s rights remain my key thrust because of something I learnt a long time ago. If women are empowered, the whole community eventually moves forward. It’s that simple because as the nucleus of a family and community, it makes no sense to sideline or ignore women.”
Toni Kasim ran as the first independent women’s parliamentary candidate in the 1999 General Elections on a gender platform. Instead of narrowing her advocacy to political party priorities, Toni Kasim raised issues that reverberated across communities and constituents, such as discriminatory laws, health issues, employment and wealth distribution.
A tireless leader, Toni Kasim devoted much of her life advancing the rights of diverse communities in Malaysia, and no one’s reality was too marginal to be captured in her advocacy for collective justice.
(Adapted from http://www.wci2.org/index.php/candidate-profile)